Giving Fresh Hope to Women In Need

India women training to produce bags - Cocobagh ProjectIt’s been a busy month, researching the best ways to get our India Project (name still to be determined) off the ground. So this month we sent our good friend and founder of Canby Bags, David Gould (DG) out to Kolkata. We’ve asked him to investigate what the community most needs from us in terms of support. I’ve titled this ‘Giving fresh hope to women in need’. It’s ultimately what we want to do.  But we need to better understand what the need is.

David met with local councillors in the area, also known as Panchayats. They told us the community most needs work.

Immediately feeling a little daft that we hadn’t thought of that ourselves. We’re thinking perhaps we should be setting up a training project. Particularly for widowed women who are the section of the community most ostracises, socially marginalised and most in need of work.

Eager to learn more about the community

DG spoke to the local Panchayats about their specific regions. This is what he’s found out.

There are two local panchayats, called Jadurhati and Raghunathpur, which cover around 50,000 people scattered in 25-odd villages and settlements.

Although they receive more help from the regional and national government than they used to (for example, many local roads have now been paved which if you’ve ever travelled to Badhuria is nothing short of a miracle in itself), to some extent India’s economic boom has passed them by.

The district is agricultural, with jute and rice grown all around and freshwater lakes that supply the fish much beloved by all Bengalis.

8 out of 10 of the mainly Muslim population are engaged in farm and agricultural work. It is a poor area and most of the work is menial labour – helping out with harvests, processing crops and so on. Like the rest of India, the population is young: 40% are under the age of 19.

Discussions at Jadurhati panchayat - Kolkata Community project bags
Discussions at Jadurhati panchayat
Local politicians: "Women need training and jobs" - Kolkata Community project bags
Local politicians: “Women need training and jobs”
Leaders at Jaghunathpur panchayat: "Well-paid work for women will make a big difference, fast"
Leaders at Jaghunathpur panchayat: “Well-paid work for women will make a big difference, fast”
All discussions in India are conducted over tea, of course - Kolkata Community project bags
All discussions in India are conducted over tea, of course

We asked the councillors what local people needed.

Fresh water? They have plenty.

Food aid? No need – this is a fertile rice-growing area.

Clinics? They have good ones.

Schools? Also good – but the locals said that because of poverty, families cannot afford to keep their children there. From the age of 8 onwards, children are being sent to work in the fields in order to support their families. These kids are only making a few pennies a day, but that money is desperately needed. The older the children get, the more drop out of school.

Interesting.

We asked a few more questions.

Most men were able to find some kind of work, even if it is only sporadic and part-time. But there is a chronic shortage of work for women. The locals said that if their mothers were able to find work, many children would stay at school longer. They would be better educated, able to get better jobs and standards of living would rise.

Supporting women, and helping them to find well-paid work – now that’s something we could get involved with, that would make a big difference.

A Skills Training Centre For Women

Looks like the WBC India Project has its first project: a Skills Training Centre for women. 

We want to give the poorest local women the skills training they need to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

In the jute industry, this could mean training them to make and stitch bags. But that’s not the only route to financial independence. They can also learn how to create other jute handicraft items such as purses, merchandising market baskets, dolls, jewellery and shoes. We’d also like to help teach basic business skills so they can set up their own cottage industries if they prefer.

We’re really excited about the centre, and since our conversation and brainwave with the local panchayats, we have already secured the prestigious backing of the National Jute Board of India.

We have earmarked a plot of land for the training centre and it’s right next door to our production facility in Badhuria. It’ll take a while to build and fit it out of course. But we’re planning to welcome our first trainees next summer. Can’t wait to make our distinctively WBC contribution to the community that supports our production centres.

Now, time to get to work and start selling some bags to pay for it!

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