I have just returned from Mumbai to Chicago, and it is like traveling between different worlds. Here it is 55 degrees, but it feels much colder after the heat of India. And the trees, starting to change colors, are a stark contrast to the palm trees and other plant life in Mumbai, which was luscious green from the recent rains. As I review my trip to India, I think about some of what has been accomplished.
In both business and economic development, numbers are important: how much product was sold, income, how many people are employed. But the individuals are more important. Individuals such as Vatsala Jadav, who is at the workshop every day. I met her about 30 years ago at a leprosy treatment center. She was only about 25 years old, but had already lost all her fingers and toes. She had no family and lived alone and had absolutely no way of earning a living. Yet she was adamant that she would not beg and kept bugging me to find something for her to do. The extent of her disability was daunting. For example, in India people mostly bathe by pouring mugs of water over themselves. Vatsala could not hold a mug and so to take a bath she would take a small towel, soak it in water, hold it over her head and squeeze it. We found small things for her to do. Although she can barely hold a brush, she works hard at decorating some handmade cards, book marks, etc. She does not get a lot of money, so I was so thrilled when she told me that she had saved Rs 12000, which she was putting toward repairing her house – she needs another 38,000, but that is another question. For her to save this much was incredible. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that she is always smiling. Where would she have been without SHARE?
When we started the work in India in 1980, we had 3 women making quilts – which we could not sell. Then we changed to making apparel, which was better business, but not by much. After starting MarketPlace: Handwork of India in Chicago, sales grew, as did the number of women. At that point, we began encouraging them to break up into small cooperatives so that they could run their own businesses and have more control and participation. That was also when we established the system still in place today: MarketPlace-Mumbai handles the business side of the venture, while SHARE supervises MarketPlace-Mumbai in addition to making sure that the mission to provide opportunities (economic and other) for women is not superseded by the business goals.
The implementation of the mission of MarketPlace is not easy. The primary, underlying principle is that the social programs will cater to the needs of the women as they see it and not as an educated middle class social worker sees it. First, we have to really dig to understand the problem. And then we need to find ways to motivate and encourage the women to find the process to solve that problem. It is hard to resist jumping in to try to solve everything, since that is what we as social workers have been taught to do. But it is an important part of the process that the women are involved in both the discovery and the resolution. These are women who have been brought up to believe that they do not have any power, that they are to follow not lead, and that they have nothing to contribute. To break this mold is very, very difficult. And SHARE has done this and done it well.
Please help to keep SHARE doing this most important and incredible work. They need a little over $20,000 to support all the programs for a year. Any amount is going to make a difference and keep this important work going.