Shramik Mahila Mandal: New Experiences, New Strength

The most recent cooperative to become an official part of MarketPlace’s network had its origins in the efforts of two women.  Rajeshree and Flavia went door to door in rural north Vasai, telling women about a meeting where they could learn about a new employment opportunity.  Thanks to their efforts, 25 women attended the meeting where they heard how SHARE and MarketPlace could change their lives.

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In January 2016, nine of these women decided to take on the challenge of forming a group.  They visited Ranphul Mahila Mandal, a nearby group that was already up and running, producing items for the MarketPlace catalog and website.  Although they had never before been so far from home and had not traveled by train, they made the long (1½ hour) train trip to the Santacruz MarketPlace office to meet with staff and other artisans to learn more about the organization.  Discussing possible names to use to register their new cooperative, they decided that what they most desired was to work hard and build a strong group.  So they called themselves Shramik Mahila Mandal, “Hard-working Women’s Group.”

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The success of SMM and RMM underscores the need for economic development in this rural area north of Mumbai.  MarketPlace and SHARE have found the need so acute – and the women’s reception so eager – that they have made a commitment to reach more women there.  Because of the long and difficult journey to the Santacruz office, they recently opened a new sub-office to have support staff closer to these new groups.

SMM consists of 3 sewing artisans and 6 embroidery artisans.  Before joining the group, the sewing artisans had some experience on sewing machines, but only foot-operated treadle machines.  Undergoing 3 months of training helped them get the hang of the motorized machines, building up their speed and accuracy.  Their first assignment was making patchwork pieces, and since November, 2016 they have been getting orders to produce for MarketPlace’s lines.

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The women are very proud and excited to be earning money in their own organization.  Their goal is to increase their capacity so that they can move into their own workspace.  Currently they are in a building that MarketPlace arranged for them to use while they got started.

Becoming part of the cooperative community has brought many new experiences to these women.  Participating in Artisans Day was a particularly wondrous occasion for them.  Artisans Day is a twice-yearly celebration of and for the artisans, a day that the spotlight is – literally – on women who have spent most of their lives being disregarded.  For the SMM newcomers, the very idea of going up on stage to perform a dance in front of 200 people was almost overwhelming.  But they did it, and agreed it was the most extraordinary experience ever.  They also enjoyed participating in the artisans’ food mela, a food fair where the different groups cooked and sold items at stalls.  This was the first time the SMM women had showcased their cooking talents, and it made them very proud.  Their cooperative may not be close to most of the other groups geographically, but they are still forming close ties of support and warmth with the other artisans.

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