At an age when most of her friends decided which course to enroll in college, 20-year-old Vijaya Kumari had to shoulder the burden of managing her family of five. Having lost her parents at a young age, she chose not to continue her education and became the sole breadwinner. Initially, she used to graze the cows of local villagers who brought her 100 rupees on a lucky day.
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic when livelihoods dwindled, Vijaya’s uncle suggested he join Industree Foundation’s POWER project, when the non-profit organization’s team visited his village in Nakkundi, Karnataka as part of their mobilization program.
Industree Crafts Foundation (Industree) is a non-profit organization that runs the Producer Owned Women (POWER) project. The project develops businesses create biodegradable products with natural materials such as non-timber forest products, banana bark and bamboo. These products are made by hand and the processes are not machine dependent and cannot be mass produced using technology.
Vijaya quickly picked up the ropes, learning how to make bamboo baskets, lampshades and mats. Within a year, she is now leading a team of 15 rural women in Chamarajanagar district. She also earns enough to support her family of five sisters and has made sure that her younger sisters don’t have to suffer the same fate as hers.
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“I am the one who opens the unit at nine o’clock in the morning, assigns work to different workers, supervises the work and gives an update on the work in progress,” Vijaya said. Gaon Login. “At the beginning, I was very hesitant, but with proper training, I learned how to make different bamboo products. Now, I am training other women to make these products. My work has enabled me to feel very empowered,” she added..
These bamboo products are sent to the main unit of the POWER project in Channapatna, more than 100 kilometers away, from where they are marketed in different parts of the country.
More than 1,100 kilometers away, on the country’s east coast, rural women in Odisha’s Kandhamal district are sewing eco-friendly plates and bowls from sal and siali leaves they collect from their forests. With the support of the POWER project, these leaves have become their usual source of subsistence.
The States identified for the implementation of POWER projects are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra. Currently, 5,758 women are currently associated with the project. Over its three-year period, from September 2019 to September 2022, the project aims to create 28 women-owned businesses.
These companies are expected to connect 6,800 women producers to commercial supply chains, such as IKEA, Target and Walmart, of natural and biodegradable products, including leaf plates, baskets, mats and bags made from tree leaves, by bamboo, banana and other natural fibres. .
“These are examples of resilience and sustainability that must grow and replicate not just across India but across the globe if we are to lift people out of poverty while protecting the planet,” said Neelam Chhiber , co-founder of Industry.
She went on to inform that the initiative has helped launch a bamboo resource center in Channapatna, Karnataka and create a platform for the highly skilled bamboo Medhar community to reach out to global buyers and the increasingly conscious consumer. more.
Industry’s POWER initiative is supported by the United States Agency for International Development’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (USAID W-GDP).
Turn a new page
Explaining how they source their raw materials, Nibanti Majhi, who works at the Kandhamal unit in Odisha where eco-friendly plates and bowls are sewn, said, “We collect two types of leaves from the nearby forest: sal and siali. Siali leaves are found in dense forests. These sheets are brought individually, pressed and sewn together to make plates.
“Sal leaves bring us twenty-five rupees for fifty leaves while siali leaves bring us one hundred rupees for one hundred leaves. The reason for this is that the Siali are bigger – almost 18 inches and can be sewn thinly compared to the Sal sheets,” Nibanti said. Also, siali are a bit hard to come by because it is not easy to break these leaves off the trees, she added.
The Kandhamal unit employs 380 producers. Not all of them are permanent workers, a few of them are paid to get raw materials such as leaves from the forest and are paid by the leaf. While the rest is for pressing the sheets and sewing them together.
From the Kandhamal unit, these products are sent to the Bhubaneswar unit where the final product is made – plates and bowls of various sizes ranging from 12 inches to 8 inches and 6 inches.
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While the units are located close to their villages, reducing the travel time for women, the only problem they now face is the felling of forests, which forces them to walk five to six kilometers in order to to obtain the raw materials.
“Before, we didn’t have to walk much, but our travel time has increased as the forests have been cut down, so we have to walk long distances to collect leaves,” Majhi said. Gaon Login.
A taste of freedom for rural women
Rina Sethi, an artisan based in Panchagaon village of Khurda district, works as a machine operator in the Bhubaneswar unit. Rina shared how she was constantly criticized by her neighbors for leaving home to go to work.
“When I started working, people constantly said that a woman should confine herself within the four walls of the house and not go out to work. None of this deterred me from working. The unit is barely two kilometers from the village, and I can easily walk to work with my colleagues,” Rina said. Gaon connection.
Explaining what motivated her to join the labor market, she said that initially she was very hesitant because she had never left home to work, but with training and a good salary, his confidence grew.
“I knew what I was doing would improve the condition of my family. Besides that, I wanted to be independent and not rely on my husband for every penny. Now the same women who first criticized me want to work and earn money like me,” Rina said, with a sense of pride in her voice.
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Financial independence and new learning
Along the same lines, his colleague’s story is no different. Rupali Priyadarshini Patra is the only female winner in her family of 13 members. Due to financial constraints, she had to start working at the age of 19 when all her friends were currently enrolled in college.
Today, Rupali is proud to help her family and save money for her higher education. “After saving small amounts from my salary for the first few months, I bought myself an Android mobile. I give my salary to my parents and I am very happy to be able to contribute in my small way,” Rupali said. Gaon Login.
The best part of the job, according to Rupali, is how her newfound independence has shaped her personality and confidence. “The fact that I can now use a computer is very stimulating for me. I work as store manager in Bhubaneswar unit and keep records. I enter the data and check the number of products produced and the quality of the products,” she explained.
Sushila Majhi, an artisan who works in Kandhamal district, said: “Before, we sold agricultural products. Make pickles with mango pulp, sell tamarind, mahua flowers and amla. Income was irregular and we often had to take out loans to make ends meet.
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“Now I have a regular income. My husband is a day laborer and is often unable to find work, but my salary helps run the household,” she added.
Reduce carbon footprint
One of the main features of these projects under POWER is that they have reduced travel distance for artisans.
According to an internal study by the Industree Foundation, their conscious effort to move their base to rural areas has helped reduce the carbon footprint. Seventy-three percent of the artisans working on this project reside within a five-kilometre radius.
The study showed that 51% of artisans walk to get to work, 16% come by public transport and 26% by autorickshaw.
Previously, craftsmen had to travel a distance of 20 km to seek work or migrate to larger cities. The combined savings of 247,860 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year is equivalent to not using 105,462 liters of gasoline, or not using 92,167 liters of diesel, or not burning 122,909 kg of coal, according to Industry.
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