WEAVING FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE – BETHANY LEPROSY COLONY
Campaign to raise £13000 towards the completion of a workshop, to be a weaving unit at Bethany Leprosy Colony, India. The production unit will provide employment to 14 – 16 village women.
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Bethany village is a leprosy colony. Today we witness the fourth generation living here. There are 360 houses with 2000 inhabitants. The eldest generation is mostly crippled by the disease. The generation in their 50s were fortunate to receive medication to be cured of the disease but often after some secondary infection had set in, resulting in partially crippled limbs. Their children in their 20/30s and their grandchildren are disease free but still live in the colony. The Leprosy Mission of England states that leprosy is one of the world’s most stigmatized diseases and the people affected are marginalized in society, denied basic human rights and targeted by discriminatory legislation.
Some men in the village work outside but do not earn enough to sustain their families. Their wives are making up the shortfall by doing hard manual labour in the fields, if possible. When income is short in India, children may be pulled out of school to work. Girls may be married off young. The cycle of poverty carries on.
Weaving is the traditional skill in this village. This skill has been practised for generations. Weaving can be done in homes by the women around their household chores. This is a conservative society. The women’s role is to do all household chores.
Solomon is a 3rd generation man who grew up in the village in a family of weavers. He has a great passion to give his people work. In 2012, he gathered a group of women to weave some bags under the name “Village Hands International”. In 2013, Ramona Hirschi, the founder of Little Trove, a fair trade business in the UK, travelled to Bethany to meet Solomon and the weavers. Her aim was to see if the two could work together. Having met and stayed with them, Ramona could not leave without doing something to help. From October 2013, Little Trove has been acting as the only UK partner of Solomon’s group of weavers, importing their handwoven bags and promoting them to retailers in the UK. Little Trove’s orders have generated some income for the weavers and gathered proof that it is possible to help them set up a sustainable business for themselves.
In our shop (http://www.littletrove.com/product-category/fashion/bags/), you will see the bags produced by the weavers for Little Trove since 2013. The quality of the weave is exquisite. There is great potential to build their product range.
Solomon’s dream is to create a fully functioning workshop within the colony to give stable employment to the village women. A few years ago two American women donated money to help Solomon buy a plot of land at Bethany. In 2014, Solomon started building a workshop, pouring in whatever money he had. They have laid the foundations and erected walls. Solomon does not have enough funds to finish the building. Building work has stopped. He needs £15000 to complete the building and to equip it with machinery.
When the building is completed, the plan is to transform this loosely gathered group into a functioning production unit with operations and management systems in place. This unit will need a manager chosen from amongst the weavers to manage day to day operations. The workshop will be able to provide stable employment for 14 – 16 women at any one time, with the possibility of more than 16 women if working in shifts.
Achieved to date:
Little Trove’s involvement since Oct 2013 means that Village Hands bags are now in some 20 shops in the UK. In February 2015, Little Trove also secured an order for bags to be sold in the ferries between Finland/Sweden. These breakthroughs are resulting in repeat orders for the weavers but the work is still only ad-hoc.
Challenges thus far:
Due to gender roles in rural communities in India, women tend to do handiwork in their homes around their household chores. There is no control over how long a weaver will take to finish a product. Most of them are reluctant to gather in Solomon’s house to weave in the front garden because of men hanging around in front of the house. The women feel embarrassed to work in front of the men.
They face tremendous discrimination and hardship in India. Solomon’s group is constantly cheated by the man who dyes their threads, such as taking payment in advance but not dyeing the threads the colour they asked for or deliberately leaving their order at the bottom of the pile in favour of “more important people”. Because of lack of choice and the system, they just accept that as normal. Their local bank also make it hard for them to set up business accounts and receive foreign money. That is why Little Trove is facilitating the collection of donations.
Thirdly, all weavers including Solomon have never left India. Most have not left their colony. They have no knowledge or understanding of the Western world. Their weaving work is based on colour patterns and designs that do not have mass appeal in the West. When given a new design by Little Trove, they have a conceptual problem with following it.
All these problems are normal amongst the lower castes in India. For them to succeed in this weaving endeavour, Little Trove has invested time and money to train Solomon on management and leadership matters and are working closely with weavers on new products and designs.
Ramona (left) working with weavers Annapurna & Kumari in February 2015 on new colours/products.
Solomon is asking if you will finance his workshop. He needs £13000:
- To complete building: £10000
- To buy machinery: £3000
We estimate that the impact of the current plan will be:
- Stable employment for 14 – 16 women at Bethany
- Consistent income throughout the year
- Building of confidence, self-esteem and integrity
- 14 – 16 families who will have enough money to live rather than live hand to mouth
- Children who will be kept in school rather than sent out to work
- Young girls who will be kept in education rather than married off
- Young people going off to higher education and gaining employment outside the colony
- The next generation breaking out of the cycle of poverty
How you can play a part:
Please consider supporting this campaign. A little bit of money is going to help them help themselves. That is even better than charity that leaves them needing more when the money runs out.
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Thank you for giving.