Pakeeramma is proud of her giant barrel of rice, a year's worth of food. It took her a long time and a lot of work to amass such a visible sign of prosperity. Pakeeramma went from cleaning toilets a decade ago, to being a businesswoman today. A businesswoman who is building four new houses next to her own, to rent. Pakeeramma has two strikes against her: she's a woman, and a Dalit, a poor caste whose members have been discriminated against for generations. About 10 years ago, Pakeeramma borrowed 500 rupees from a World Bank-supported women's self-help group. She began selling vegetables door-to-door. Soon, her income doubled. She sold her vegetables to hotels. Her income tripled.
I went to my mother-in-law's house when I got married and my father-in-law's business was cleaning toilets. I got 30 rupees per toilet: 10 rupees went for liquor, 20 for food. I had only one meal a day for 20 years.
Now she's a landholder with a daughter in school, one son studying for his MBA, and another with a brand-new car to start up a taxi service. The big event of this morning is a blessing for the new car. Bought with a 25,000-rupee loan from the self-help group, it's a new car and a sign of still more success. Premeela, her daughter, thanks her mother for pulling their family out of poverty.
Now, because of her, I want to be a policewoman or a doctor.
The key, according to the local self-help group leader, is capital. It seems obvious, but it takes money, Vijaya Bharathi says, to end poverty.
Capital will give strength and confidence to the poor and this project is successful in that area. So through bank linkages, by savings, by giving seed money, the project is able to show the poor a way to reach the capital.
Pakeeramma is from one of India's lowest castes, and grew up in severe poverty. She says her husband used to spend most of their money on arak, the local home-brewed liquor, until she made some money and made him stop. Now it is her name on the titles to the land, and her decision to invest in the new car.
If the country is to improve, women should be given opportunities in every aspect of life.
Self-help groups like the one Pakeeramma belongs to are spreading throughout India. There are more than 600,000 such groups in Andhra Pradesh alone, and budding Pakeerammas in almost every village.
For the United Nations, I'm Alison Schafer, reporting.