Jodhpur and Payal Empowerment Centres
For the last 4 months we have been very fortunate in having a volunteer from Germany, Christa Holland, who has expertise in sewing and has been helping with developing new ideas in both Empowerment Centres and upgrading the sewing techniques. We now have an electric sewing machine in each centre which the girls have been taught to use, along with the treadle sewing machines they use at present. They have been able to develop their soft-toy making by making dolls as well as camels and elephants and they have also improved the type of seams they are using on garments and the standard of finishing items. The girls have been really keen to learn these new ideas and it has inspired them to create new items and develop their own creativity.
We also been holding various workshops on women’s empowerment and educating them on their rights as women. One of the workshops was on the problems of domestic violence and how to manage in these situations, unfortunately one of the major problems that the women can encounter when they are married. For this we obtained the help of a local professional person who was able to give them help and practical advice.
We are very happy also, that Anita, one of girls who has polio has been gifted with a scooter from supporters of Sambhali Trust in Germany. She really wanted to have a scooter as she wanted to become more independent and not reliant on others for transport. She is one of students who has been with Sambhali from the beginning and now is taking on tutoring in jewellery-making and is able help and advise other students in the class.
August 15th, Independence Day, meant celebrations and dancing in our Empowerment Centres. In the Payal Centre, we were honoured with a visit by the Vice-Mayor of Jodhpur and our students were able to speak about what being empowered meant to them as well as giving a short theatre and dance performance.
Graduates’ Sewing Centre
Following a bulk of orders which lasted up until the middle of August, since September, the women in the sewing centre have been producing stock for the Sambhali Boutique which is in the centre of Jodhpur. They have been busy making elephants, camels, toiletry bags, kurtas and salwaars and various shoulder bags. This is a very busy time, because we have a lot of tourists coming into the boutique at this time of year, so the girls have been working well to keep up with the number of items necessary. Some women at the Payal Empowerment Centre who have been attending for the last 2 years are now also starting to make items for the boutique. They have been developing cushion covers and table runners using the Rajasthani kanta stitch and using their embroidery techniques to make small birds, camels as tree decorations as well as small elephants. We are considering developing more products using their embroidery as it looks so attractive.
Setrawa Empowerment Centre
Apart from our regular teachers at the Centre, Usha, Mool Singh and Puja we have also had a few volunteers going to Setrawa over the last few months. This helps particularly, as we are able to divide the children into different classes according to their ability and so they get more individual attention. This means that we now have 50-60 children in the after-school class, where they improve their English. Usha and the volunteers have been continuing with the girls from the Dalit class (those who don’t attend school) and are doing hygiene, basic Hindi, English and Maths. Our present volunteer, Caroline, has started what she calls the “Peacock Class”; where she is widening the curriculum and introducing educational activities and telling simples English stories, rhymes and songs. She also has introduced “circle time”, which encourages each student to express themselves and helps them in their self-esteem and confidence. On Saturdays, they have Fun Activities including, Art, Drama and Health and Hygiene. Usha, the Centre Administrator is going to start a daily sewing class for the local women and older children who want to learn to sew using a sewing machine and start making clothes.
Sheerni Microfinance Project
This project is consolidating well and over 60 women have now been helped directly through the scheme so that they are able to purchase items such as electrical machines to help them with their work, goats, cows, or set up a small enterprise in the village. Many women have decided to set up small little shops selling food items; this helps the women to start selling items, to understand simple business principles and take responsibility that they would otherwise not have had and start making a profit. With increased confidence and understanding of the market, they will be able to expand their businesses in the future. All the self-help groups are supervised by our Administrator who is able to make sure the loaning system is carried out in a considered and correct manner and that the repayments are made accordingly.
The Sheerni Project was paid a visit by the Informal Sector Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Local Economic Development Programme, who were an international group of delegates from all over the world who were visiting microfinance projects in India to look at their progress. We were very happy that they chose Sheerni as one of their projects.
WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT PROJECT
We now have 20 girls in the Jodhpur Centre and 39 girls in the Payal Empowerment Centre who all learn sewing techniques, Hindi and English. The girls have learned how to use a sewing machine and to stitch a salwaar and a kurta (trousers and top), together with keeping a file of embroidery stitches and learning how to make soft toys. The teachers from both centres have worked closely together so that there is an exchange of skills in the two groups, so that they all learn the same techniques. The girls have developed beautifully decorated small birds and camels which can be used as tree decorations. We have also been very lucky in having volunteers in the last few months who have taught other skills including making patchwork bags and jewellery-making as well as teaching photography.
