Sultana learning to sew
WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT PROJECT
Jodhpur and Payal Empowerment Centres
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.
Graduates’ Sewing Centre
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.
Setrawa Empowerment Centre
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.
Sheerni Microfinance Project
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.
Anita showing her file of embroidery stitches
Self-defence class at Sambhali
Graduates completing order for soft toys
Saraswati working on toy camels
First Aid class in Setrawa
Art competition in Setrawa
Hindi class in Setrawa
Woman from Sheerni Project with her new equipment
A new business starting!