AmritaSREE (Self-Reliance Education & Employment), the women’s empowerment program launched by Amma, has completed 16 years and is entering its 17th. Currently, AmritaSREE comprises 13,000 groups with more than 200,000 members in 21 states. Most of the members are from villages and other isolated rural areas.
This year, MAM organized the anniversary event at Amritapuri, where it launched the second installment of a COVID-19 aid package to SHG members. It consists of financial assistance, grocery kits, and clothes worth ₹350 million (US $4.2 million). Aid is also going to people affected by recent floods in Kerala.
Amma explained this is support for the fact that these women sincerely try their best to stand on their own two feet. “They do not shift their responsibilities to anyone else, or depend on others, or blame others. If we focus on the faults and shortcomings of others, there will be time for nothing else. Instead, take up the reins of your life firmly in your own hands and move forward,” she said.
“Many of the AmritaSREE members in different units have been able to put in money and start their own businesses. Many have been able to build homes for the homeless with profit from their businesses. Many were able to conduct weddings with the money. Many were able to give money to others for treating illnesses. Even though those people did not have much, they had the attitude to contribute what they had earned through their hard work.”
Sri Arif Mohammad Khan is the Honourable Governor of Kerala and virtually attended this year’s event to declare the launch and distribution of aid to the SHG members. He shared how he was deeply moved by the story of a poor village woman who came to Amma about a disease that affected the poultry in their village, and that Amma spent a long time speaking with the woman about it.
“For an affluent onlooker, the death of two or three hens may sound very small. But for the poor woman, poultry-rearing was a means of livelihood. When she saw her hens dying, the village woman realized that the rhythm of her life was disrupted,” Khan said.
“Amma realized this and considered it her duty to give her patient care and console her. The message that Amma gives is that there is nothing holier than feeling the pain of those who suffer. That is the essence of all devotion.”
The launch of this year’s support took place in Amritapuri on December 18th. Sri V Muraleedharan, Union Minister of State for External Affairs & Parliamentary Affairs of India, took part online. He emphasized how it is a known fact that women form the base of all kinds of development taking place around the world.
“According to the UN World Survey in 2014, fields such as education, health and employment have exhibited drastic improvement following the participation of women in decision-making. The advancement of society is entirely based on the empowerment of women,” he said.
“Amma’s intention behind the introduction of SHGs is not entirely for helping the needy ones, but also to make them a part of society’s development. She is very aware of the importance of women’s involvement in developmental activities.”
Sri C.R. Mahesh, Honourable Member of the Kerala Legislative Assembly for Karunagapplly, attended the event and expressed his gratitude for the positive impact AmritaSREE has had upon the women and their families.
“As a social worker who represents this area, when people unburden their sorrows, unknowingly my tears flow. People all around us are in debt, sick, and dying because they cannot afford treatments. The sadness that started with floods continues unabated due to COVID and we Malayalees are pushing ahead with sadness,” he expressed.
“It is during these times that Amma is showering us with her grace. Irrespective of religion, caste, creed, or affiliation, accepting all those who come to Amma, receive her love and care. Amma consoles them and lightens their sadness. The noble activities that Amma is doing, that MAM is doing; as the people’s representative, I am happy and extend my support.”
AmritaSREE started in 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The natural disaster not only destroyed thousands of lives but also seriously impacted the fishing industry. When the fishermen and their families explained the crisis to Amma, she immediately understood that alternate forms of livelihood were necessary and that the women in the households should learn to develop new skill sets to help their families make ends meet. With this goal, Amma launched the community-based self-help group program.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, MAM (Mata Amritanandamayi Math) has provided close to ₹500 million (US $6 million) in direct financial assistance to AmritaSREE SHG members. Because the pandemic continues unabated, the Math has decided to now give additional financial assistance of ₹350 million (US $4 million).
With this, the total amount contributed since the onset of COVID-19 stands close to ₹850 million (US $10 million). These contributions include ₹100 million (US $1.2 million) that MAM contributed to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund and ₹30 million (US $300,000) were given to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund towards COVID-19 relief measures in April of 2020.
Every year, on the anniversary of AmritaSREE’s launch, MAM provides a seed grant of ₹30,000 (US $360) to each SHG. Over 500,000 sarees are also distributed to AmritaSREE members, along with new clothes for their families. Even when the COVID epidemic hit in 2020, Amma ensured all necessary help, including food kits, reached all AmritaSREE members.