Apply to Join
May 24, 2019

The making of a sisterhood

April 2019 – Chennai, India

For the first time in five years, the sky is blue.

It's my eleventh trip here in five years, but my first in April. Every day, all day, yellow-blossomed copperpods and pink mariposa trees wave in a gentle breeze beneath a clear sky. The polluted clouds of winter are gone and the the oppressive heat of summer has not yet descended. And with the balmy blue-skyed shift of spring, I sense a shift in Priyam, too. A steadiness of purpose and connection.

I arrive to the Priyam office on my first morning, ready for a progress briefing with my team. I'm eager for updates: how has the MAHLA Project Phase 2 unfolded since we launched it in February?

Here's what I find:

  • The women consistently meet together in the center 4-5 days per week
  • They practice making woven mats, baskets, tote bags, and clothing – organized into small groups based on their interests, talents, and skills
  • Together with Rani and Gereena, our program director and coordinator, the women have created clear proposals – including cost analyses – for what they want to do next. Some will work alone, focusing on jewelry or sewing, but most intend to form small collectives to work towards product targets, build a client base, and sell products together.
  • The women are relaxed and comfortable together, teasing and teaching and supporting each other in a steady flow of words and laughter as they work.

On this trip, we focus on teamwork, communication, and of course – laughter.

We spend a day at the beach, followed by visits to a temple and a church, for our second annual beach day. Honestly, is there anything like getting drenched by the sea under a blue sky, the rhythm of the waves, your children shrieking and laughing, to lift some of the weight from your chest? Far too often, poverty steals the chance for lightheartedness, for forgetfulness. It becomes impossible to escape even just for a day. This doesn't seem fair, so we have Priyam beach days. They are always a highlight. The colorful saris of the women swirl in the water, their long braids dripping with saltwater, the children are ecstatic (and so are the mothers), everyone is soaked. I get sunburned. We feel like a family.

On another day, in the center, I lead a session that we all should do more often: the women sit cross-legged on the floor and take turns answering the following questions aloud. What am I proud of about myself? What am I good at? I do it, too. It's strange and new to celebrate ourselves in this way, but it feels powerful.

I open and close the session with a short group meditation: we put our hands on our chests and our bellies, breathe deeply, and feel gratitude for our own strength and resilience.

Priyam is no longer just about alleviating immediate survival needs. We've made it to a deeper level, to the places where the heart and the mind can begin to shift and grow in permanent ways.

In that small lemon-yellow room, I am struck by how much I have learned from these women. They learn from each other, they learn from me, and I learn from them. We are more than a project or an organization or an initiative. We have become a sisterhood.

Feb 5, 2019

Prioritizing the women we partner with: welcoming complexity and planning longterm

Have you ever read Priyam Global's Manifesto? It's a little paragraph that outlines Priyam Global's core values. Focus on relationships. Brainstorm often and together. Welcome complexity. Evaluate and pivot. Be dynamic. Plan for the longterm. Stay humble. First drafted in 2015, that little paragraph continues to shape how we operate today.

Our plans to expand into rural areas of Chennai in early 2019 were based on careful thought and detailed evaluations of the situation in the communities where we work, alongside a realistic perspective of what we currently know and what we still need to learn. After two years of piloting our MAHLA project, which supports mothers of children with disabilities to develop self-confidence, strong friendships, and income-generating skills, we felt pretty confident that we had enough experience to begin turning our focus outward – beyond the families of children enrolled in our partner Hope School. 

But then, at the end of our second pilot year in December 2018, we interviewed every woman who has graduated from our program (a total of 24) and held several group conversations to hear their feedback and get a sense for how equipped they actually were to maintain lasting change for themselves and their families.

What evolved from these conversations was a two-fold realization:

  1. Our program is meeting the real needs of mothers and resulting in lasting emotional and mental improvement. This is illustrated by the 0% drop-out rate from our program, the steady attendance, and the obvious ease and love between the mothers compared to their withdrawn and anxious states at the beginning of the program.

  2. Equipping mothers with skills and knowledge, improving their wellbeing, and helping them to create the ability to make lasting change was the first step; now we need to support their own leadership capacity. The mothers unanimously requested a six month extension of the program, which we are referring to as Phase 2. In this phase, mothers from our first and second cohorts will be combined into a single group. Now that the mothers have useful skills and a wider perspective of their own value and worth, we need to teach them how to use their skills: how to set goals and objectives, how to problem solve, and how to advocate for their own needs. Taking part in our program infused the women with forward momentum, and now through practice and a modified version of support, we will work to ensure that this momentum is deeply ingrained and sustainable.

