Earning More Than A Living
on Cowboys and Indians (India), 28/Apr/2011 06:14, 34 days ago
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Normal0falsefalsefalseMicrosoftInternetExplorer4st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}It is a blazingly hot day in Kolkata and I am making my way down a back road in search ofAnkur Kala Women’s Centre. Determined children grab at my clothes insistently until I offer up a stack of rupees, which are immediately snatched out of my hand by a girl with hard fingers who seems determined not to share them with the others. At the first sign that I might be prepared to relinquish my water bottle, that too is snatched away. It’s a relief to get out of the heat and away from the constant attention when I finally track down Ankur Kala’s small showroom.I had heard that this was a place offering the women of Kolkata’s slums something different – a chance not to beg, but to work and earn a living. In particular they take in those who areabandoned, destitute, orphaned, widowed or victimized by their husbands or families.Looking around the showroom, I see some of the fruits of their work. Shelves are piled high with brightly coloured bags and clothes, while on the counter there is an array of homemade jams and pickles. All of these products have been made by women who have been identified as being particularly needy. The organisation interviews everyone who seeks help here and visits their home to assess their situation. If taken on, they will receive a monthly stipend of 800 Rupees (£11) while they join a training program which, alongside basic literacy training, also teaches tailoring, catering, how to make jams, squash and pickles, silk screen printing and batik design. Batik – a form of manual wax-resist dyeing – seems particularly popular as I scan the showroom. The training is no part-time endeavor – it typically lasts for two years although the teachers will continue to work with the women until they are able to become self-sufficient.I hear a story about Parveen, who came to Ankur Kala after the death of the middle-aged man she had been forced to marry at fourteen. When he died she was left to support their child alone. Today, she is a woman transformed - earning enough to support them both and still teaching here at the centre. I am told her story is typical. Almost all of the women who come to Ankur Kala have been victims of oppression or exploitation and typically live in slum conditions with no assets of their own. There are currently 150 students in training here, and in total around 1500 women have come through the program sinceAnkur Kala was founded in 1982.I make a few purchases - my favourite is a small notebook covered in blue and green splotches, etched with pictures of suns, moons and stars– and step back outside into the heat. The children are nowhere to be seen but they’re still on my mind. I think of Parveen, who was married off when she wasn’t much older than the girl who was grasping for rupees. Then I think of her own child, who now doesn’t have to beg or to think aboutmarriage just yet and whose mother has won back her self-confidence and her dignity. Ankur Kala might not be able to provide work for every mother in Kolkata’s slums, but the many women who do come through these doors aren’t just earning a living, but something else that money just can’t buy.You don’t have to come all the way to Kolkata to support the work that happens at Ankur Kala. The women sell their own products through theironline shopand their work is even stocked in the UK, atThe Fair Shop in Brighton.