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An Advocacy Manual for the Poor
Not long after we met Kareen* she lost her 11 month old baby girl. It was most probably diarrhoea that took her - one real face on the thousands of faceless kids that go that way each day. A couple of months later Kareen lost her husband. This time it was probably to TB. Kareen was left with 3 kids, no income, living in a tiny hut and incredibly vulnerable. To drive the gravity of the situation home to us, she was living just across the alley!
We had seen and heard a little about Kareen, but hadn't got to know her well, till this double tragedy. After her husband's death, she was only able to survive by her sheer will to live for the sake of her kids & through the generosity of her neighbours, who'd cook a little extra each night and give the leftovers to Kareen and her kids.
We'd been thinking for some time about the systems that should provide a safety net for people like Kareen. The Delhi government has, for example, a widows pension of Rs 1,000 (US$25) a month – not really enough to survive, but perhaps enough to hold off starvation. We began some enquiries and found that it was the Department of Social Welfare that administers pensions. The department told us that unfortunately Kareen wasn't eligible for a pension because she didn't have a bank account, since pension were only paid into an account. Kareen had never had a bank account, so I went to the local bank the check out getting one. “No,” the manager informed us, “we need some identity documentation to open an account”. Kareen had nothing! Next stop was the Electoral Commission. We asked the Commission to issue an Electoral Identity Card (I Card) for Kareen. After several days they visited her at her hut. They shook their heads and said; “No, sorry, because she lives in a slum hut, we won't give her an I card.” We protested and cited the rule that all Indian residents are eligible for I cards whether they live in a palace or a slum hut. After a little more head shaking & hand wringing, they finally agreed.
A week or so later, armed with the I Card we went back to the bank, which thankfully opened the account. Next we went back to Social Welfare Department, confident we'd succeed. “No!” came the answer. “Bank account or not, she still needs some official government document proving she's been resident in Delhi for 5 years!” Exasperated, we wrote a letter of appeal to the head of the Social Welfare Department, who finally acceded to our request. So after 6 months of doing battle with the Delhi bureaucracy, Kareen finally got her pension, back paid for 5 months, so now she had Rs 5,000 in her own bank account! She beamed. Never had she had so much cash!
Kareen's story is typical of the bureaucracy that often blocks the poor from being able to avail the government schemes that are designed to help them.
To address this situation, Emmanuel Hospital Association has set up a Research and Advocacy Unit to help EHA and other NGOs working with the poor to deal with just these types of situations. It seemed to us that our workers needed a comprehensive understanding of the schemes that are available to the poor.
To that end we've developed the Delhi Basti (Slum) Advocacy Manual. It lists about 25 schemes/services that should be available to the poor and for each gives:-
- The relevant government department with website;
- The entitlement as per that department's policy;
- The approved application procedure;
- Suggestions for advocacy, should the application get stuck in the system; &
- A success story describing how the advocacy has worked in real situations.
The soft version of the manual is available on the EHA website (www.eha-health.org) under 'Resources' in either English here or its Hindi equivalent here. The advantage of the soft copy is the web-links it gives to various government websites. However, for those without Internet access, the hard copy is also useful. We were very pleased a couple of weeks ago, when Rukhsana, a friend in our neighbourhood, after having read the Hindi version of the manual, took the initiative to apply for an Anganwadi (government run preschool/feeding programme) in her area, using the information in the manual.
As with any manual or resource directory, a difficulty is that as soon as one commits information to paper, it goes out of date very quickly. Already a number of schemes & application procedures have changed since launching the manual in May 2010. Keeping it up to date is vital, so already the manual is already up to Version #10.
The next challenge is to get other NGOs working with the poor in Delhi to experiment in trying to access schemes that they haven't, as yet, attempted. So every 3 months we're holding a forum in which 50 or so NGO workers will come together to tell stories of their efforts. The next such gathering in on 10th January.
We're also created similar Advocacy manuals for other states including UP, WP and Madya Pradesh, all available at the EHA website iin either English or Hindi/Bangla.
At the end of the day, we hope & pray that through being more knowledge of the available government schemes and a little smarter in how we go about accessing them, the poor will ultimately have a government system that works for them rather than against them.
EHA Advocacy Unit
*Name changed for confidentiality