Sugunamma was only a teenager when she gave birth to her son and daughter. Her husband was an aggressive drunk who physically and sexually abused her, and left her fearing for the safety of herself and her children.

Once the money the family had ran out, her husband found other ways to pay for his drink: "He stole my jewellery. He even sold the earrings and bracelets I was wearing - he just ripped them off. Then it was my clothes, until I had no saris left to wear. He also sold all our items from the house, even the pots and pans. We had nothing left to cook with."

But the worst was yet to come. Walking home one day on the edge of the village reservoir, they had an argument and he pushed her over the edge. Sugunamma fell down to the bottom, but luckily came out alive.

Eventually Sugunanmma ran away with her children. For three years they were homeless.  Then when she felt safe, she eturned to return their village. Sugunamma built a small shed out of coconut leaves but, with just one small piece of plastic, it was not enough to keep them dry during the heavy monsoon rains.

When SCIAF's local partner, Prakruthi, started a women's self-help, savings and loans group in the village, Sugunamma was among the first to join. It meant Sugunamma was able to buy a cow and earn an income from selling the milk. Slowly, she built up savings to buy more livestock and eventually made enough profit to build a small house.

Being part of the self-help group also provided Sugunamma with literacy skills by keeping books and doing administration. And when a job opened up for a cook in the local school, several group members helped her to apply and get it.  

But most of all, says Sugunamma, the group has given her the courage to face her past. She told us, "I am no longer afraid. The most important thing is that we are free now."

I am no longer afraid. The most important thing is that we are free now.