Bangalore Rural Educational and Development Society (BREADS)

Breath of fresh air in Kollam, Kerala

It’s Earth Day—and while the sight of heaps of plastic-loaded garbage in the cities is a depressing reminder of how much work needs to be done—allow the electric autorickshaws driven by the fisherwomen of Kollam to bring you some positive vibes with their empowered use of clean transport.

On 13 April 2024, six licensed women drivers drove into the future in their own e-autos in the 7th phase of the WE Auto (Women Empowerment through Electric Autos) initiative in Kollam, Kerala; joining the other trailblazers, who now constitute the 25-strong group of women from the local fishing community. They are literally driving change into their own lives and the lives of their communities, with the support of BREADS and its partner Fishermen Community Development Programme (FCDP). 

Many pleasant facts ride on these little electric autorickshaws:

  • Kollam, being a coastal region, is an environmentally-sensitive area. The WE Autos promote public awareness about clean transport and the reduction of air pollution.
  • Over 200,000 passengers have been transported safely over the past 3 years.
  • Among them, 400 children are transported to school in a daily practical lesson of climate education.
  • The WE Autos are a public challenge to stereotypes around women from the fishing community, and around women in general.
  • Women passengers prefer the WE Autos because they are women-friendly.
  • An average annual income of INR 60,00,000 has been added to the local community through the autos.
  • Through the WE Autos initiative, emergency charging facilities have been made available for e-autos in the town.
  • WE Auto is an inspiration and model to other NGOs as a successful entrepreneurial model of women’s empowerment.

The women themselves have each undergone personal empowerment and transformation and their stories are inspiring. All of them were poorly educated, without exposure to the world, and disempowered by family situations of abuse and/or socioeconomic struggles.

Johncy Alex, a 30-year-old single mother, faces tremendous challenges in her daily life. Separated from her husband, she has the complete responsibility of housing, feeding and educating her two children. The potential of e-autos shared by her relative, ignited a spark of hope within her. Johncy reached out to FCDP for assistance and enrolled in their comprehensive training programme for WE Autos. She was diligent in acquiring the necessary skills and license, and eventually procured an auto through FCDP. Johncy’s e-auto is now her lifeline, bringing her a daily income of at least INR 1000. This income stream enables her to meet her daily expenses, empowers her to gradually settle outstanding debts, while ensuring that her children receive the education they deserve.

The average cost of an e-auto is INR 350,000, which is not a small sum. However, the financial, technical and moral support provided by FCDP, and the cost benefits of the low-maintenance electric autos, make the journey to ownership a very achievable goal for Johncy. Her resilience and determination, backed by BREADS’ and FCDP’s support, helps Johncy drive herself and her family into a brighter tomorrow in an auto fuelled by clean energy. Happy Earth Day!

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