Women mostly are thought of being somebody, whose job and whole life is limited just to the household. In this bargain, many times, their financial independence is ignored. A Hyderabad based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Umeed, is one such organisation that aspires to make many of these women empowered and self-sustaining.
The NGO that was founded in 2014 by the two former fellows of Teach for India, Gauri Mahendra and Udita Chadha with an aim to “inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats women and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.”
Odd jobs for minimal wages
Udita and Gauri met each other in Hyderabad while they were teaching in primary government schools as fellows of Teach for India. “While teaching in the schools, where most of the children belong to the low-income community, regular absenteeism was the most common thing. When we went to find out the reason behind it, we realised that there were problems at their home,” said Gauri while talking to The Logical Indian.
Explaining the reason behind the absenteeism, she said was that many of these children could not come to school as they worked as child labours, working at odd jobs like newspaper vendors, toy and rose sellers at the traffic signals or as child artists for Telugu Television Industry.
She says, these child artists work as extras in the Telugu Movies and Television soaps. For just a minimal wage of Rs 200-Rs 500 per day, these children are made to stay on the sets from early mornings to late evenings.
“This might not be news for many, as this is common in most places, but as individuals who were working on the ground it shook us,” said 31-year- old Gauri. The parents of these children- who belong to weaker economic sections do not also object as it is a source of financial support, she adds.
Two is always better than one
In Indian households, mostly the man remains the sole bread earner, the woman takes care of the household. However, if there is financial distress, children start working to support. The native of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Gauri tells us that during their teaching days, they use to make several ground visits, talking to community people and parents of their students. So, both of them spoke to many families to discuss the issue. And after many such visits, the duo came to the conclusion that financial instability creeps into a family because there is only one person earning, which is mostly the husband.
The financial burden would divide if mothers also start to contribute financially to the family. It will not just help the women to be self-sustainable, but would also allow the children to pursue their education as they will not have to go out to do odd jobs, said Gauri.
Convincing mothers to take up jobs
The two of them decided to convince the mothers of their students to not just regularly send their wards to the school but to also come out of the houses to work.
“As we were their kids’ teachers, so it was easy to talk to them but the difficult part was to get these mothers out of their houses to work for their family,” said Gauri.
After much efforts, some of the women did agree to work, but lack of skill training was another problem that these women faced next. Which is when Gauri and along with Udita decided to train the women.
Gauri then went to the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan to learn various ways through which these women could make a living and become empowered. In the organisation’s reads, “Gauri’s exposure to the Barefoot Community and their village-based approach to solving problems formed the very foundation of Umeed.”
Starting with just five women
After taking many sessions from Barefoot, both Udita and Gauri decided to teach handicraft work to women and in 2014. Interestingly, Umeed started with just five women.
Through Umeed sessions, women were taught to make simple, beautiful, and eco-friendly newspaper handicrafts. That would then go for sale at many popular events, organizations, corporate houses and community spaces.
Gauri told The Logical Indian that Umeed has a three-step process for women. “The first step is Skill Building, in which women are taught to make the handicrafts. Second is Building Values & Mindsets, since only skill is not important, so in these sessions, there is a special emphasis on the personal growth of these women. The third element is Exposure; Our aim is not to make these women employees, we want to see them as entrepreneurs. Which is why their exposure to the world is also important,” said Gauri. As part of the exposure process, the women are made to open up handicraft stalls, go to different corporate houses to promote their products and hold training sessions for other women.
As of now, there are at least 30 women working for Umeed. Most of them come for the session on Sunday and then take the raw material for the product from Umeed at their home, and the next week, they bring back the products made with the raw material. After undergoing stringent quality checks, these products are sent for sale. Other than handicrafts, women also make decorative items for festivals like Diwali, Christmas, etc.
Gauri claims that on an average each woman earns up to Rs 3,000 – 5,000 depending on the demand of their products.
Umeed also holds different sessions for women and children. One of these sessions is ‘Acha bura’, in which women discuss and open up about their problems. “If any woman asks for our help, we do lend our support to them,” said Gauri.
For Gayatri, (name changed) it was very difficult to come out of an abusive marriage. She was part of Umeed for several years and when she asked the organisation’s help, she was given proper guidance and support. Now, Gayatri is an independent woman, free from the abuse she was subjected to and living a life on her own terms.
Similarly, it was getting very difficult for Raima (name changed) to take care of her ailing husband and her kids. It was when her monthly expenses started shooting off the roof, her 13-year-old son, decided to work on the streets to support the family. Fortunately, Umeed got to know about Raima’s problem at the right time. Who then helped her and took her on board with Umeed.
There are many more women like Gayatri and Raima, who are now becoming empowered. In India, women have been restricted and repressed for years. Umeed, a women-oriented and child welfare organisation keeping these social barriers around women and children in mind, acts as a support system for many.
Umeed is a journey of love, hope and courage that aims to provide a better future and respectful life to many more women. Umeed is looking forward to exploring a new path towards working with more and more women and creating leadership at the grassroots. The Logical Indian admires Umeed’s effort and hopes more hands join in their journey.