Originally published by Rati Bishnoi for Impatient Optimists.

For 20-year-old Madhu (name changed), being part of Sanmitra Trust’s self-help group has helped her get a job, feed and educate her children, and receive antiretroviral therapy. 

In many parts of the world, women living with HIV face a high risk of falling into poverty: Stigma and fears about worker productivity can make it particularly difficult for women to find work and earn a livelihood.

Sanmitra Trust, a non-governmental organization in Mumbai, India, is working to break these barriers and help women living with HIV, sex workers and other marginalized women build better futures for themselves and their families. In addition to providing health, welfare and legal services, Sanmitra Trust (a Catapult and Global Fund for Women partner) helps women living with HIV develop financial strength by learning job and business skills and access financial services like bank accounts and loans.

An estimated 3.8 million adults and children with HIV live in South and South East Asia, with 2.4 million (more then 60 percent) living in India. Although new HIV infections have been falling in one of the world’s most populous countries, HIV remains high among key populations, such as sex workers. HIV prevalence in Mumbai and its suburbs is moderate (0.68 percent) in the general population, 9.1 percent among “bridge populations” (such as migrant workers and truckers), 8-11 percent among men who have sex with men, 16 percent among injecting drug users and 19-28 percent among female sex workers.

Sanmitra Trust’s self-help groups offer a space for 10 to 15 women, along with trained peer-counselors, to develop job skills, learn about entrepreneurship and connect with others living with HIV/AIDS. Five-day, intensive training courses teach the women how to create solid business models and set up small businesses. Women also visit previous self-help groups to understand how they can help support group members’ efforts, visit wholesale markets to buy supplies and meet government officials to register their enterprises. Because of a special partnership with the State Bank of India, women in the self-help groups can also now open bank accounts and gain access to loans. Since the partnership’s launch, more than 1,000 women have opened bank accounts. The State Bank of India, along with the Pirmal Foundation, the National Skill Development Corporation and Small and Medium Scale Industries Corporation provide seed funding and technical support for the self-help groups.

In addition to building the skills to run small businesses for selling food in markets or goods like ready-made garments and imitation jewelry, women are able to gain emotional strength by communicating and sharing experiences with other women without fear of stigma. This combination of training, emotional support and health services are helping transform lives.

“Jab vishwas paida hota hai, tab kabiliyat aa jaati hai. (When faith takes root, ability automatically follows).” –Neetu, Sanmitra Trust member