Geetanjali Tripathi, a woman from a tribal village in Odisha, takes the picture of every customer who comes to her stall at Mahila Mela in Chennai. She likes looking at these photos when she goes back home to Odisha, for they are a symbol of her freedom and independence.
She is only one of the women who have been encouraged to work become financially independent by Self Help Groups (SHGs) run by Hand in Hand India, an NGO which empowers rural women. At the Mahila mela held in Chennai on Tuesday, over 20 stalls were set up by Hand in Hand India with support of National Bank For Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). These stalls featured products made by rural women from Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
A native of Odishaâs Sundergarh, Geetanjali recalls how sheltered and restricted her life was, a decade ago. âWomen did not even come out of their houses. They used to cover their heads and cook food in their houses. I had a child thatâs when I realized that both of us need to work to support his education. That was the time Hand in Hand India organization was encouraging women to work,â she says.
Geetanjali was trained by the NGO personnel in sewing and making toys. âWe started with Rs 6,000 and today, we earn Rs 40,000 to 50,000 from each stall,â she says.
Today there are 2,000 SHGs in Sundergarh. âMost of the women in the village are making garments or bangles and selling things now. We mostly set up stalls in different districts in Odisha,â informs Geetanjali.
She is also happy that the reason she began working â to support her son â has borne fruit. He now an engineer and works at an IT company.
Suganbai, (35), a woman from Madhya Pradesh, was working a construction worker before she decided to sell leather bags in 2012 after being trained by Hand in Hand India. âI started with my own money to make leather bags and purses. It takes a month to make 15 purses. I earn at least Rs 10,000 in from a three-day stall from the purses I make,â she says.
However, most women in Suganbaiâs village prefer to stitch garments than make purses and bags as it takes more time, she says.
Another success story is that of Jagadeeswari, a 50-year-old woman from Puducherry, who never imagined that her food products will become so popular across Tamil Nadu.
Like Geetanjali, Jagadeeswari began working to support her sonâs education. He got admission in NIT Architecture in 2010 and the family did not have sufficient income fund his education. âThat is when I in began making idli powder with gooseberries. I always kept thinking of making products with unique taste,â says Jagadeeswari.
Her first customers were her neighbours and she earned about Rs 1000. âThen I started supplying products to nearby shops. Hand in Hand India taught me about the importance of packaging, branding and marketing the products. I named my brand using her husbandâs initials âPLAâ,â she says.
Today, Jagadeeswariâs products are being sold in 10 districts in Tamil Nadu, and were also exported to France once. She earns almost a lakh a month and she proudly says, âMy son is working as a lecturer in an architecture college and my daughter finished her MBA and is working in a bank. It is all because of the income we received from this business.â
Dr N Jayaseelam, Group CEO, Hand in Hand India organization, told TNM that they were quite happy with the response the mela received. âWe sold goods worth Rs 1 lakh and more than 100 people visited the stalls. We want the women entrepreneurs to understand more about the urban market and what people prefer,â he said.