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Struggling‌ ‌After‌ ‌Floods,‌ ‌Kerala‌ ‌Village‌ ‌Found‌ ‌a‌ ‌Guardian‌ ‌Angel‌ ‌in‌ ‌This‌ ‌26-YO‌ ‌Woman‌

Struggling‌ ‌After‌ ‌Floods,‌ ‌Kerala‌ ‌Village‌ ‌Found‌ ‌a‌ ‌Guardian‌ ‌Angel‌ ‌in‌ ‌This‌ ‌26-YO‌ ‌Woman‌

‘SBI Youth for India Fellowship’, an initiative of SBI Foundation provides a platform to the urban youth to participate in Rural Development with their innovative ideas to address the rural struggles and also benefit from the learnings through on-ground experience.

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This article has been sponsored by SBI Youth for India Fellowship


Decades ago, the dense forests of Wayanad, Kerala were inhabited by the dominant Paniya tribe, and its members flourished as gatherers and farmers.

Today, a majority of Paniyas have been rendered landless and work as daily wage labourers mainly dependent on the MGNREGA scheme. It also doesn’t help that the constant landslides and heavy floods in Wayanad have increasingly endangered the livelihood opportunities of the tribe.

Unemployed and reeling in poverty, the community was barely surviving when a rural development programme, one that had the potential to change their lives for the better, was initiated there.

And at the helm of it, was Isha Mishra, a 26-year-old Gender Studies postgraduate.

Originally from Noida, UP, Isha was in Wayanad to begin her journey as an SBI Youth for India fellow, with a project that aimed to help the community, especially its women, develop sustainably by providing them with an alternative livelihood. A 13-month-long programme, the fellowship gives young people in India an opportunity to work on rural development projects.


‘SBI Youth for India Fellowship’, an initiative of SBI Foundation provides a platform to the urban youth to participate in Rural Development with their innovative ideas to address the rural struggles and also benefit from the learnings through on-ground experience. You can apply for the fellowship here.

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Isha’s ultimate goal was to mobilise and motivate a community that has for decades been subjected to exploitation, into becoming first-generation entrepreneurs.

A tough and a big task indeed, she recalls the last seven months of her journey has had its share of ups and downs, but the first step was to get through to them.

Breaking the ice

Isha’s first goal was to overcome a cultural and language barrier and to earn the trust of the Paniyas. But, it was easier said than done.

“I was told that the community is extremely reticent and sedentary, and do not engage much with outsiders. And that’s what happened! They completely disregarded my presence for an initial couple of months, and would huddle in their houses shutting off any point of contact,” begins Isha, in an interview with The Better India.

So, she began to find new avenues to establish the first breakthrough and interact more with the community. It was then that she was introduced to the concept of Padnaviru.

These are learning centres for tribal students within hamlets, where the older students of the community taught the young ones. And, this turned out to be the best opportunity for Isha.

“Since my initial interactions with the community did not have the desired outcome, I started going to these evening tuition classes to be in proximity to the community. I started helping with basic English, and all the kids started calling me Isha chechi. The community slowly started identifying me as a regular within the hamlet coming to teach their children, and slowly there were exchanging smiles and greetings,” she says.

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For the next two months, all Isha did was to teach English to the tribal children. A bit disillusioned about the next step, she decided to use Children’s Day as an opportunity to reach out.

“We organised a function within the hamlet and invited the parents of the children. This was my first face-to-face interaction with the women of the community. Everybody turned up. There were laughs, singing, dancing and, all in all, which made it a successful event. I took it as an opportunity to call for a meeting the following days with the women. Things went uphill from then on. In the meeting, they expressed their interest in stitching but had no money for travel or to pay for the training cost,” adds Isha.

Soon, one of the women with basic tailoring and stitching skills volunteered to train the others. They all decided to pool in Rs 10 per day to pay her as a salary and to buy raw materials. Soon, another woman opened her courtyard space for training. At the same time, the ward members of the Panchayat offered to beat the cost of transportation of procuring and bringing the stitching machines to them.

“It was so heartwarming to see them come together, all smiles and giggles, trying to paddle the machines, rotating the knob, and putting the needle,” recalls Isha. And that is how Tejas, the Stitching Unit of Madoth Poyil came into being.

The women took ownership of the unit and began to engage in active discussions about the finances and marketing strategies.

From manufacturing, delivering the orders of cloth bags to maintaining the accounting books and keeping records of finances, savings, etc., they were slowly becoming self-sufficient entrepreneurs.

“They began to attend Panchayat meetings, had regular discussions about the unit with the stakeholders, and when the district collector visited the hamlet, they drafted a letter stating their needs for the expansion and sustainability of the unit. This may seem like a trivial affair, but this is a huge feat from where we started,” adds the young changemaker who was transforming the lives of an entire community by empowering its women.

Currently, a group of 13 women are leading the program of self-development.

From a fellow to a changemaker

Isha is one of the many inspiring changemakers who have translated their passion for social change through the SBI Youth for India Fellowship.

A mixed bag of experiences, Isha had had several moments of weaknesses throughout the journey even to the point when she had thoughts of changing the community or working with a different tribe. But, she says, sticking to it, being patient and not giving up has paid off in the long run.


‘SBI Youth for India Fellowship’, an initiative of SBI Foundation provides a platform to the urban youth to participate in Rural Development with their innovative ideas to address the rural struggles and also benefit from the learnings through on-ground experience. You can apply for the fellowship here.

Unable to view the above button? Click here


Talking about the journey and the body of on-ground education received because of this fellowship, she says, “Many of my friends want to undergo the same rural-development experience like this but are mostly afraid of changing fields, sticking to corporate jobs and so on. The only thing I want to say is that the experience has been more fulfilling than anything I have done so far. So if anyone is in two minds about jumping into an experience like this, then let me reassure them to go forward and do it. It is worth every bit of it. You have to take the day as it comes, be patient and believe in your work.”

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