By REX KHAN | INNLIVE
From education to entrepreneurship, Hirbaiben Lobi’s efforts to improve the socio-economic status of her community is proof that obstacles like illiteracy and poverty are easily overcome in the pursuit of rural empowerment and upliftment.
Hirbaiben Lobi was born in 1960 in Jambur in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. A member of the Siddi community, she was orphaned as a child and was raised by her grandmother.
Although Hirbaiben inherited a large debt, she refused to sell her tiny piece of land to clear it. Instead, she urged her husband to work harder and kept an eye out for interesting innovations that would help her increase the yield from her farm.
Radio programmes about agriculture came to her rescue. Hirbaiben began to religiously listen to these programmes and implement the techniques that were discussed. In no time at all, her efforts yielded results and she was able to free her land from the clutches of creditors.
The experience fuelled Hirbaiben’s desire to experiment with agricultural innovations. Despite the disapproval of the local community, Hirbaiben took out a loan to start an organic compost farm. Her hard work and persistence, as well as the help she received from other Siddi women in Gujarat, paid off and Hirbaiben was successful in establishing a sustainable farming enterprise.
Today, her vermicompost manufacturing group sells compost worth Rs. 700,000 annually; proving to be tough competition to well-known brands..
Having tasted success herself, Hirabaiben went on to urge others in her village to take up entrepreneurship. From manufacturing organic fertilisers to producing neem oil; from indulging in animal husbandry to selling fruits and vegetables, readymade garments and milk and milk products; residents of her village are testing their mettle in an array of entrepreneurial ventures, thanks to Hirbaiben’s encouragement and guidance. Many have also set up provisional stores while others have started conducting tailoring classes.
Aware of the importance of education, Hirbaiben set up a school and even hired trained teachers to run and manage it. She has also set up a day care centre. Today, thanks to her efforts, children of daily wage labourers in the marginalised community have access to basic education.
Hirbaiben has also persuaded residents in the village to donate land to start a pre-primary school, rather than to use it for private purposes.
Over the years, Hirbaiben has promoted women’s empowerment, by actively participating in women’s groups that tackle issues related to education, health, hygiene, savings, credit, income generation and agriculture.
She has also pushed women in the village to become financially prudent and has encouraged them to save money. She has even urged banks in the area to extend their support to the women and offer them credit, as and when needed.
Her unquantifiable contribution to the development of her village and her untiring efforts to ensure the social and economic upliftment of its women, have led to her being called ‘Sarpanch;’ this, despite the fact that she holds no official position in the village. Through her work, she continues to motivate not just her villagers and her community, but residents of surrounding villages as well.
Hirbaiben’s work has also won her national and international acclaim. She has been honoured with numerous awards and is regularly invited to prestigious forums to share her experiences. It is not surprising to see her addressing international conferences in her mother-tongue, with a confidence and ease that is awe-inspiring.
She has also won the `Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life’ by the Women’s World Summit Foundation, Switzerland in 2002.
A mother of three, Hirbaiben is a visionary leader who showers her people with warmth and affection. Her determination in overcoming social and economic challenges is an inspiration. She has proved that poverty and illiteracy are barriers that can be overcome to ensure rural empowerment and upliftment.