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In The Land Of Pristine Forest - Kanha, Women Find An Alternative Source Of Livelihood Through Silai Schools

In The Land Of Pristine Forest - Kanha, Women Find An Alternative Source Of Livelihood Through Silai Schools
Balaghat District, Madhya Pradesh: The Kanha Tiger Reserve, one of the most popular and the biggest national parks of Madhya Pradesh, is not only home to over 1000 species of flora and pristine wildlife but also to numerous tribal communities and villages. Depletion of natural resources and lack of alternative options of livelihood has over a period of time adversely impacted the tribal communities dependent on the jungles. The tiger reserve is mostly known for its vast expanse and beauty, but it is now also turning out to be a hub that is creating a huge social and economic opportunity for those who depend on the forest and its limited resources for a living.

Phuliya Bai who lives with her husband and daughter in Samna Pur village in Balaghat district, cannot get over the pain of losing her son to a prolonged illness, made worse by the family's inability to afford his medical bills. Like Phuliya, Rekha's family also had an unsteady income because of which they couldn't afford their children's education.

Like Phuliya, Rekha Rahangdale from another adjoining area of the forest, was trying to survive the hardships of life with fortitude. Hailing from a family of farmers owning a 2 acre land, Rekha's family earning varied depending on the vagaries of nature, weather and the fluctuating fortunes of farming and hunting activities. A mother of two children, her family's poor financial condition meant that the children could not be educated, even if they were barely fed.

The Corbett Foundation (TCF) an NGO dedicated to wildlife conservation and environmental awareness, joined hands with USHA International Limited to introduce the Usha Silai School Programme in areas adjoining the forest. The aim was to provide employment to numerous women like Phuliya and Rekha living in these parts.

"The sewing school is basically for women who would either stay at home or work in the forest" said Sharad Kumar, Deputy Director, TCF.  After going through the programme, these women can learn the craft of sewing and teach others in their village. This enables them to earn between Rs. 300-400 per month," he said.

Before joining the Usha Silai programme, Phuliya kept on doing odd jobs to support her family but they remained poverty stricken. After opening her own school she started earning Rs 50-100 on a daily basis. Within a span of three years, she built her own house. Today, whatever she earns, she invests it in her children's education.

She is grateful to her husband for constantly supporting her and encouraging her to become financially independent.  "Earlier, I would try to stop her from going to the training but now she has her own income" said Phuliya's husband. "With that we have been able to build our house and send our daughter to school as well. I have received a lot of support from my wife" he said.

Phuliya's husband also helps her out with small tasks. "When he is home, he sits with me helps me sew buttons on shirts" she adds. Earning Rs 3000 (approximately) per month, she is content with her regular source of income and dreams of opening a garment shop in the future.

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There are now 10 'Silai Schools' which have opened in the villages of Kanha. One of them is Phuliya's. And stories like that of Phuliya is also inspiring other women in the village.

"I wasn't allowed to study so I forcefully started coming here (to Phuliya's school)" said Manisha, a student of Phuliya. "After I learnt how to sew, my parents could see that I had a talent and agreed to buy me a sewing machine" she said.

Now, Manisha feels inspired to work hard and start a school of her own some day. "I have seen her (Phuliya) become successful. She has her own house now and her daughter is studying. It makes me want to be like her" she said.

Rekha after her Silai School training, she set up her own Silai school and began earning Rs.1500 (approximately) per month and received a lot of support from her family. Her husband is a big admirer of all that Rekha has achieved. "She runs a school while I do farming," said her husband, "The money she earns is enough for us and it helps the entire family. I want to encourage her so she can teach more people and establish an identity of her own," he further adds.

Helping her with little things like bringing the raw materials, Rekha's husband and in-laws are indeed proud of her, "We are old but we don't mind helping with the household work or handling the children" said Rekha's mother in-law. "She is a hard worker and all our relatives are proud of her."

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Professor Nishikant Mukherjee, Director of Maharashtra Forest Development, working actively for the conservation of tigers and environment by generating income and employment in the region, too, believes that Usha Silai School initiative has become the cornerstone of women empowerment.

"They say in English that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" he said referring to the impact of the sewing school programme which has indirectly helped in reducing the pressure on the already stretched natural resources of the forest. "It was necessary to bring the ladies into the movement and one way of doing it was through this initiative."

The TFC and USHA Silai School joint initiative has enhanced the way the women of tribal communities see themselves. "It's the Statue Of Liberty for them, they are able to stand on their own feet" said Professor Mukherjee.

As Professor Mukherjee rightly said, "a woman is no longer considered a burden." Rekha, too, feels a change in the way her village perceives her now. She hopes more women can join the programme and empower themselves.

Also Read: Proud That I Can Teach A Skill To Poor Village Women And Help Them Become Self-Reliant: Rintu Gogoi

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Adopt a Silai School

Adopt a Silai School

Do you want to be a part of the huge change that Usha Silai School is bringing about in the lives of millions of rural women? With just a simple click of a button, you can now contribute towards the opening of an Usha Silai School or support various other aspects of the school.

About the Initiative

About the Initiative

Kushalta Ke Kadam, an initiative by NDTV and USHA, aims at empowering women from rural India and encourages them to become entrepreneurs by taking up sewing and training others in their respective communities. Since 2011 Usha Silai Campaign has trained more than 3.95 lakh rural women within five years, with 17,000 Silai schools, spanning over 9272 Indian villages in India.

 

Kushalta Ke Kadam in Season 4 has returned with new goals and vision. The new season will witness the establishment of the new cluster in Kashmir, apart from the existing four clusters setup last year. The women from volatile Kashmir will work with well-known fashion designer Rohit Bal and get an unique opportunity to learn from him and make clothes for him. The work done by the Silai School women will be presented at Lakme Fashion week 2019.

 

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In Pics

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching
Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Rebari girls grow up learning traditional embroidery, which along with their new found sewing skills developed at Usha Silai Schools, is helping them earn a living.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School has empowered many rural women to support their family and send their children to school.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The Usha Silai School, established in a small nondescript village that goes by the name of Kottai, is helping empower people from varied communities.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The all-inclusive Usha Silai School Programme covers the entire nation from hamlets tucked between hills to villages cast by the sea.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Vegetables farmers from the Mizoram hills earn very little given the topography of the area. Usha Silai Schools have played an important part in this region by skilling women to financially contribute towards their households.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School learner Lucy has trained seven other women in her community, helping them to become financially independent.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Women like Kaviben from the nomadic Rebari community are finally laying down their roots as they begin to gain financial independence and thereby stability through Usha Silai School.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, located in the Gujarat's Bhuj village, is enabling rural women to earn as much as Rs. 2,500-4,000 each month.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, in association with a Gujarat based NGO called Kala Raksha, is trying to bring about a Silai revolution in Bhuj.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Besides training other women from their community, many Usha Silai School learners have become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

With sewing becoming easily accessible and lucrative, the silai schools are also helping revive traditional motifs and designs.

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