19-year-old Rinki Kumari begins her day by feeding her cattle. Then she milks the buffaloes and cooks the day’s meals for her family.
Rinki lives with her parents and her four younger siblings live in a mud and straw hut in Sahdeokhap, a village in India’s eastern state of Bihar.
After she’s done her morning chores, Rinki packs her lunch, picks up her handbag, and is ready for her workday at a branch of The Bank of India.
Speaking in her Bihari dialect she says, “I am not an employee here but a Bank Mitra. I am a friend of the villagers.”
Every morning a long line of villagers forms next to her desk. This morning Rinki helps Bhola Yadav, a 70-year-old farmer, open a savings account at the bank. Next in line is 55-year-old Sampool Devi from Mathiyani Village. Rinki fills two forms for her; one to deposit cash and the other to make withdrawals.
Sunil Narayan, the bank manager is relieved that the villagers finally are getting regular help.
“Since they can’t read or write, these villagers earlier faced problems whenever they came to the bank. Sometimes they would ask an employee or me to help them fill out the forms. But we are not free always to help them. And women coming to the bank were reluctant to ask for help. But Rinki’s presence here over the last three months has brought about a great change.”
Rinki is in effect, working as a customer care executive. In most places, this would be a very well-paid white-collar job. Rinki, as a Bank Mitra earns a monthly salary of Rs 1700 - just under US$40.
“I help fifty to hundred people from nearly 60 villages everyday. I feel very satisfied that I can be of help to so many people.”
The Bank Mitra idea is part of a larger social and economic project called Jeevika or the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project; a joint project by the Bihar government and the World Bank. It’s goal is simple: to help the rural poor of one of the country’s poorest states. There are more than 4000 villages in Bihar encompassing a population of nearly three million.
Rinki is a pioneer. She is the first among the 50 trained Bank Mitras scattered around Bihar. 90 percent of them are women. Within the next two months, Jeevika plans to train and deploy 160 more Mitras all over Bihar.
Jitendra, the Jeevika project manager at Gaya is thrilled with the success of the scheme.
“The concept itself is very exciting. We pick people from the community to be Mitras. Our idea is to give assistance to the poorest of the poor in this state. That’s our contribution in the larger effort to pull Bihar out of poverty.”