It has been challenging for Polammal to make a living for herself. As a mother of a little son, she has had to find ways to supplement her family’s income. The earnings of her husband, employed as a daily wager in Chennai, have been used to run their house. Her effort could help their son get educated to hope for a brighter future.
With her limited means, Polammal could not think of how she could contribute to the family’s income. A chance meeting with Valli caught her attention. Valli had learned the art of stitching at a non-government organization Sevai Karangal and was looking for women who wanted to skill themselves. Polammal agreed to try her hand. The bonus for her? She would also get a sewing machine free with the training that she would get.
It was an opportunity Polammal grabbed with both hands. In the two months that she attended the training classes, a teacher would come on alternate days.
By the end of the training course, not only did she learn stitching, she had developed enough confidence to reach out to people for their tailoring jobs.
“If I could learn any skill or work, it would help me, and I felt that this certificate might help me in joining an export company or a shoe company where I can stitch. I was able to understand the nuances of stitching clearly,” Polammal says about the change in her life.
The challenges for Vijaya, originally from Kongalmedu village in Tamil Nadu who now lives in Chennai, are slightly different. She has to take care of her mother and two younger brothers after losing the family’s sole earning member. Her husband, also a daily wager, and their children also have to be looked after.
Having money in her hands for any need was always a challenge till she decided to take matters into her own hands. As Vijaya got to know of the opportunity to learn to stitch clothes, thanks to the efforts from by Sevai Karangal, she decided to go for it. It was a long walk to reach the training center every day. But the determination in her made her live up to the challenge.
Now I am getting the respect as being a woman that I can take care of my family and children, even though husband is not looking after the family properly. They believe that I will be able to take care of my family,” she says about her current situation.
The clothes that she stitches can fetch a reasonable price with both the buyers and Vijaya happy.
Scores of women have similar stories to tell how learning the tailoring skill has given them a basic life of dignity and confidence. In some cases, it has provided additional income for families too. In most cases, skilling has given their families hope of a better future. Sevai Karangal, working with the support of the Nucleus Software Foundation, is helping train women below the poverty line.
In the tailoring training classes that last two months for every batch, a teacher teaches cutting, stitching, and other aspects of the skill to all the women. Every alternate day they are given assignments. During their learning, they are also taken to a local garments manufacturing plant to understand the process. After completing training, the women get a certificate, which has turned into a prized possession.
Tilak Raj, Founder & Managing Trustee, Sevai Karangal, or helping hands in Tamil, has been working with the Nucleus Software Foundation since 2015. “We wanted to bring livelihood support and economic development for the women to give them independence and control over the finances,” he says.
For the last six years, several batches of women have now taken their destiny into their own hands after learning the skill.
Valli, who was among the first women to learn to stitch when the training started, now helps identify the women who could benefit from the program. Some women have also formed a group to negotiate with buys, giving them the ability to bargain for prices collectively.
There have been some hiccups on the way too. As economic activity across the country came to a grinding halt in 2020 after the lockdown in March 2020, Chennai was no different. It was essential for the women to complete their training at any cost. They wanted to support their families and get to work quickly as the situation was quite grim. Sevai Karangal ensured that the classes could continue while all the lockdown protocols were being adhered to.
During the weeks when there was a complete lockdown, the women learned their lessons using technology. Women made extra effort to follow and learn some of the classes on WhatsApp, which was quite an achievement. Nucleus Software Foundation stepped up its efforts and supported the women in completing their training smoothly. It meant that the course did not extend beyond the schedule, and they could get their certificates in time.
A few women are now interested in adding to their skills. They are keen to learn computers and English to help them in their work. Some of them are now learning how to access online resources, allowing them to sell their products online one day, hopefully.
“This year, we are doing classes for them. They will learn a little bit with the computer and learn how to do things online and approach the market,” says Madhu Dusad, Trustee, Nucleus Software Foundation.
Igniting the small dreams is multiplying the joy for many people. No one can tell it better than the women whose sewing machines continue to whirr every day. The uncertainty in their lives has given way to a brighter future that they are writing with their own hands.
The primary objective of this initiative was to create employment opportunities for disadvantaged young women in rural areas. To empower these women, we organised professional training in Tailoring, through Sevai Karangal, an NGO in Chennai. We also donated sewing machines to enable them to start their own mini ventures.