Srinagar: Ratnipora is a small hamlet in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. It has 93 percent literacy rate.
As per the demographic profile created by a team of Bercy (Block Employment Resource Centre for Youth) — a pilot project launched by EDI (Entrepreneur Development Institute) based in Pampore — Ratnipora has a population of nearly 4000 souls, out of which 2057 are males and 1930 are females, with a sex ratio of 971. It has nearly 700 post graduates and 400 graduates. There are almost 200 school drop outs.
The people mainly depend on government jobs, but agriculture is also practised by one third of the village people.
In 2004, Ratnipora was included in a list of 62 villages that were to be developed as model villages under prime minister’s reconstruction programme. However, in 2009 when it was officially announced as model village, a defunct street lighting, poorly fenced graveyard and miss managed drainage system was what the village could boast about.
“If there were any positives from the model village programme, it was the common facility centre, which is changing lives,” Rashid Mir, a university student, said.
The common facility centre was constructed to facilitate and encourage small scale industries, micro, small, and medium enterprises.
Two years back, JKEDI introduced Bercy at Ratnipora. Bercy was a gram-panchayat-based-community-driven learning pilot project of ministry of rural development, Government of India. “The main aim was to provide vocational training to the rural youth and to encourage the entrepreneurship,” Zubair, project manager Bercy said. With the support of ministry of minority affairs, it managed sponsorship of five vocational training programmes of six months each.
Nearly 120 youth between age group of 19-35 have been trained in trades like machine knitting, plumbing, electrician, and computer hardware and repairing. Subsequently, the trained candidates were linked with financial institutions that enable them to take up ventures of their own.
Shaheena and her six friends were introduced to the trade of cutting and tailoring. They came up with the idea of establishing an enterprise, which they named ‘Sajvun: Walav te banev shubedaar’.
Team Bercy helped them by providing free stitching machines, space and matting for the selected space, where they started stitching clothes. Their products were exhibited at All India Conference of World Bank held at EDI Pampore. Here they earned Rs 9000 with a profit of Rs 4000. They spend the money in buying raw material.
“I felt empowered. I never thought I would earn anything in my life after dropping out from school,” she Shaheena, who handled the finances of the group.
An NGO, they didn’t remember the name, came with an order of 350 pherans. “We had never received such a huge order. We worked hard. We would come to the office at seven in the morning and leave at eight in the evening. The order earned us a hefty amount of Rs 1,40,000. We have never seen such amount in our lives,” Shaheena said.
People who were earlier sceptical about their endeavours changed their minds.
“One lakh is not a small amount for people like us. Our annual income was less than that,” Shaheena said. “But it was only possible because of Bercy.”
Today, every girl who comes to Bercy has only one thing in their mind: To start a venture like Sajwun.
Sabia, 22, worked at boutiques after learning cutting and tailoring from Bercy and was earning nearly Rs 3000 per month. She now wanted to start her own boutique.
Nearly 30 girls are enrolled for cutting and tailoring course at Bercy with only one aim: to start their own business.
So far Bercy has counselled 300 candidates and 110 others have been referred to Himayat and various other salaried and self employment schemes.
Bercy found that technical inefficiency was an impediment in the success of Ratnipora youth. To tackle it, computer literacy programme was launched and so far Bercy has trained 230 students.
“I know nothing about computers and I would even hesitate to touch it,” said Zulfiqar Ali, 29, a research scholar at IUST, Awantipora.
“But now I can handle it properly. I even bought a laptop. I can even play with fonts and add footnotes which were not possible early,” he said while thanking Bercy. They also paid him monthly stipend of Rs 1000.
Bercy found that nearly 79 families in Ratnipora live below poverty line. 34 families live a life of misery and austerity and come under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY). And in order to link such families to sustainable livelihood, Bercy introduced trades like knitting and tailoring to them.
So far 32 children from community have been trained in the first batch of the pre-school. “We cannot afford to send our kids to crèche and preparatory schools. But Bercy is helping us despite our low income,” Abid, a parent send. “They are teaching my kids in a play- way method.”
Besides, Bercy has also trained seven youth as business development managers, who are now working independently offering advisory service to local businesses.
“Every project has a start and an end and Bercy is also coming to an end,” Zubair said. “But, with the withdrawal of Bercy, the community health centre would be like hundreds of other abandoned government structures with no use.”