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"I have tapped into the traditional artistry of many villages, and in order to match the local artistry with today's trends, artisans are trained on new designs."
"I come from Gurgaon, Haryana and I've always been interested in women’s issues. The plight of women has always held a special place in my heart," says Captain Indraani Singh, Asia's first woman pilot who commands an Airbus– 300 for Indian Airlines and she is an active pilot with Air India. Concerned by women struggling for existence in their villages yet forbidden to work by the conservative society, Indraani decided to set up centers in the villages for these women to run on their own as entrepreneurs.
"The whole idea of setting up an organization to support women came from seeing how families in poorer communities were suffering due to widespread financial crisis, unemployment and other social evils. The youth also seemed to be disillusioned due to lack of work.
"Therefore in November of 2004 we set up a self-help group for women in villages around Gurgaon (Haryana), and over 100 women enrolled for vocational training. Today, we have trained over 200 skilled women workers and over 1000 semi-skilled, and they are all capable of crafting all kinds of cloth, paper and other products such as sewing, tailoring, embroidery, batik and block printing, paper maché, mask making, vermi-compost, leaf plate making, and making recycled and handmade paper. And, we have also increased our reach to Rajasthan, West Bengal and the metropolitan areas surrounding Delhi.
"In the nine years of the organization's existence we have been able to touch the lives of scores of women, lifting them out of poverty and giving them a reason to smile. Our mission is to empower communities by strengthening their local skills and providing links to markets to attain financial sustainability, thereby encouraging youths to take up these skills too, so traditions do not get marginalized.
"Our strongest innovation is the high level of community participation and contribution. The project looks forward to deepen the ongoing sustainable livelihoods through the introduction of entrepreneurial models that are community owned and community led.
"To help achieve all these aspects we have a dedicated team who is constantly helping, teaching skill development and imparting the importance of their role in the society and its development.
"Women in many villages of India are not respected and are even treated as door mats, which we believe leads to a severe identity crisis. We therefore also run workshops designed to empower women and we also invite women who are role models to talk about their lives. This exercise and exposure has been quite beneficiary to women.
"Since many of the women usually stay inside their homes looking after their families and doing their chores, we have also taken them to visit various companies to literally show them how things work in the 'outside world,' and this has proven to be quite an incentive. Likewise, renowned companies are invited to the centers to interact them thereby encouraging and showcasing women artisans to get out into the world.
"Over the years, our organization has helped and financially empowered thousands of women by instilling in them the spirit of living with dignity and love for their work amongst other women artisans.
"I have tapped into the traditional artistry of many villages, and in order to match the local artistry with today's trends, artisans are trained on new designs and they value additions to their techniques. In some villages we have met women who have no experience with their traditional crafts, yet they have developed a great talent in stitching and embroidery after an intensive training.
"Different organizations have helped us by designing and conducting workshops for artisans, which is an ongoing process. I also get personally involved in product development.
"Of course we have also learned to deal with different challenges that include logistics such as the long distances between villages, water or electric shortages, the supply of prime materials, to dealing with such cultural differences as the concept of time and its use, as well as conservative attitudes that restrict women from working and becoming entrepreneurs themselves. We also work with farming communities where arts and crafts take a backseat to the demands of the land.
"Women under our wings have learned to improve their work at a pace which the world requires. Though we have a long way to go, we have been successful in empowering many women like Meenakshi, who is a mother of three children. Because she comes from a lower caste, coming into our project was a quite a challenge for her, especially being accepted by the others, who wouldn't even dare take a glass of water from Meenakshi. Things slowly changed as she worked hard to become as skilled as them. She is now trained in crafting all kinds of products, she is accepted as a co-worker and as a assistant at the Daulatabad center. Atmosphere in the center has reached a new high, breaking down caste barriers and fostering sisterhood amongst the women members."
Captain Indraani's professional success and towering personality has become an inspiration to many women throughout India. She is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Women’s Congress in 2009, and she has also received the Timex Award for 2005 and the Godfrey Philips Award for 2006.
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