Three of the girls in the Payal Centre will be graduating in August and will join the other girls in the Graduates Sewing Centre to start producing items for the Sambhali Boutique and for future orders. These women all have 4 children each and juggle the day between getting up at 5.00am, washing, preparing the breakfast, getting their children ready for school (they start at 7.00am), doing the household chores before the children come back from school at 1.00pm, preparing lunch and this is all before they come to Sambhali. They come to classes for 3 hours and then return home to cook the evening dinner etc. This is all the more extraordinary when everything is so labour intensive and shows how committed these women are to making the most of their skills and opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. They have a wonderful sense of humour and with the help of the theatre workshops for 2 months earlier in the year, they have been able to express themselves better and improvise. They perform a small masked theatre performance to guests and visitors occasionally which helps to boost their confidence and self-esteem. We have had a group of French students visiting the project and they had a cross-cultural exchange whilst they learnt what a day was like for a student in France and the French students learnt what it was like for a girl from Rajasthan.
In Hindi they have learnt the vowels and the alphabet and are beginning to read and write words. We take for granted sometimes that we can read and write in our native tongue and forget how difficult it must be to even understand what is written on a poster when you cannot read. This is why we feel teaching Hindi is so important and these women and girls are getting basic education, that they would otherwise not have received.
English lessons the girls enjoy also. We have a teacher who has taught the ABC in upper and lower case and naming fruits, vegetables and colours. The girls have started to learn the verb tenses in the advanced class. We are very fortunate to have the help of foreign volunteers and so these girls get more individual attention as the class is divided up into different levels.
We are now designating one day a week as a workshop day, which is where we invite professional people to give talks. So far we have had talks from the police on the rights of Dalit women, where to go for help and how to fill in particular forms. They have also had a week of self-defence classes where a local Indian instructor taught them different techniques which combined with exercise increased the girls’ self-awareness.
Over the last 6 months, the girls have had continuous orders for elephants, camels, scarves and a variety of shoulder bags and so we are very happy that the skills the girls are learning in Sambhali are coming to fruition by being able to make good quality products and make a good consistent living. These girls have now started to open bank accounts and after the initial thrill of spending their first earnings on personal items such as jewellery, they are now realising that they have to think seriously about saving money for their future dowry or other wedding expenses if they are single or being able to provide more food, clothes and daily living requirements if they are married. Unfortunately although dowries are officially abolished m India, Rajasthan is still a culture where in most families it is expected and so where girls are predominant in the family, it is always a source of anxiety as to where the dowry is going to come from. Fortunately with the single girls who are now saving they know that they will have some of their own money when they get married, which helps to give them a feeling of independence and self-worth when meeting their husband and his family. Arranged marriages are still the norm in Rajasthan and so by engaging in work other than just activities of the household, the girls realise that there are more opportunities in life and even after marriage they will be able to pass on this education to that of their children whether they are girls or boys.
Fifty-five girls have this year attended the classes at the Setrawa Empowerment Centre. The hours have therefore been extended. From 1pm to 3.30 pm exclusively Dalit girls who do not go to school, participate in Hindi, basic English and Maths classes. From 4pm to 6.30pm girls who go to school come to the centre for after-school classes. Both classes are divided in 3 groups according to the girls’ educational level in order to optimise their The staff maintain an attendance register and every Thursday both classes write tests.
Dalit girls from the outskirts from Setrawa come on a regular basis to firstly benefit from the facilities of the Centre, where they can wash and shampoo their hair etc. At home, access to the nearest well is 3km away and so it’s a priority to enable them to wash first and then they sit down to a Hindi class. It is an achievement for these girls to even hold a pencil, and they have been gradually learning to write basic Hindi characters and also the English alphabet and numbers. Workshops from the volunteers have added another dimension with introducing educational and fun games which have helped with expressing themselves. One weekend was a drama workshop another was on First Aid and the human body systems. There was also a talent show, poetry contest and an art competition. The winner of the poetry contest now has their rhyme recited each day and is painted on one of the walls in the school.
Extra tuition is given in English to those girls (and now some boys as well), who already attend a local school but it is vitally important and obligatory that these children pass their English exams. We believe that by introducing some boys into the Centre, the sense of equality of girls and boys can be instilled in them from the beginning. The classes are divided in 3 levels to teach the components of English grammar to compliment what they are taught at school. At present they have been concentrating on learning prepositions and adjectives.
