Skilling women, improving livelihoods

Skilling women, improving livelihoods

Since its inception, 22 years ago, 21 SST projects have spread from two villages in Tamil Nadu to 5,000 villages across 5 States, which include Andhra...

Everyday, a group of women belonging to a self-help group from a village in Tirunelveli district finish their household chores, and quickly get down to making serial bulbs, sometimes together and at times from their homes.

A few kilometers away is Bismi Self-help group, where women earn livelihoods making baskets from banana fibre among other things.

The driving force behind these groups and several others like them, spread across 5,000 villages in 5 States, which including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and the snowy peaks of Himachal Pradesh is Tamil Nadu-based Srinivasan Service Trust.

SST is skilling people to have a quality life since its inception, 22 years ago, and has currently expanded to 21 SST projects.

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of TVS? The bike endorsed by the little master himself is one thing, in addition to several other models of motorbikes launched from time to time by one of the leading bike manufacturers.

But what if we told you TVS is not just improving the mileage in their bikes but also people's quality of life? SST is the social arm of TVS Motor Company and Sundaram Clayton, which is doing just that.

Murugan, field director of SST in Tirunelveli, says their main aim is to transform the rural communities and urban slums. "We are working for the society.

Our focus area is economy, development, health, education and to be a partner in the transformation of rural communities and urban slums by empowering people to achieve sustainable development," he says.

The SST head's claims are matched with the zeal shown by Md Peer Banu, head of Bismi Self-help Group in Eruvadi village in Tirunelveli district.

She says that with the help of SST, 15 women of the village including herself have become financially independent. "We started in 2006 and made baskets from banana fibre, dresses and school uniforms.

Now, we gather in the morning and work together till around 4 pm. On average, we earn four to five thousand rupees per month. School reopening seasons and big festivals are great because we make an extra buck through our sales."

And this isn't just the story of 15 women. "With SST, we have trained 300-350 people in the surrounding villages. Due to this a rising number of skilled women are supporting their households equally.

Following mentoring and guidance from SST officials, we are now equipped with basic banking and ATM literacy and have maintained a joint account under Bismi to deposit our savings," she adds.

A testimony to the sustainability of this system is their ability to clear off huge loans.

Her Bismi group had taken a loan of Rs 20 lakh for the equipment from a local bank and successfully cleared it without any default – a fact they're proud of!

"We took the loan in 2009 and recently we completed the loan. We have repaid the loan very systematically. We maintained a ledger and every woman in the group worked hard to make sure we don't default."

The products made by Bismi enjoy a good loyalty in the market and now they have forayed in eCommerce websites too! "My elder son suggested that we sell our products online too.

He handles the eCommerce part in our group and the products have garnered a decent demand online too."

The community also believes in a peaceful way of living. Shaira Banu, a member of Bismi says, "Although there are many Muslim and Hindu families in the village we live together in harmony and peace.

There is a Shiva temple in the village and Muslims take part in cleaning the temple premises along with Hindus. And Hindu women in the group suggested that we will name our group, Bismi, which is short for Bismillah."

About 25 kilometres from Eruvadi village is Arasanarkulam where another fantastic story is unfolding. Dhanalakshmi Lighting Company in the village's Gandhi Nagar Colony is making young girls and women serial entrepreneurs, literally.

The unit is run by Dhanalakshmi and her husband Ashok. A couple of years ago Dhanalakshmi teamed up with SST and formed the Gandhi Women's Self-help Group where they train young girls and women in making serial bulbs. Ashok then turns those bulbs into beautiful structures.

Ashok has trained over 200 women through the Gandhi self-help group in fixing serial lights and creating cut-outs, helping them make it a livelihood.

Ashok, who is a self-taught serial bulb cut-out artist and a Class 10 pass out, married Dhanalakshimi about 19 years ago. They had a small workshop where a tie-up with SST, led them to form this group and building the existing workforce that has a turnover of about Rs 10 lakh annually.

"I have learnt the craft by myself as I was very keen on it. My elder daughter is in engineering now, and she helps me with the designs and gives me print outs of the designs."

A skilled artist, Ashok has made cut-outs of all sizes and shapes with the prices varying from R 5000 to Rs 3 lakh!

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