While India’s development journey from a nascent polity to a thriving democracy in the last six decades is an enigma to some, complex poverty issues affecting women, children and other marginal groups are causes of concern to many. 72% of India lives in villages and in extreme conditions of poverty. The worst affected in these conditions are the women in villages, who because of not having any control over land or other means of productions and due to the inherent patriarchal nature of society, face the worst forms of discrimination.
Usha International Ltd aims to work with the women in the villages and believes that helping women develop their inherent latent potentialities would bring about a holistic development for the society at large. In the last three years Usha International through their Silai School Program has reached out to remote villages across the country. This is a community based initiative with the aim of empowering village women to become entrepreneurs and teach sewing and stitching within the precincts of their homes. This programme is necessarily “inclusive” in character, thereby implying that the programme is implemented for the economically poor irrespective of caste, class, religion or creed.
As on April 2017, UIL in partnership with 52 NGO partners is running 14,348 Silai Schools (Classical- 4507, Satellite- 9841) in all the 29 States and 5 Union Territories of India. UIL has trained (in stitching, tailoring and repairing of machines) all these village women entrepreneurs, provided them a sewing machine, a syllabus and a Silai School signage and encouraged them to teach other community women the art of stitching and sewing. The trainings have been conducted in their vernacular language with the syllabus available in the same language. More than 110,000 learners have completed their course from Silai Schools and nearly 10,000 learners continue to get sewing skills training every day from these schools. The schools are making a marked difference in the lives of the women. The women, on an average have started earning Rs. 3000/- per month, with the highest earning going up to Rs.18,000/- per month. This earning, though small, at the moment is working as a catalyst in building the self-confidence of women and raising her status within and outside the family. This financial income and increased self-worth is facilitating in creation of empowered change agents in the villages of India.
The positive results from the Silai Schools in the villages have created a lot enthusiasm amongst the people in the adjoining Silai School villages too. There is an increased demand from the community about starting Silai Schools in the nearby villages and hence the concept of starting the Satellite Silai Schools (SSS) have been started from Aug 2014. Under the SSS model, Silai Schools would be started by any women knowing sewing and stitching (preferably a learner from the existing Silai School) in the neighbouring village. She would then start teaching others or doing job work. UIL would do the capacity building of this women as per need in the village. By March 2015, UIL plans to start about 6,000 SSS across the country. Hence, by this period UIL would have covered 9,000 villages in all the states of India.
Usha International ltd recently launched the Usha Silai School Programme in Bhutan in association with Tarayana Foundation, a nonprofit organization working towards improving the quality of the lives of vulnerable individuals and communities in Bhutan. After 4400 silai schools in India and 100 in Nepal this programme is now being launched in Bhutan to empower village level women.
This is just the beginning of our endeavour to work towards women empowerment by making village women financially independent and take charge of their life.
We believe this is the first step towards women empowerment.
Babita, Madhya Pradesh
Babita belongs to a tribal community in a village in the interiors of Madhya Pradesh. Babita has studied up to tenth standard. The financial condition of her family was not good. Her husband is a daily wage labourer who earns his living by doing white wash jobs. Her husband’s seasonal work is irregular. Both of them used to be worried about making their ends meet and were looking out for something that would give them regular employment.
Then Babita was approached by Usha International Ltd for Silai Schools. Babita felt it was a God sent opportunity and underwent the 7 day training. Babita is now running the USHA Silai School at her village. She started the Silai School on 23rd January, 2013.
Babita asked her husband to learn sewing work. Her husband felt awkward and felt that village members, relatives and the community would make negative comments. Babita motivated him and convinced him to take training from her. During non-availability of white wash work, her husband finally started undergoing training to learn sewing. She trained her husband and they purchased another sewing machine. Now both of them work together and devote their time to sewing. Her average earning per month from sewing is Rs.2500/-.
Babita has set an example for other husbands too. USHA Silai School program indirectly has managed to empower male members too.
Sumitra Bai-Lotapani, Chattisgarh
My dream will come true
Ms. Sumitra Bai is 23 years old woman who lives in Lotapani village of Jashpur district of Chattisgarh. Due to her family’s poor economic condition she had to discontinue her studies after passing her ninth standard examinations which itself is an achievement as she belongs to tribal community. Lotapani village is still far away from the fruits of development as basic public amenities are in shambles and during monsoon season it is completely cut-off from outer world.
She is married to a daily wage labourer and her family falls under below poverty line (BPL) category. Naturally, her days and nights were spent in worrying about her family’s future because it was very difficult to run a family with very limited sources of livelihood. Then one day NIWCYD (a partner NGO in USHA’s Silai School Programme in Chattisgarh) team member met her and told her about USHA’s Silai School programme and invited her to attend the seven days training programme so that she could start her own Silai School in the village. Initially she was afraid to go out of her for seven days residential training because she had never been out of her house overnight, though she was very keen to do something to alleviate her family’s economic status but opportunities were very limited in her village so she decided to participate in the training program.
