Usually, women would be expected to hand their salaries over to men, but these women are doing things differently. Around 30 women each started saving 10 rupees a month (about 12 pence), and collected it all together. Eventually, they had a system where they could offer out low-interest loans to each other, where borrowing was based on trust.
This is wholly organised by the women. There are no men sitting at the top pulling the strings, and there is no political agenda. The sense of empowerment the women feel is immediately obvious, and there are now over 21,000 women in the group of cooperatives.
In a time before the Timbaktu Collective, a lot of people had to take out bank loans to be able to cover their living expenses. Maneelamma tells us that in that time, there was no sense of having your own life. In the end, many people left the area, and a high number of farmers under pressure commited suicide.
Maneelamma is clearly, and quite rightly, proud of the achievements of the Collective. She says: “We’ve come together to a state now where a rural woman is able to access a loan of 100,000 rupees [£1,162]. In the future, she should be able to access 200,000 [£2,324]! In the future a woman should not have to rely on anyone.”
This ethical cooperative banking system based on honesty and collaboration seems like an idea that could be replicated all over the world; as long as people can learn to cooperate with and trust each other.
And this is not where the lesson in social regeneration ends. Nestled in between trees (which did not exist 25 years ago) on an experimental farm, we are shown another example of how The Timbaktu Collective is challenging social structures.
We’re taken to meet a group of children, who are busy rescuing turtles. These are the children from the Nature School, and the story is bittersweet. While the children appear happily immersed in the nature around them, they are only here because they have nowhere else to go. They have no-one else to care for them, or those who are supposed to care for them have been abusive.
Now, these children have an incredible environment in which to learn; the school is in the middle of a forest, and nature is intertwined in everything they do. They are cared for completely by staff on site, and will be here until they are old enough to be reintegrated into the Government school system.
Seeing The Women’s Cooperative, the Nature School, and everything else at The Timbaktu Collective is a reminder of the importance of equality. In a place where nothing could grow - resulting in poverty and migration - finding a better balance for both people and nature has given this community renewed strength.
The work here proves that equality is not a luxury... it is a necessity.