CHENNAI:On days when Vaanvizhi Jayachandran is busy finishing tailoring orders; her husband brings their children back from school and manages the house chores. Vaanvizhi is one of the five women in the fishing village of Chithirapet, Cuddalore district, who, against all odds hasformed a self-help group ‘Sura’, to support her children’s education. Her husband is a fisherman and their children study at a private school run by ASSEFA foundation in the village.
In June last year, when the school had to increase its fee to Rs 7,500 a year, the family’s debts went up too. Vaanvizhi and a few other parents met Nisha Subramaniam, director of education, ASSEFA. Nisha suggested providing them with a micro-credit loan, to start a small enterprise of their choice. Vaanvizhi says, “Five of us — Madhu, Senthamizh R, Shobana S, Chinnamalar, and I, decided to set up a tailoring unit. This was during Navarathri, so orders came from teachers and others through Facebook. We made bags, purses, curtains and other things in kalamkari print.”
They got a loan of Rs 5,000 each from
ASSEFA foundation, and set up a small unit in their neighbourhood. Nisha, who also manages marketing and sales for their group, shares “We had barely any funds to pay a teacher to train them. Not all families were supportive either, so that was a challenge” she says.
In the first 2 months, Vaanvizhi did not tell her family about these classes, and Senthamizh and Shobana’s families thought the job would make them pay less attention to their family. After Shobana started earning about Rs 2,000 a month, her family approved her job. “The month we got an order from Chennai to make 1,000 bags, we stayed up nights working. We made enough to pay the school fee and meet other expenses.”
Nisha and her husband Gowtham Reddy, who have been working on community development at ASSEFA, explain that the last two years have been particularly hard for fishermen. Nisha says, “The weather has been unpredictable, and there is an increase in exploitation by middlemen who buy a catch for very low prices and sell them in the city for Rs 600.”
Senthamizh explains that on average, their husbands make about Rs 200 a day, but the turnout is always unpredictable with no profit on some days. “Since we had a lot of free time during the day, designing and making bags seemed like a great way to add to our family income,” says Senthamizh.
In a few months’ time, the group sold their smaller machines and took a Rs 10,000 loan, to make more products. Today, they meet every morning at 11 for an hour, go back home for lunch, and meet again in the afternoon for three hours. They crack jokes, gossip, listen to music, and don’t realise how time passes on the machine. Shobana says, “I wish other women from the village would join us too. We’ve been trying to convince their families that it’s a great occupation. We’d also get a few more hands to help finish orders on time.”
To place an order or buy bags, purses, folders and much more made by Sura’s women, visit their Facebook page - Sura: Kanavu Women’s Wing.