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Recipient of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Award presented in Philippines.

Recipient of Krishi Bushan Award by Government of Maharashtra.

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Asha, Hope

“Asha” in Marathi means “hope” and Asha-bai (“bai” is a term of respect for women) Shelke of Tondoli village has shown that hopes can be realities for the women of rural Marathwada in central India. Ashabai learned to read and write at the age of 35 and now earns between 8000 – 9000 Rupees per month. This may seem insignificant achievements in many parts of the world but very remarkable for the women of her village. About 50% of the women in Marathwada are “somewhat” literate and average per capita income is 14000 Rupees or 316 US$ per year.

Ashabai was born in a very poor family at a remote village with no access to schools and higher education. She married at the age of 14 to Sheshrao Shelke from Tondoli and moved to Tondoli village. Sheshrao was a bonded labourer and worked in a farm to repay his debts. Thereby, he brought no income for the household. Ashabai, therefore, had to work to make ends meet. She worked mostly as a labourer in farms and sometimes in construction sites where she was paid measly wages (15 INR per day in 1993).

In 1994 she met Radhabai, Vikas Sevika (development animator) of Tondoli village, at the Mahila Mandal (women’s group) meeting. Radhabai told her about the masonary training that is conducted at Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) in Bidkin village. She was very apprehensive that women could work as trained masons while this is considered a man’s occupation. Besides, she was not able to think beyond household chores and farm labour as the usual role of women in village. She visited IIRD and was motivated to undergo the training in 1994 and acquired new skills to improve her livelihood. She mentions that she was not even able to hold a pencil or pen properly when she started the course. It was a challenge for her to learn from basic literacy to advanced measurements and drawings that is required of a skilled mason. At the end of the course, she appeared for examinations at the Yashwantrao Chauhan Open University and obtained a certificate in masonary that is recognized by the Government.

The new skills came handy at a time when she needed most. Her husband passed away in 1997 leaving behind a young son and a daughter. With her new skills, she formed a team of women to undertake construction contracts in her village. This gave her additional income besides the feeling of being a “boss” rather than work on the orders of a male mason. With the aid of the government recognized certificate, she bid for government contracts and is successful. She now takes contracts of construction of houses under the government housing schemes. She is proud that she as the head of the family was able to conduct her daughter’s wedding and also bought a plot of land for her son. Her transformation from an illiterate woman to a respected and skilled woman mason is a source of inspiration for other women in her village.

As this story on her is being written, Ashabai supervises the construction of a two storied house in the city suburbs. She is sure to achieve great heights and is a inspirational model for people in the village who are either illiterate or