During the training programme her level of confidence increased along with her sewing and stitching skills and by the end of the programme she was ready to start her own school in the village to become first woman tailor in the village. Currently five girls are coming to school on regular basis and pay Rs. 30 for sewing and stitching training. Apart from earning from teaching girls she also earns from stitching and sewing for others and her average income has reached to Rs. 1200/- per month.
While interacting with Sumitra Bai, she said that she had never thought that running a Silai school will bring so many changes in her life. When asked to elaborate she told that now women folk from the village come to Silai School to inquire about the sewing training process and benefits of it. She feels very proud because family members and villagers are giving importance to her and she does not hesitate to talk to anyone or to anywhere. Her dream is to send her children for higher studies and develop her Silai School as model for other to follow. She was very convinced that her hard work will make her dream come true.
Ms. Lakhiben- Gada, Gujarat
Ms. Lakhiben, 32 is from Gada Village of Kacchh district in the Gujarat. Lakhiben was afflicted with polio during childhood. She has two children who are studying in primary school. Her husband works as a daily wage labourer in the farms. It is very difficult to manage the family with such little income of her husband and especially during summer session where wage work takes a hit. She always wanted to learn some skills which would help her generate a little income for her family. However, she was very reluctant to attend the programs because of the conservative norms of Rabari Society and also because of her disability she found it difficult to adjust. She would worry about what the village members would say if she went to attend the seven day training and felt these talks might influence her husband and could have a negative effect on her marriage.
USHA International had planned a Training Program named Usha Silai School Program in Gujarat. USHA International has selected Blind People’s Association (BPA) as the Partner Agency to implement the project in the five districts, Surendranagar, Kacchh, Panchmahal, Baroda, Banaskantha. Lakhiben was identified by BPA for the training on sewing and stitching. Lakhiben was very reluctant to attend the program as well as to start a Silai school in her village. ”Nobody would come to me for learning and I will not be able to teach stitching skills to others”, she said at the beginning. The staff motivated and convinced Lakhiben to attend the training program. She was allowed to bring her child with her during the training program. She successfully completed the training program. “Attending this training program is a huge event for me”, she said. This training program has given her confidence and motivated her to do something in her life to contribute to her family and to develop her sense of self worth. “The most important thing I learnt is that my polio affected leg also can operate the sewing machine which I never thought would be possible”, she said.
Now, she runs Usha Silai School in her home and imparts stitching and sewing skills to young girls to the community. She also started working independently as a professional tailor and stitches traditional clothes. She earns Rs.800-1200 per month. Now, she wants to learn other new stitching skills and techniques and wants to learn how to stitch school uniforms, pillow covers, as they could help her generate more income.
Lakhiben has become a role model in her village and is leading a SHG group, and has planned a 2 month training program for her group members.
Myadi Bai-Hirkray, Badwani
This is the story of Maydi Bai, a resident of Hirkray village, district Badwani, Madhya Pradesh. She belongs to a tribal farmer family. She is physically challenged and cannot walk. She is polio affected since her early childhood.
Being physically challenged Maydi suffered discrimination from very beginning of her life. She was not able to complete her education or have any other support system for her own sustenance.
In her own words, “One day a bhaiya came to our village and told me about the Silai School program. I discussed this with my parents and went for the 7 days residential training. The training program was very helpful and the Usha trainers were sensitive to my needs and supported me well. I got my own Sewing Machine and a School signage to start my Silai School in my own home. Girls and women gradually started coming to my school. My confidence has increased manifold and till date I have trained 12 girls and women. I have also trained my two younger brothers and sister”
At present, six learners are attending training at her Silai School. She is earning on an average Rs. 2000/- per month from sewing clothes.
Today Maydi is confident and happy and wants to start a tailoring shop of her own.
Padmini – Vellakinar, Coimbatore , Tamil Nadu
Padmini is a leader of the transgender community. Social ostracism kept her away from any income generation activities in the villages till the inception of the Silai school program in her village. “The concept of Silai schools, in empowering women and girls to earn their livelihood encouraged Padmini to attend the Silai School Training conducted by UIL at our organization”- NGO representative from NMCT
Today, Padmini has trained more than 20 Silai School Participants including transgenders and also earns Rs.3000/- per month by sewing cloths. She hopes to train more women and also transgenders.
Annapoorani, Kavundampalayam village, Coimbatore
Annapoorani is a member of Vimuktha Self Help Group, started learning tailoring with the support of Vimuktha. Usha Silai School training has helped her a lot in improving the designs in churidar and blouses. She has trained 18 women & girls so far.
She has a Beauty Parlour at her residence where the Usha Silai School is also located, which increases her clientele and now earns Rs.3000/- per month on sewing of clothes in the area.
After initial training to the new Silai School participants she also trains them in motorized machine she owns.