We have decided to grant the mothers' request and enrolled all 24 mothers in Phase 2, which begins this week! The women will have 6 months to practice together, teach each other, and work to meet various product targets. We are developing a personal capacity-building curriculum, and the women will participate in ongoing workshops to articulate their dreams, set goals, set priorities, solve problems creatively, and develop ther new-found confidence.

The standard approach for development and poverty alleviation programs is to set a fixed timeline based on funding and to end the program at a pre-determined time. However, the result of this is that the globe is littered with development projects that have ended too early or in the wrong way, and as a result any progress made during the project is lost. This is a waste of time, resources, effort, and hope.

We believe that by providing this additional support to the women in our program, who have consistently proven their commitment to improving their situations and making the life that they hope for, we will safeguard the investment we have already made in their lives. We also believe that a strengthened and unified family (as the MAHLA mothers refer to themselves) will become a self-sustaining network of mothers that can grow organically, a network that expands through the leadership of women who have already graduated.

We still plan to expand to rural areas, but have put that plan on hold for the next few months.

As always, feel free to email info@priyamglobal.org if you have any questions about our program. It is the power of individual donations that allows us the flexibility we need to continually improve our project based on the complexities of real lives, real people, and real possibilities. Thank you for funding this project!

Feb 4, 2019

Welcoming complexity and planning longterm

Have you ever read Priyam Global's Manifesto? It's a little paragraph that outlines Priyam Global's core values. Focus on relationships. Brainstorm often and together. Welcome complexity. Evaluate and pivot. Be dynamic. Plan for the longterm. Stay humble. First drafted in 2015, that little paragraph continues to shape how we operate today.

Our plans to expand into rural areas of Chennai in early 2019 were based on careful thought and detailed evaluations of the situation in the communities where we work, alongside a realistic perspective of what we currently know and what we still need to learn. After two years of piloting our MAHLA project, which supports mothers of children with disabilities to develop self-confidence, strong friendships, and income-generating skills, we felt pretty confident that we had enough experience to begin turning our focus outward – beyond the families of children enrolled in our partner Hope School. 

Then, at the end of our second pilot year in December 2018, we interviewed every woman who has graduated from our program (a total of 24) and held several group conversations to hear their feedback and get a sense for how equipped they actually were to maintain lasting change for themselves and their families.

What evolved from these conversations was a two-fold realization:

  1. Our program is meeting the real needs of mothers and resulting in lasting emotional and mental improvement. This is illustrated by the 0% drop-out rate from our program, the steady attendance, and the obvious ease and love between the mothers compared to their withdrawn and anxious states at the beginning of the program.

  2. Equipping mothers with skills and knowledge, improving their wellbeing, and helping them to create the ability to make lasting change was the first step; now we need to support their own leadership capacity. The mothers unanimously requested a six month extension of the program, which we are referring to as Phase 2. In this phase, mothers from our first and second cohorts will be combined into a single group. Now that the mothers have useful skills and a wider perspective of their own value and worth, we need to teach them how to use their skills: how to set goals and objectives, how to problem solve, and how to advocate for their own needs. Taking part in our program infused the women with forward momentum, and now through practice and a modified version of support, we will work to ensure that this momentum is deeply ingrained and sustainable.

We have decided to grant the mothers' request and enrolled all 24 mothers in Phase 2, which begins this week! The women will have 6 months to practice together, teach each other, and work to meet various product targets. We are developing a personal capacity-building curriculum, and the women will participate in ongoing workshops to articulate their dreams, set goals, set priorities, solve problems creatively, and develop ther new-found confidence.

The standard approach for development and poverty alleviation programs is to set a fixed timeline based on funding and to end the program at a pre-determined time. However, the result of this is that the globe is littered with development projects that have ended too early or in the wrong way, and as a result any progress made during the project is lost. This is a waste of time, resources, effort, and hope.

We believe that by providing this additional support to the women in our program, who have consistently proven their commitment to improving their situations and making the life that they hope for, we will safeguard the investment we have already made in their lives. We also believe that a strengthened and unified family (as the MAHLA mothers refer to themselves) will become a self-sustaining network of mothers that can grow organically, a network that expands through the leadership of women who have already graduated.

We still plan to expand to rural areas, but have put that plan on hold for the next few months.

As always, feel free to email info@priyamglobal.org if you have any questions about our program. It is the power of individual donations that allows us the flexibility we need to continually improve our project based on the complexities of real lives, real people, and real possibilities. Thank you for funding this project!

 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.