Unbound Mothers Map Out Their Futures

Using the vivid colors of kolam, the mothers were able to create a map of their community in a local earthen schoolyard, noting houses, water access, medical and educational resources, and other neighborhood features.

Old tradition helps women identify resources

When challenging global poverty, one of the core tenets of healthy development is respecting the capabilities of the people you are there to serve, and building on their strengths.

In southern India, there is an art form called kolam, which uses dyed rice flour to create beautiful designs on the ground outside of homes – basically, like sidewalk chalk without sidewalks. It is a traditional practice often known as a sign of hospitality, but also holds even deeper cultural roots and meaning.

Example of KolamAn example of kolam that a mother of a sponsored child drew outside of the Unbound office in Tiruchirappalli.

In communities challenged by extreme poverty, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by everything that is broken and missing. It is also all too common for well-intentioned outsiders to make assumptions about what’s needed. So part of making effective change is to start by gathering an understanding of what assets are available, and building from there. This process is called Community Resource Mapping (CRM).

This process, like virtually everything in international development, works best when it is led by the people closest to the impact.

One community was facing especially significant challenges because of the effects of the local industry – with health issues among the workers, low wages and child labor. Many people felt trapped, the problems inescapable.

But the local mothers group led their own CRM process. Many of them lacked education, some could not read. But building on their existing skills, they were able to create a map of their community.

Map of community in India

But they didn’t stop there.

From that analysis, they went even further by generating a list of potential business opportunities. “Why bring it here if we can make it here?”

Starting with strengths, they identified gaps. And from gaps, they identified opportunities. So the mothers started businesses – some weaving floor mats, others creating hygiene products and others in rearing livestock. Seventy women have been able to leave factories behind and start their own livelihood projects.

As we reflect on the development and refinement of our program model over the past 38 years, we are grateful for the lessons the families continually teach us – this is so much more powerful and impactful than simply showing up and passing out material goods. It’s locally led, locally driven, locally relevant and locally sustainable.

Not bad for chalk dust.

Resources in the communityMothers also analyzed goods coming into the community – drawing import/export pie charts alongside the map.

Note: Community Resource Mapping participants recently shared more about their story with Reuters.