About the area
Mahamaya is a very small village in the 24 South Parganas district of West Bengal, located near the slightly larger village of Kashinagar.
This rural area is characterised by small villages scattered among farmland and interspersed by creeks flowing south into the Sunderbans delta. It is low-lying and susceptible to flooding during the monsoon season which can leave the soil with high salinity levels.
Despite the challenges, much of the population is dependent on farming for their livelihoods. This is one of the country’s most backward districts and many people live below the poverty line.
About the local organisation and history of CRS involvement
CRS supports a local community-based organisation called Mahamaya Bandhan Samity, which was founded in 2006 to provide education for the children of the village. ‘Bandhan’ means to bind together and the intention was to work together as a unit for the upbringing of the needy and poor children. They run a pre-primary and primary school and a health programme. CRS has been supporting this organisation since 2012.
As of Summer 2018, funds are needed to complete construction of a multi-purpose building in the village, a project which has been on hold for over two years. The project was started with government funding and an initial grant equal to about £4,800. There was an understanding that further grants would follow, but that did not happen because of a change in government.
The ground floor is already in existence used as a school in the morning and by women’s groups the afternoon – see pictures below. The vision is to have three floors to accommodate the school, a medical clinic, and a workspace for the women to make products for the local market and potentially beyond through CRS’s Nari Dana venture.
About the beneficiaries
Mahamaya is a small village with a population of about 5,200 (500 families). This is a mixed community in terms of religious affiliation, with about 42 per cent of the families being Christian, 44 per cent Hindu and 14 per cent Muslim.
This is a very poor area and many villagers live in huts made of mud and bamboo, some with straw thatch roofs, others with corrugated tin sheet roofs. Most of the working population are farmers or day labourers, earning low wages and living a marginal existence. Poverty and desperation drives many people to alcoholism.
Many children are forced to work to supplement the family income, while the early marriage of girl children is another problem, thus education is not a high priority and illiteracy is high.
Current CRS programmes
CRS supports an education programme for pre-primary age children (2 to 5 years) attended by about 350 children. The curriculum is based on ‘joyful learning’ methods and there is an emphasis on dance, music, drawing and storytelling. Regular home visits are made to motivate parents to send their children to school, and monthly parent-teacher meetings keep parents informed of their children’s progress. The aim is to ensure that these children have the opportunity to enter government primary schools and continue with their education. As many children suffer from iron anaemia deficiency, a programme was run for one year to provide them with iron supplements.
There is also a women’s empowerment programme benefitting about 450 women. Adolescent girls and women can learn skills, particularly in sewing and embroidery, and there are regular group sessions offering training in practical skills and awareness-raising on health and welfare issues.