Indien: Omana T K

Tilonia and Wayanad district are hundreds of miles and cultures apart. Yet, one informed the other to the extent that Omana took economic empowerment to one of India's poorest districts.

— Omana T K

When she was 18 years old, Omana T K (born 1959) ran away from home to work in an NGO in Rajasthan. Returning to Kerala eight years later, she sold off all her assets to set up the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement in 1989. That was the start of a veritable revolution in the villages of the backward Wayanad district; today, it has several women's self-help groups and sees active participation by women in village-level activities. She also established a highly successful rainwater-harvesting movement.

Omana T K left home to follow her dream of associating with developmental activism. She heard about and was fascinated by the Social Welfare and Research Center's work in Tilonia, Rajasthan. After working in Tilonia for eight years, she and her husband returned to Kerala, settling down in the impoverished Wayanad district. Omana sold all her assets to found the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement in 1989. It took patience and perseverance to win over the trust of the women in the district and to set up small self-help groups. Today, the groups' combined membership is in the thousands: they have become a veritable movement in Wayanad's villages. Piggybacking on financial empowerment was social participation by women. Of equal importance is Omana's work on the conservation of natural resources such as soil, water, and biodiversity through community-based action programs and the implementation of rainwater-harvesting technologies. She informed 50,000 people in 30 villages about water conservation through puppet shows and street plays. Today, the rainwater-harvesting structures ensure that potable water is available during dry summers. The district's population have formed community-based water use and conservation-monitoring committees. Omana has also popularized the idea of a village-level seed exchange program to protect and propagate indigenous seed varieties. Most important, more than 20,000 impoverished families, tribal groups with poor educational opportunities, and Muslim women have been included in the development process. Omana's life is inspirational: a woman from a rural agricultural background who stood convention on its head, changing the lives of thousands of rural men and women.

Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement