Profugo actively engages women members of the Wayanad region through many programs, one of which promotes female leadership and autonomy. Corner groups are an important part of Profugo’s social initiatives because it fosters community and avenues for dialogue and feedback. Corner groups allow for families to connect in a way that creates social bonds. These groups are highly decentralized to allow for maximum participation and ensures that change starts from the bottom-up. Furthermore, the decentralization of corner groups can efficiently ensure that the diverse needs of the communities are met.
Currently there are nine corner groups throughout the greater Valad area. Groups contain an average of 20 members, but some have up to 36. These groups meet about once per month and members should also attend three large-scale Profugo training sessions. Each group has at least one leader who is “in charge of liaising with Profugo, disseminating information, facilitating the group, and holding meetings” (Julianna and Abhilash). These are just basic guidelines and many groups go above and beyond, holding more meetings with various activities and even creating WhatsApp groups to stay in touch.
Not only do corner groups foster important social interaction, but the skills taught are equally invaluable to members. Profugo hosts workshops in organic farming practices as well as various other tasks including: Poultry farming, jackfruit processing, bamboo craft training, embroidery, fabric jewelry, organic pesticide making, and youth leadership. The corner groups provide formal and informal ways to receive this training as well as engage in continued discussion on important sustainable practices within communities. These groups are essential to connecting about the best practices for a particular activity in addition to providing help and support for each other.
They also facilitate the needs of the community to Profugo, for example the Panchayat leadership asked for assistance in feeding members in their quarantine relief program. By connecting with other corner groups for surplus produce, Profugo was able to provide 50 kilos (~110lbs) of fresh produce to the quarantine relief program.
The robust corner group program has proven adept at fostering community cohesion and empowerment, with some notable success stories. Sheeba Valady’s Ambalakkunnu corner group boasts 36 mixed-religion members and is still adding to its membership. Her group meets more than frequently than the minimum guidelines and the success of their Organic Kitchen Gardens has drawn the attention of neighbors which has prompted more people to join. The Edathana group lead by Sunitha Chandran is also quite successful in part due to the richness of the traditions in the tribal community. In this group they connect with people outside of their tribe and collectively expand their livelihoods through organic farming. A new and promising group led by Molly Karimbalauhia in Yavanarkulam has already made an important impact. During the recent produce collection for COVID relief, her group had the strongest showing, much due to Molly’s leadership and her group’s enthusiasm. It is clear from these stories that the best corner groups are formed by strong female leadership that engages her community and can organize new ways to continuously improve lives for everyone around her.
Moreover, Profugo is creating an expanded role, the Community Resource (CRA) Ambassador. This role will involve communicating to members about any Profugo programs as well as be a resource for questions. They will essentially be an additional liaison between Profugo and the community. Their responsibilities include monitoring and encouraging member engagement and attending Profugo trainings and events. The goal is to have two CRAs per corner group who do not already occupy another leadership role in any other Profugo women’s empowerment program.
While the program launched on February 28th, due to Covid 19 they have been unable to implement it but have high hopes for the future. Some of the training they hope to provide through the CRA includes, general organic farming best practices, pest control, pesticide making (organic, botanical, biopesticide, etc), compost making, homemade poultry feed, cow rearing best practices, personality and leadership development, and basic healthcare training. While no trainings have been conducted so far, an enthusiastic group of women have already volunteered and are excited about the future of this new program.
The Corner Groups and offshoot CRA program are essential to women empowerment goals at Profugo. They provide necessary training and community which can increase quality of life and economic well-being. It creates a place where women may gain further experience as leaders and providers for their families and children. These women come from many different backgrounds, cultures, and religions but create new social ties and learn important skills.
***Thank you to Julianna and Abhilash for providing this information from the field