At the age of 31, Jhunbala Malick is a key member of Saraswati (Self Help Group) SHG, Kacheri Gaon located in Jajpur district, Odisha. Members of the SHG do not take any decision without consulting her. Frail in appearance, Jhunbala, is a woman of resolve, courage and commitment.

Jhunbala had to quit her studies when she was in class 5 to look after her ailing father who was suffering from a heart disease. As soon as she turned 18, she was married off. However, her married life ended within two months upon realising that her husband was an alcoholic. She couldn’t stand his abusive and aggressive behaviour and returned home.

‘Main kyon aise aadmi ke liye meri zindagi barbad karu?’ (Why should I spoil my life for a man like this?), says Jhunbala. 13 years later, she doesn’t even remember her husband’s name. She started helping her family by working as an agricultural labourer, selling agricultural produce. Jhunbala toiled to make all the arrangements for her younger sister Jhilimani’s marriage and saved money for her younger brother Debabrata’s education so that he could complete his class 12 studies. She was proud to see that Debabrata started working as a mechanical fitter and could support the family financially. However, Jhunbala and her family were dealt with a brutal blow when Debabrata was murdered in a local dispute.

Life started changing gradually for Jhunbala when the SHG was formed and the members were trained by Habitat to start a micro enterprise of vegetable cultivation. This intervention helped all 10 women earn around 1.5 lakhs over a period of 8 months.

During monsoon their entire village is inundated due to flooding from the Kharasuan river. This experience taught them to grow seasonal crops like bananas, tomatoes, brinjal and cauliflower.

Being a single woman, Jhunbala receives a pension under the Odisha State Government Madhu Babu Pension Yojana scheme and monthly ration as she belongs to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. She used the income received from vegetable cultivation and her postal savings to rebuild her home and safeguard her ailing parents. Despite suffering through several setbacks, she never gave up but worked hard to rebuild her life and her family.

In 2022, Habitat for Humanity India partnered with Standard Chartered Bank India to create livelihood opportunities for women in Maharashtra and Odisha through capacity building of Self Help Groups and seed fund support. The project has supported 969 women like Jhunbala and has turned out to be a lifeline, providing previously inaccessible financial and collective growth opportunities to women and allowing group members to be successful entrepreneurs. Jhunbala’s strength and perseverance inspire many in her community as she continues to be a vital member of the Saraswati SHG, working towards economic and social upliftment. Her story highlights the resilience and courage of women in the face of adversity and their ability to overcome the most difficult challenges. “I want to expand the vegetable cultivation activity so that all the SHG members can earn well. Self-sufficiency brings self-respect and dignity. I am thankful for the opportunity to build my livelihood,” says a firm-looking Jhunbala with a wide smile.