By Anand Prakash
Women in districts of Rajkot have stepped out of their homes, gained skills that help them contribute to the society and can contribute to their family as well. I consider this to be my biggest achievement till date.
I’ve always been very passionate about solving social issues, especially those concerning young women. Having grown up in a rural area, it was easier to understand the challenges faced by people in tier two and three cities. In December 2015, I joined the United Nations Volunteer Program and was given charge of working in Rajkot and surrounding areas. My primary job was to find ways to help the youth of the area get better training and develop skill sets to ensure a better future for them.
During my field visits to local markets and discussions with some youth leaders, I was told that some young women have great potential in embroidery, handicraft and imitation jewellery. This skill would do well in the market and could financially empower women. With this mission in mind, we decided to hire a professional trainer for the women.
While there was interest, the biggest challenge was getting these women to training centres in the city. For most, it was monetarily unfeasible and their parents/husbands didn’t agree with them going so far away. So, the training program had to go to them. We decided to rent out a hall in the district itself where women would to come to learn. We even sourced various trainers from different parts of the city in order to help them learn the required skills on their own town.
The members of the various Mahila Mandal’s around Rajkot were my biggest help in this mission.
The president of the Gayatri Mahila Mandal, Vaishali Bhagya, helped organise a skill upgradation training program on sewing. Similarly, the president of Shree Prarthana Mahila Mandal, Prabhaben Pargi conducted skill training program on imitation jewellery in the Madhapur Village. We have also trained many women in sewing, which gives them the skill to embroider sarees. 90 young women have been trained to work in beauty parlours too. The feeling of seeing 10 trainees open their shop and begin earning ₹3000 to ₹5000 per month was unparalleled.
Once this process was started, we decided to take it a step ahead. After the women learnt the required skills, we decided to train them on how to increase their capacity to meet the market demand. We realised that it was not just about quantity and quality of work, but about the women themselves at some level too. We taught them soft skills to give them the confidence to talk to traders when they went to the city to sell their goods. Other than this, they learnt how to use machines to make their output faster and more uniform.
Another big part of developing their soft skills were training sessions in basic English. The main reason why we choose to teach the women English were two-fold. First, most interactions with teachers and trainers had them using English words. I found that this was demotivating them since they had to ask the trainer’s for explanations repeatedly which made them feel bad.
Secondly, and more importantly, I wished to make these women capable of running a sustainable and self-sufficient industry. Even an act as simple as needing to go to the nearby market and talking to traders required them to have basic English skills. It made them more confident. Surprisingly, I even thought it made them more motivated and happier, to have a skill they could boast of.
Our next step is to help and network enough to facilitate the sale of the goods these women produce on various social media platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, etc. We want the program to benefit them as much as it can.
We are now getting in touch with schools to train girls, especially those who are interested in part-time work. The girls will mostly be trained on creating products from waste materials. After the training period, we plan to help the girls make products during lunch time and then sell them in the school with the help of the management.
The best part of this entire project has been that once enrolled in the program, not one woman dropped out. In fact, many of them are now training other women or running their own shops.
Lots of people have now gotten more interested, and the women have opened classes, become teachers as well as opened up parlours and shops. The women are slowly becoming more financially independent, and most are even investing their money further. In the conversations I had with them, the women are very happy to be able to contribute to their family’s income.
As told to Yashasvini Mathur