The Sheerni project in Setrawa now has 7 self-help groups with 10-13 women in each group, all saving 50 rupees a month to enable them to have access to both internal and external loans through Sambhali Trust. Now we have 27 women having internal loaning and 29 women external loaning. We have chosen 3 more women for external loaning as they wanted to set-up their own small shops. For the first time we have sanctioned a medical loan of Rs 7000 which was for a gynaecological problem. A nurse attends Setrawa once a week focussing on the problems of anaemia, health and hygiene and to discuss problems particularly those incurred by pregnant women. We have provided 9 cows and 10 sewing machines within the community. Apart from the enterprises that have been started by 44 women in Setrawa, spin-offs have been providing electricity for families in the village. One lady wanted a flour-grinding machine, but required electricity. She applied to the village sarpanch and within 2 weeks, 18 houses received electricity. This flour-grinding machine also serves 50 families in the village; the 5 cows provide several litres of milk a day for the local boys’ hostel; women are making 1500 sari bags for an order in Australia. Loans were also given for a grocery store, sweet shop, 3 goats and a barber’s shop.
The school's location: Setrawa village, 110 kilometres from Jodhpur in western Rajasthan. The students: Around 70-80 girls, all aged eight years and above. The teachers: Two young Canadians, Amelia Steteman, 23, and Jennifer Carlisoe, 22. To many, this may appear to be a strange classroom but it's a regular feature at the Setrawa school, which is run by the Sambhali Trust. Here's what a typical day at this small school, set up in 2007, is like: At 11 am sharp, a gaggle of enthusiastic girls from nearby homes walks in. They brush their teeth, take a quick wash and change into clean clothes. For the next hour-and-a-half, they are taught the basics of English and Hindi. After school, they attend a workshop organised especially for them - it could be on anything from dramatics and general knowledge to health and art. If any of the girls displays the potential for higher education, the Trust takes on the responsibility of getting them admission into a local private school. It also takes care of the school fees along with the expenses for books, stationery and uniforms - approximately Rs 8,000 a year is needed to put one child through school. The only catch: Parents have to sign an affidavit in the presence of village elders that they will send their daughter to school at least until she completes Class X and that they will not marry her off before she turns 18. A small price to pay for a free education? Unfortunately, not in the male-dominated Rajasthani rural society, especially in the western part of the state, where sending girls to school is still frowned upon. But the Sambhali Trust has managed to bring about a change in this attitude, at least to some extent. "In last four years, we have put 35 girls - 10 from Setrawa - in private schools in Jodhpur. The youngest one is in Prep while the eldest is in Class X," informs Govind Singh Rathore, founder of Sambhali Trust. Besides providing educational opportunities, the Trust also promotes economic independence among women through vocational training and helps them develop social skills. The Setrawa school provides basic education to girls who can't afford traditional schooling and supplements the schooling of those who can. "We also deal with the issues of caste and encourage free interaction between children of different castes while condemning prejudice and discrimination," Rathore says. Helping the school to successfully fulfill its mission is a passionate group of foreign volunteers. Amelia and Jennifer are part of the group that forms the backbone of Sambhali Trust's work. "Each year, we recruit 25-35 volunteers on long- and short-term basis. The volunteers are asked to do reporting for the projects, write proposals, help with fund-raising, advertise volunteer possibilities and conduct workshops. They are also required to work at the Setrawa centres for at least a month. They live with local families, teach girls at the school, organise community workshops and awareness activities and conduct creative courses in arts and craft," explains Rathore. South African Kerry Kisbey-Green, 18, who conducted the drama workshop at the Setrawa school last month, gives a glimpse into a volunteer's experience. She says, "Living in Setrawa is challenging. The simple life and facilities are easy to get used to, but I have found the language barrier extremely isolating at times. The family I live with is incredibly kind to me; they really make me feel like I belong here, although our conversations are limited by their limited knowledge of English and my few words of Hindi." Some of them are also moved looking at the kind of difficulties women and girls face here, especially at the hands of abusive husbands and alcoholic fathers. Talking about it, Djamila Eliane Furthmüller, 23, a student of International Relations at Geneva, Switzerland, says, "I am very touched by the difficult situations and struggles they have to face every day, but I am also amazed to see how well they deal with it and the difference the Trust's work has made to their lives." The literacy programme of Sambhali Trust started as an offshoot of the three empowerment centres the organisation runs - two in Jodhpur and one in Setrawa - for women and girls, where they are taught vocational skills like textile productions, block printing, screen printing, embroidery and tie and dye. The