It is tempting to try to tackle the giant beast, but I have found that my efforts are best served on a smaller scale, helping one woman, one family, one village at a time.
I am a dreamer. I envision humanity waking up. I envision peace. Yet, it is hard not to feel discouraged when I see the negative impact of corporations. It is tempting to try to tackle the giant beast, but I have found that my efforts are best served on a smaller scale, helping one woman, one family, one village at a time. It feels a bit like a drop in a bucket, but I see many of us taking action in this way and it gives me hope.
I work with artisan groups in India in order to empower women and raise money for education. I currently work with three artisan groups: one in Ranthambore, one in Bihar and my newest group in Jodhpur. It is an empowerment center for women that started a sewing center in order to offer employment to its graduates.
The empowerment center serves the Dalits – also known as the untouchables. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could discriminate against these women whose bright smiles and beautiful saris dance in the desert sunlight. Coming from a male dominated society, they also face gender discrimination. I met some toddler girls in their village and wondered how difficult it must be to make it in a world that oppresses them from birth.
Govind Singh is the guesthouse owner who, upon hearing that one of his employees’ daughters didn’t know how to read, offered to give them lessons. The next day the daughters showed up with 20 of their friends.
Govind invited them back the following week. He recruited teachers and slowly built up a program and founded a trust to support his endeavor.
The two year program teaches women Hindi, English, math, health, sewing and business skills. Furthermore, the teachers instill a sense of dignity where there was none before. After a few months in the program the women begin to carry themselves differently – perhaps feeling for the first time like they have a place of importance in the world.
The sewing center is a modest room with six sewing machines. Saraswati, the manager and one of the first graduates of the program, instructed the other artisans on how to make samples of handbags for me. We worked together to choose designs, sizes and shapes of the bags and the resultwas a lovely collection of three different styles, in eight different colors. They also designed block-printed cotton scarves for me. I am impressed by their artistic abilities and their business skills. I feel honored to be able to support their work.
The handbags and scarves they make are a symbol of hope. Each stitch, each print tells their story. It astounds me that something as simple as making a scarf means so much in their lives. It gives them a paycheck, it gives them an artistic outlet, it gives them their own purpose, it gives them dignity.
I am not out to save the world. Maybe a small part of me wishes I could but I am happy to add a drop in the bucket.
Melinda Haselton is the owner and founder of Dolma, a socially responsible company. She works with artisan groups and schools in India with the hope of healing communities through fair trade and education. Find her on Twitter@DolmaFairTrade and Facebook.