Mumtaz and Sumathi, two women who ran a tailoring business, were stuck at home with their sewing machines when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and nobody wanted new clothes stitched. Their small unit at home and a shop were closed down for months on end. That’s when they heard about a room in the block panchayat building of Vengara, Malappuram, that would be let out to women wishing to run a small business. The two Malappuram native women took up the offer and set up shop again; this time, as a stitching centre and training institute. And in two months, it has given them the much-needed relief of getting any income at all.
Theirs is among the 19,136 job opportunities created in the non-farming sector by Kudumbashree, the Kerala government’s initiative to eradicate poverty. Kudumbashree is a Neighbourhood Group (NHG) that has been around for more than 22 years, and is a network that facilitates woman empowerment. On Sunday, the scheme’s Executive Director Harikishore S said that, as part of creating livelihood opportunities, Kudumbashree has envisaged a programme called 'Athijeevanam Keraleeyam'. Through skill training, thousands of women are now self-employed or have waged jobs.
"The state government had in its 100-day programme announced that 50,000 people would be given livelihood opportunities in non-farming sector. Kudumbashree was expected to facilitate 15,000 of these, in this 100-day period -- from September 1 to December 10. However, we have already been able to create opportunities for 19,136 people. That a women’s group could do this amid all the difficulties thrown by COVID-19 is remarkable," Harikishore tells TNM.
Mumtaz and Sumathi, along with four or five other women who have been helping them, have benefitted from the tailoring unit. “We haven’t been able to get any students for the institute yet but we are getting orders for stitching clothes, and that’s good enough for now. Only once the coronavirus passes would business get better,” she says.
Skill training was provided by the government in about 50 different fields – to train as a beautician, in catering, and so on.
“Those who are interested in starting micro enterprises were given General Orientation Training (GoT). After completing the GoT, module of Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP) was provided. Thereafter skill training is extended to all those who are desirous of starting self-employment,” Harikishore explained on a Facebook post.
Rakhi had been running a Kudumbashree canteen in Thrissur for many years, along with nine other women. Their livelihood was also struck by the coronavirus. “But we had to close down even before that, in February, when the building we were running the canteen in deteriorated so badly that parts of it began to crumble. So we had closed down and there was no income for months. When we heard of the campaign providing skills training, we applied for it. By then only five of us were left behind, others had found other means of income. After the training we began a Janakeeya Hotel near the Chavakkad bus stand in Thrissur,” Rakhi says.
Janakeeya Hotels were started by the government to provide affordable meals at Rs 20 for people, which proved useful during the pandemic. There are nearly 800 of these in the state now – either newly started or old buildings converted to hotels.
Rakhi says that the idea was to prepare at least 150 meals every day. However, demand rose so much in just one month that they now sell at least 250 packets of food every day. “We don’t know yet how much will come to our hands, but business has definitely been good,” she says.