finished products, such as scarves, handbags, cloth toys and tablecloths, are sold through Sambhali India, a sister company. The company returns 75 per cent of the profit from sales to those who produce them. Rathore, who has not studied beyond Class X himself, got the inspiration to set up this life-changing Trust from within his home. "I was 14 when my father, an alcoholic, died of heart failure. My mother asked me to drop out of school and run the family guesthouse (in Jodhpur's Raika Bagh locality)," he recalls. "I had a terrible childhood. I witnessed all kinds of violence on women in my house. My grandmother was 12 when she got married to a man thrice her age. My mother was 15 at the time of her marriage. A cousin committed suicide after delivering a girl child, her fourth daughter. I ran the guesthouse for about 10 years and then decided I had to do something for uneducated women, like my mother and grandmother, who suffer silently in our patriarchal society. That's why I founded the Sambhali Trust in January 2007." His mother and wife now run the family guesthouse and contribute some of its profits to the Trust. Rathore also operates tours to help sustain this work. It all started with the Jodhpur Empowerment Project for Dalit and underprivileged women and girls aged between 15 and 22. A two-year course, running six days a week between 11.30 am and 3 pm, was initiated to help them become independent. A second project, Payal Sewing Centre, teaches different sewing techniques. Today, 30 women not only learn sewing but are given English lessons in the afternoons. Next came the Setrawa empowerment centre, and the school was started some time later. There's also a mirco-credit scheme, the Sheerni Project. The Sambhali Trust conducts other interesting events as well, like a photography exhibition that it staged recently in Jodhpur, which showcased the result of a photography workshop that English photojournalist Rowan Lange had conducted for 10 girls at the Jodhpur centre. She had given them cameras and trained them to use it. Meanwhile, work is also on at the Payal Sewing Centre to put up a modern theatre show after German theatre professor Heiderose Lange, 68, and German filmmaker Verena Jahnke conducted a month-long theatre workshop here. Ultimately, this is about education, not mere learning. By imparting education and life skills, the Trust has helped transform many young girls into bright, confident women who can stand up for themselves, have the capacity to fulfill their dreams and who are also conversant in English. Girls like Sonia Pandit, 19, who has learnt sewing at an empowerment centre in Jodhpur. She smiles as she says, "I want to become the son of my mother. I earn around Rs 3,000 every month at the sewing centre. With my first salary, I bought myself a gold nose ring and a pair of silver anklets."
Khamaghani Dear friends!
First of all I would like to thank you all on behalf of the staff and on behalf of the women and girls of our program for your generous donations to Sambhali Trust!
Since December 22nd 2010 we have collected the total sum of $ 5,367 for Sambhali Trust! This is a great achievement and support for our Empowerment Project.
Sambhali Trust started off very well in the New Year 2011, with many new projects, aspirations and goals. In this letter we would like to share some of the most important events with you about the program you have been supporting.
From January 18th 2011 until February 4th 2011 we had the pleasure of working for three weeks with four volunteers from Canada and Switzerland. These wonderful ladies taught our girls and women quilting and jewelry making. The intention of the jewelry making workshop was to teach a number of the students of Sambhali Trust the art of jewelry making using plastic, wooden, semi precious, silver and pearl beads. In the quilting workshop the students learned different sewing techniques, hand and machine sewing, and produced beautiful quilted bags.
These two workshops were great opportunities for our women and girls to further develop their marketable arts and crafts skills and therefore a little step towards self independence. Many thanks to Ashly, Nigama, Rosemary and Miss Rosemary for sharing your expertise with us!
The finished products of theses workshops are now being sold at our Sambhali Boutique in the old town of Jodhpur, close to the famous clock tower. Our Boutique, opened in July 2010, provides an outlet for the participants and graduates of Sambhali Trust to sell the clothes and handicraft items they produce and to help find markets, locally and internationally which also represents a step towards sustainability for Sambhali Trust.
On January 22nd the Sambhali staff and the woman and girls of our project went to Mandore, an ancient site situated near Jodhpur, for a picnic. This team building day was a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. And we all had great fun playing games, eating together and simply enjoying each other’s company!
On February 2nd we also had the pleasure of giving five cows to the women of the self help groups of our Sheerni Microcredit Program donated by our supporters. The Sheerni Microfinance Project has made progressive steps towards lifting poverty and women’s empowerment through loaning, training and education. The women who take care of the cows will now be able to sell their milk and hopefully start a dairy farm of their own in the future.
Many thanks again for your support! We will continue to keep you updated about our work and events of the following months.
Govind Singh Rathore
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