Aandammal, a fat black lady from a remote village of Madurai district, Tamilnadu is a woman who is to be worshipped. Born in poor family and her mother committing suicide, she took the responsibility of raising her two younger sisters. She used to work a agricultural laborer and as Chittal in building construction work. Her poor family condition forced her to marry Mr.Balu, 20 years elder than her and who had a girl of Aandammals age, through his first wife.
Balu has married her just for her age and did not perform the duties of a husband. He was a drunkard and spendthrift. Aandammal continued to work as a agricultural labourer. She toiled for her own food. Soon she gave birth to a male child.
Aandammal heard about the women self help groups functioning in her village, but was always reluctant to join. But her credit needs left her with no other option and hence she joined Vinayagar Kalanjiam, a women SHG functioning under Palamedu Vattara Kalanjiam, a federation of women SHGs.
Despite being poor and uneducated, Aandammal had a sharp mind. She never let her problems to undermine her enthusiasm. Also she had natural leadership skills. Her presence of mind and leadership skills soon made her the leader of the women SHG. Then within a year, she became the cluster leader and then rose to the leadership position of Palmedu Vattara Kalanjiam. Selected as a executive member of the Board of Palamedu Vattara Kalanjiam, she became its president. She also learned to put her signature in due course.
Though uneducated, she developed the habit of looking at the minutes books of SHGs and other accounts books. Her natural ability helped her to find the mistakes in the books of accounts, even which a learned person misses. She asked to question the members based on this.
Her untiring work, made the Vellayampatti cluster to which her SHG belongs, from a bad cluster to the best cluster in Palamedu Vattara kalanjiam. Her regular visits to groups, strict follow up of loans, efforts in forming new groups and the rapport she developed with other SHG women helped in the growth of the cluster.
At federation too, she performed her role very well. She by her casual talk filled with field reality, she was able to convince the bank managers to get loan for SHGs. She also follow up the loans for proper repayment which fetched her a good name with the bank.
Always in a humorous mood, she gave her time mostly for the development of the SHG federation. And all these, she did without even getting a wage. Her way of tackling the issues in a SHG, negotiating with people, reviewing the federation staff about their work and sudden practical ideas which jumps up from her mind made the federation to grow.
The federation which was in repayment problems due to housing loans given to rural poor, slowly recovered. The income of the federation also increased and it became self sustainable on its own.
The service she rendered to the federation for more than a decade is commendable by any means. I had the opportunity of working in that federation as Managing Director. Half of my burden was reduced by Mrs.Aandammal. I learned a lot about managing SHG and its members through her. Field visits with her increased my leadership skills and negotiating skills. We worked like a double barrel gun. If we aim and shoot, the target will never be missed. My 4.5 years of experience in that women SHG federation, is so far the most pleasurable moment in my work life, I did not feel like working. I felt like living.
I was able to manage the staffs pretty well and solve any dispute arising between them. Aandammal, being a lady moves with the female staffs and brings even their house hold problems to my notice. We supported them wherever possible. There is not time limit for our work. Like a policemen we both were available 24 hours to solve any problem in the field.
In return for her selfless work, she expected only one thing- a acknowledgement for her good deeds and a respect which she deserves to have.
The so called educated placed as Managing Directors of women SHG federations find difficult to relate with poor people and with the Board of Directors of the federation, which is the common scenario I observe. Mostly, they dominate the Board and gets things done according to their need. However, on contrary I gave respect not only to Aandammal but all the poor and also the volunteers who are less paid.
Aandammal is the woman, I admire most than my mother. A woman who does not care about her dressing, doesn’t even oil her hair or comb unless during special events has a wonderful talent and wonderful heart. When she passes by you, you won’t even take note of her. But in her lies a great leader.
Flirting girls with make ups and no brains has to learn a lot from her.