Six year ago, Showkath, who hails from Edathattukara village in Palakkad district, dug wells across Kerala for a living. But an accident in 2014 while on the job ended up leaving him wheelchair-bound. And while he struggled to make ends meet after that, Showkath has been able to support his family in the last three years, thanks to a school teacher who taught him how to make umbrellas, and a social media community who supported him and others like him.
Like Showkath, nearly fifty physically disabled persons across Kerala are now earning a living by making umbrellas. A Facebook page called ‘Umbrella by Differently Abled - Kerala (sic)’ has been helping them market and sell their products since last year.
“I always wanted lead a life with my own hard earned money. After the accident, my spinal cord got injured and I was bound to wheel chair. A school teacher from Palakkad showed me how to make umbrellas and helped me to connect with others who make a living similarly. He is the one who created the Facebook page so that we can market our products effectively,” Showkath told TNM.
Showkath can make around six umbrellas per day. He and his wife also make environment-friendly pens, made out of paper – up to 100 per day. “I am happy that I don’t have to depend on anyone else to make a living,” he said.
Like Showkath, another woman being helped by this initiative is Latha, a native of Ochira in Kollam. Partially paralysed from an attack of polio when she was a child, this has allowed her to be self-sufficient. “Before turning into making umbrellas, I used to take tuition classes for school children. However, I had to discontinue because my house would get flooded during monsoon, and the kids couldn’t come,” she shared.
Three years ago, Latha connected with the school teacher who helped Showkath, and through a WhatsApp group, got acquainted with others like her. For two years, they used WhatsApp to find customers and sell their umbrellas, until the Facebook page was created last year.
Meanwhile, the school teacher who helped Latha, Showkath and many others wishes to unnamed. When asked why, he told TNM that he did not want publicity, but simply wanted to connect disabled persons to allow them to make a living by making and selling umbrellas over social media.
“Though many of them used to make umbrellas for a living earlier, their products did not have good market. Even their neighbours did not know they were doing something like this. That was when I decided to connect people like this through using potential of social media,” the school teacher said. “I am happy that what I initiated has been able to help these people lead their lives independently.”
The team now has about 50 people across the state. Umbrellas are priced from Rs 300 to Rs 350 apiece.
However, one challenge that they face is the seasonal demand for the umbrellas. “We get most of the bulk orders during monsoon season. This is a problem we continue face, because on other months we have to depend on something else to make money,” says Latha.
She added that people keep asking for discounts, not understand that this is a means of livelihood for them. “Even some charity organisations which purchase items from us have asked for discount. Don’t they understand this is the only way through which we are making a living?” she rues.
With monsoon months soon to get started in Kerala, the sellers are expecting higher demand in the coming days. Umbrellas they make can be ordered directly using these contact numbers.