Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A stitch in time

Pictures I clicked on my recent trip (1, 2 May) of the Self-Help Group in Sawra, Pench Tiger Reserve. Our Employment Cell organized a cutting and sewing course here last month. It was attended by 37 villagers. The Forest Department has provided 42 sewing machines to this village so that was an incentive to learn.

It was a 10-day course conducted by the NGO Pratham's skill centre. After it was over, eleven of the participants formed a permanent sewing group and are helping each other - and improving daily. Earlier only one girl, Vaishali Kumre, knew some basic sewing. Now all the group members are able to stitch clothes (sari blouses, shirts). They will be able to take orders soon and will probably make school uniforms for the village kids.

How can city-dwellers help this employment-generation initiative?

Simple: order a re-usable shopping bag. Here the group is cutting fabric to make one of the designs I've asked for. There will be two designs - but the prototypes need some minor changes so I'm not posting the pictures yet.

From SF we've already placed an order for 50 bags, to be completed in a month. Kirti and I plan to buy ten each and gift them to our friends, and our President Kishor Rithe also wants ten. Our Executive Director Giri Venkatesan has ordered 20. The bags will be priced at Rs 100 each (one of the designs may be priced at Rs 120). The money will go directly to the group and will not go through SF at all. The group members are going to open a joint bank account soon.

Four people who saw these pictures in our Facebook group have also enquired about the bags. An order has already come in for 50 to be made in canvas! Re-usable bags will always be in demand, and it will be wonderful if villagers of the region buy them too, because disposable plastic bags are becoming a huge problem there - as they are everywhere.

So here's the group: Vaishali Kumre, Ram Tilak Kodape, Rahul Kumre, Kaushal Kodape, Arti Awasthi, Ambika Warthi, Evatkala Uike, Baby Wadive, Reena Kumre, Kavita Maskole. The eleventh member Sita Uike is missing from this picture but is an active participant. On the right: SF's Community Officer Dilip Lanjewar.

Above: Displaying shirts made by the group

I want to publicly thank my friend Seema Kalla-Churamani for all her help with this initiative. Seema visited Pench with me last month and suggested a number of items the Self-Help Group could make. She guided Vaishali on making a couple of bag prototypes but that was before the sewing course and Vaishali had a problem cutting the more complex pattern. I don't know much about tailoring, but on this trip it was easy to see the huge progress she's made after the course.

If you are interested in ordering bags, please keep visiting this blog as I will post pictures of the products once they are ready. You can email me on rajashree DOT khalap AT gmail DOT com

IT Education programme, Sawra - Update

March 20, 21, 2010:

We moved into the second phase of the IT education programme. Read about the initial phase here.

On 20 and 21 March, SF volunteer Kirti Chavan visited Sawra village to evaluate the trainees who were taught in Phase 1. The trainees then started teaching 37 school students, using five computers donated for this project. Apart from the three we had been given earlier, ICICI bank donated four desktops after upgrading them to our course requirements. Two are being kept for the next village we take this programme to.

The CD-based tutorials have been provided by the well-known education NGO Pratham, who have collaborated with us on this project and have been very generous with their time and expertise.

Kirti also used these two days to teach DTP to the trainees and anyone else who was interested.

Above: Kirti teaching DTP to school staff and student Sita Uikey. Two teachers from another village (Thuyepani) attended the training.

May 1, 2, 2010:

Classes have been held through April according to the timetable drawn up by Kirti. But there will now be a pause for two reasons: first, the summer holidays have begun and the school is officially closed; and secondly the school teachers Manoj Mankar and Sachin Ambadkar who are the main
IT trainers, have to spend the next one and a half months helping in the government's human population census (since both are government employees). They will be back in Sawra on June 15.

I visited Sawra on 1 and 2 May for some different work, but decided to stop by at the computer lab we've set up in the school to see if anything was going on. I was really pleased to find three school boys sitting there and using the desktops even though it was a weekend! The headmaster told me that 11 of the school kids have become quite skilled at using different programmes (Excel, Word, Paint and Photoshop). Apart from Sumit Warthi, a 7th standard student whom I met, the other good students are Priyanka Kumre, Sailesh Maskole, Dayashankar Tekam, Kamaldeo Uike, Nitesh Chauhan, Ankit Maskole, Pankaj Tekam, Srikrishna Invate, Ankita Tekam and Manish Maskole.

Here's Sumit:

Above: Sumit works on a picture of a borewell he has created using Paint. An appropriate enough image in a region where people depend on groundwater (like most of India actually). Here the importance of trees and forests in conserving groundwater is common knowledge among children and adults alike, as they understand the connection from first-hand experience. Very different from urban Indians, who mostly think water comes out of a tanker and at best "know" the facts only on an academic level.

Above: Sumit with two other budding techies!

An unforeseen and unfortunate event last month was the employment of many of the village children for collection of "tendu" leaves. This is a vile business as tendu leaves are used for making "bidis" or local cigarettes, and the business has a terrible effect on the environment as well for many reasons.

The way it impacted the IT programme was that many of the students didn't attend all the classes, and will now have to catch up in mid-June when the school reopens. So we are running 45 days late with our schedule, but this is a hazard of working
in a remote rural/tribal area with different economic pressures and compulsions from the ones felt in the city. Let's hope that with computer literacy and the better job opportunities it brings, the exploitative and harmful tendu business will one day disappear for good.