- by M. Chooki

When the tsunami struck the Marina Coast of Chennai in India on Dec. 26 last year and seriously affected the livelihoods of a large number of fisherwomen, it was natural for Dr. Jaya Arunachalam, pioneer in microfinance, to get involved in rehabilitation.

Dr. Arunachalam, president of Working Women's Forum (WWF), made a presentation about her work, especially in the aftermath of the tsunami, at a reception at the Indian Consulate in New York on May 3. Citigroup Microfinance Business coordinated Dr. Arunachalam's visit.

Dr. Arunachalam and her organization have been involved in using microfinance to help economically underprivileged women in the region since 1978. What began with barely 800 women then has now grown into a significant socio-economic grassroots movement covering 700,000 women in 3,415 villages and 2,708 slums.

According to Robert Annibale, global director of Citigroup Microfinance Business, WWF has distributed over Rs. 110 million ($2.4 million) with a recovery rate of 98 percent.

"Citigroup and its predecessor companies have been involved in the field of microfinance for the better part of the past two decades now. But what we have achieved as a corporation, Jaya Arunachalam has achieved single-handedly and most humbly," Annibale said.

WWF volunteers led by Dr. Arunachalam visited the tsunami-affected areas finding out what the families needed in terms of material, financial and emotional help.

With the help of Rs 2.5 million (about $ 60,000) from Citibank, WWF was able to reach all of its 2,000 members affected in Chennai, rural Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh within two weeks, she said.

Dr. Arunachalam received an honorary doctorate from the University of Luenberg, Germany, in 1999 in recognition her "exemplary work" among the poorest women in India. She was also awarded the Padmashri, one of India's high civilian honors in 1987.

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