Shivavati-Tallavalsa, Andhra Pradesh
Shivavati is a resident of Tallavalsa village in Andhra Pradesh. She belongs to an Scheduled Caste community. She has studied till class 10th. Though she wanted to continue her studies but the poor economic condition of the family prevented her from doing so.
Shivavati was married at a very early age. Her husband is a contractual employee in a private company. The monthly income was not able to meet the increasing demand of family members and the survival of the members became tough day by day.
The partner NGO of Usha International Ltd identified her as one of the beneficiaries for the Usha Silai School Program and shared with her about the concept of Silai School, training program and what she can do after training. This proved to be a ray of hope for Shivavati and her family.
She expressed her excitement towards the Usha Silai School Program and attended the seven days residential training program very enthusiastically.
Initially community people were not willing to visit her school due to caste concerns but with the support and mobilization carried forward by the NGO, the caste barrier was overcome. Now girls and women come and learn sewing at her Silai school. She is also getting orders for stitching the clothes from the community.
Apart from this she also got the opportunity to work as a part time faculty for local polytechnic college. She quotes that “on an average she is able to earn Rs. 5000 per month. Her living standard has improved and she is able to meet her family needs very efficiently.” She thanks and appreciates the effort of Usha Silai School Program and NGO partner for giving her an opportunity to enhance her skill and live a dignified and respectful life.
Creating Opportunities Manifold in the North East India
UIL has been successfully running the Silai School program in Nagaland since the year 2013. This case study is an attempt to record how the 10 Women Entrepreneurs from the 10 Silai Schools in Dimapur have successfully joined hands to start a Showroom Cum Sales Centre by mobilising support from the Nagaland State Social Welfare Board in Dimapur. Presently, UIL is running 20 Silai Schools in the state. All the Silai Schools are in the districts of Kohima and Dimapur. The state is inhabited by 16 major tribes and a large number of smaller tribes. Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress
Main trends of Silai Schools in Nagaland:
1. Silai Schools have helped the economies of these 20 Silai School women entrepreneurs
2. A positive enthusiasm is visible in the communities where the Silai Schools are operational
3. Even the local district administration is aware and positive about the Silai Schools
Dimapur, which is the main commercial centre of Nagaland has 10 Silai Schools in the neighbouring villages (the other 10 being Kohima). For the State of Nagaland, MSS had conducted the Silai School training through the Training of Trainers (TOT) model, where 2 master trainers from the state were trained by UIL in Guwahati for a period of 7 days. One of the Master Trainers from Nagaland was an enthusiastic lady named Ms Thine Sekhose. Thine, very successfully trained 10 women in Nagaland after having motivated them to start Silai Schools in the villages. In addition to being the Master Trainer, coach and mentor for these 10 village women, Thine is also the program coordinator for the local NGO called EDITI, which is monitoring the Silai Schools on a regular basis.
One of the main problems that the Silai School teachers face is that once the number of learners have stabilised or if the teachers have completed the target of teaching 20 learners, they are enthused to do “something else” or “something big”. In Dimapur, the teachers wanted to sell their finished products and wanted to make a successful business out of it. However, since the Silai Schools are located in remote villages, not many people used to know or buy the finished products. Hence the number of customers was limited.
Gradually, the teachers, under the leadership of Thine Sekhose, planned to walk an extra mile to augment their income. They approached the Nagaland Social Welfare Department and appraised them about the Silai Schools and requested them for assistance to start a Showroom and Sales Centre in Dimapur. The Silai School teachers, planned that all the quality finished products that they create in the Silai Schools would be displayed and sold from the Showroom.
Happily, for the 10 women and Thine, the Nagaland Social Welfare Department approved the proposal and agreed to support them by paying the monthly rent of about Rs 6000/- . Moreover they agreed to support the furniture and fixtures for the Showroom and a computer for their day to day work. Therefore, the Showroom and Sales Centre, named as “Emergence” by Thine and her band of 10 Silai School Teachers came into operation on September 2014 at PWD Road, Midland, Dimapur.
The Business Model of the Showroom and Sales Centre:
1. The 10 Silai School women contribute to the centre, whatever products they make in the Silai Schools in the villages
2. The finished products range from skirt-tops, soft toys, mobile pouches.
3. The Silai School teachers have to contribute 5-10% of the profit for the maintenance and management of the centre
4. Ms Thine has also started training centre on Sewing and dress making, soft-toy making and artificial flower-making centre. Traditional Bridal dress for wedding is also an especial item.
5. Many people visiting Dimapur request for customised items and these orders are then completed at the Silai Schools by the teachers.
6. The Centre has been named as “Emergence” by Thine and her band of 10 Silai School Teachers.
7. This EMERGENCE is evolving as a backward linkages initiative for the Silai School Products
The program has just started two months. There is an enthusiasm amongst Thine and her team. So far the response from buyers have been positive. Silai Schools are paving way for many opportunities for rural women.