Women empowerment best process for self-reliance: Bethany nun

By Santosh Digal

Manila, October 31, 2019: Sister Shanti Priyal, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Little Flower of Bethany, is the director of Bethany Social Service Centre (BSSC), Paradip, a port city, some 105 km east of Bhubaneswar, State capital of Odisha.

She is a professional social worker who is committed to the causes of the poor and marginalized. AT BSSC, she is passionate about the empowerment of women and working for their financial self-reliance and promotion of gender justice.

Matters India Special Correspondent in Manila, Santosh Digal, conducted an email interview with Sister Priyal about her work, experiences and BSSC.

Please tell us about yourself

I am one of the passionate social workers having a Master of Arts in Social Work with 15 years of experience among the Sisters of Bethany Congregation in this field. I have accepted social work as a mission to fulfill my religious vows seeing Jesus in the faces of the poor and marginalized.

Can you briefly share with us about the history and activities of Bethany Social Service Centre (BSSC), Paradip?

Bethany Social Service Centre, Paradip was initiated by Sister Shaila, BS with the involvement of the students of the Bethany Convent School after the super cyclone in 1999.

The students used to visit once a week to the community with the handholding support of the Sisters. They used to interact with the families and come back with some pathetic stories, which inspired the Sisters to go deeper into people’s issues.

BSSC’s Social work activities began with mobilizing people for small community actions of cleaning village surroundings, ponds, tube wells and roads.

Women and youth came forward and engaged themselves for the common cause.

All these community actions encouraged the Sisters to form a Social Service Center under the guidance of the social work team with due direction of Divine Word Father Richard Vaz, then director of Odisha Forum for Social Action, Bhubaneswar during 2003. It was started with a charity approach. Gradually there was a paradigm shift from charity to development approach during 2005 with the support from funding agencies till today.

What are the major programmes the BSSC has undertaken so far?

Well, BSSC is forming and strengthening women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) at the village level. Major initiatives have been on leadership building, thrift and credit management, linkage with financial institutions. BSSC has collective efforts to address the issues of illiteracy, ignorance, gender inequality, women atrocities, healthcare, malnutrition and unemployment.

The women are federated with 150 SHGs into a Krupa Mahila Swabalambi Bohumukhi Samabaya Samiti (Self-reliant Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society) for their socio-economic development. They are encouraged to tap government welfare schemes and internal loaning for lucrative income generation activities.

What are the challenges your center and its members face?

The center and its members currently do face a challenge to help the women establish market linkage.

BSSC is empowering women. Why is it so important for them and society at large?
Well, I believe, women empowerment is the best process for self-reliance and holistic development. Once they are empowered, gradually their problems (individual and group, community) will be solved by them. They lead them to work for sustainable development.

Why does BSSC provide skill development training to women?

There are some women in the villages that are not included in our project, who still found to be dependent on their counter partners remaining under their control. They have no voice due to lack of awareness on their rights inviting exploitation, corruption and atrocities in families, villages and communities at large. Therefore, I think women should be empowered to be analytic, vociferous and self-reliant.

What has been the approach of women empowerment?

The thrust is to develop a sense of trust to each other. We focus on community building and collective mobilization, capacity building, leadership and decentralization of power. The approach is on collaborative and participatory programme based but not project-based.

What are the plans of BSSC?

We do plan not by ourselves, but with the empowered women. We have a plan of registering women cooperative for self-reliance and sustainable development.

Your final word.

I sincerely thank all the women members of the project area for marching forward with BSSC towards establishing a just and humane society with economic self-sufficiency and prosperity.

I am grateful to the funding partners for their generous support and to the professional social workers who extend their help in project planning, implementation, training, capacity building, close guidance and evaluation.

I also thank my provincial and all the sisters in our community for their encouragement and strong support.

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