Colourful sari scarves from my photoshoot last week

scarves

Come see me in Dorchester this Women’s Day!

It’s WOMEN’S DAY this Saturday! I will be participating in the WAND event in Dorchester, selling my beautiful Indian sari scarves and spreading the story of the wonderful rural Indian women who make them. It would be great to see you there!

Sari scarf initiative with RIDE finally takes off!

The sari scarf initiative has finally taken off! After receiving interest from one of RIDE’s supporters to sell our products in their home countries a few months ago, we have since pushed forward with the project and began production.

Since the beginning of the year the Scarf Project team have been trying out different styles, techniques and fabrics looking for the best saris to make into scarves. The idea is to provide employment to some women from the local villages and pay a fair wage for their work (we pay twice the going rate for their sewing skills). Vasantha has been involved with RIDE for over 20 years on various projects. She has had a difficult life with her husband leaving her very soon after marriage. The nature of her culture meant that she did not remarry and therefore has no children. Having lost her own parents she now spends time looking after her nieces and nephews and helping others. In her spare time Vasantha has been teaching ladies in her village how to sew to earn a bit of extra income. She now acts as co-ordinator for the project, distributing work among the ladies and managing the production of the scarves. Britto, director of RIDE, manages the financial side and oversee the project.

At the weekend the team completed their first big batch of 250 scarves. These went off to the US with Olivia (the above mentioned RIDE supporter), who has been staying at RIDE for the past week to collaborate on the project and oversee the production of her order. We appreciated getting feedback on the scarves and are very happy to have Olivia on board. Olivia will now take on the US sales and distribution of the scarves.

I will be taking on the UK sales and distribution of the sari scarves, therefore if you have any enquiries please feel free to contact me.

We have also set up a small shop at RIDE so that we can offer tourists passing through the opportunity to view and buy the products, which includes scarves from this project as well as other items sourced from local producers. Visit RIDE’s website for more information on women’s empowerment and this project.

A humbling day at work

This week RIDE (Rural Institute for Development Education) carried out a program for a group of 15 women who are all day labourers from the village of Arpakkam in Kanchipuram, in order to make contact with these women while also giving me the opportunity to learn first hand about their lives. The women work mainly in agriculture and sometimes stone quarries and struggle to get work on a daily basis. The process for labourers to get work on a daily basis is to stand at a collection point first thing in the morning and wait for a land owner to come and offer work. The landowner will chose their workers based on their looks and build alone and if you are not picked you go home.

RIDE provided the women with half a days paid work (paying more than their usual rate) to clear the ground of weeds at the RIDE training centre. I attended to be a part of the later discussions, however could not stand back and watch these women work. So I got the chance to be a day labourer, for all of about 1-2 hours (2 being a very generous estimate) in the searing Indian heat. It was an extremely humbling experience, especially as these women get paid so little for their work. The will usually get paid between 100-150 rupees for a days work (160 rupees = £2) and will only have very short lunch breaks eating basic rice with a watery broth. I suppose you get used to this situation but I don’t see how you can be upbeat, however we were laughing and joking and bonding with one another, the support of the group felt very strong.

At the end of the day RIDE held a discussion with the women to find out about about the problems affecting them and their families. Their main issues were not having a sustainable income, with many only getting work for 1-2 days a week, much less during monsoon rains and flooding. Also, many of the women have husbands who work in the stone quarries and are dependent on alcohol, which is where a lot of their wages end up being spent. Some are also beaten by drunk husbands. One woman told the group that she finds it best not to ask her husband for money or challenge him and instead she makes do with whatever little money he gives her plus whatever she can earn. This highlights how important it is for these women to have their own income in order to support themselves and their children, the majority of whom are now in full time education and changing their future paths. I also heard some enlightening stories from the women, many of whom have continued to send their children to school against all odds, two women have children in higher education and are so enthusiastic about their future prospects.

What is important for RIDE is to have a presence in these women’s lives and for them to know that they have people on their side who they can turn to. Jeyaraj the director of RIDE, gave a talk about human rights so that they may understand a bit more about their rights both at home and within society. They were also given a talk about multi-crop farming and the possibility, even with little land, to grow some vegetables in order to feed their families during hard times.

After the discussion the women were given a free lunch, provided by RIDE and served by RIDE staff, plus a gift of a sari each, donated by members of a local doctors surgery. Most of the women only have one sari which they wear every day so this gift was especially poignant.

Kishkinda Trust women’s empowerment project in Hampi

My partner and I visited Hampi last month and stayed in one of their homestay rooms, living within the village of Anegundi and eating home cooked meals at a local family’s home. The trust has done tremendous work in supporting the local people to realise their true potential, capitalising on the tourist trade passing through Hampi while also staying true to their own roots and cultures. Anegundi is clean, well presented, friendly and happy. While there we saw very few other tourists, and were waved at by almost every child we passed.

I visited the production centre for the Kishkinda Trust craft shop, where they have developed banana fibre production and now produce all kinds of products from bags to sandals. The banana plant is so abundant in India, and at the end of a plants life it is cut right back to make way for new shoots from the root, therefore discarded trunks are in abundance. The Kishkinda Trust manage their own banana plantation providing them with endless potential for products. I don’t think there is one part of the banana plant you can’t use. You can eat the bananas (the obvious one!), the inner stem and the flowers, the leaves are used as plates and to wrap food, and now the fibres from the outer stem are used for a multitude of products!

The production centre supports women from the local Self Help Groups and forms part of a wider female empowerment program. The women are encouraged to develop products themselves and look to really enjoy their work, sitting in groups working away while chatting to one another.

‘At The Kishkinda Trust (TKT) in Anegundi, Conservation empowers communities and creates a way of life that considers culture as an intangible element permeating all activities in life- ranging from functional to ideational-  ecology, cuisine, crafts, design, agriculture, technology, education, markets and festivals.’ The Kishkinda Trust