Widowed young, Lalita now empowers women, youths

Once struggling to make ends meet, Lalita Debi of Rayagada today provides employment to underprivileged persons in her community through her paper plate making unit.
Lalita Debi Shing and her employees in the paper plate making unit at Amalabhata in Rayagada | Express
Lalita Debi Shing and her employees in the paper plate making unit at Amalabhata in Rayagada | Express

BHUBANESWAR: Battling numerous challenges while treading a difficult path without any support, she has proved that nothing is impossible when someone has the determination and intent to give new direction to life.

Widowed at 24, Lalita Debi Shing is an inspiration for many. Her paper plate making unit at Amalabhata in Rayagada district caters to the requirements of five districts and is an avenue of employment for widows, underprivileged women and local youth.

With an annual turnover of Rs 25 lakh, Lalita generates a profit of Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 every month from her business, which was unaffected even during the pandemic. She continues to empower women in her locality by encouraging them to take up entrepreneurship as a career.

The 48-year-old lady has employed 20 persons, including 10 women and has trained more than 50 widows, school dropouts and adolescent girls, by providing them part time jobs at her unit - Jay Hanuman Paper Plates - and helping them become financially independent.

The journey was, however, not a bed of roses. After studying up to Class VIII, Lalita’s poverty-stricken parents could not afford her education. As is the case in many rural communities, she was married off at 14.The young Lalita soon stepped into the role of being a dutiful wife and in a few years, a mother to three sons. Her life took a tragic turn after the sudden demise of her husband, a mechanic, in a disease.

“Being a single parent and sole breadwinner of the four-member family, my real struggle for life started from here. I realised how important education was. As no one was there to back me up, I took up menial jobs and stitched clothes to eke out a living,” she said.

Slowly she picked up the skill of making paper plates, and the idea of starting a new business struck her. In 2016, she borrowed Rs 15,000 to start a small plate making unit from waste papers. She soon realised that just being skilled was not enough to become a successful entrepreneur.

She tried for business loans, but was rejected by banks as she did not have any collateral, paperwork or banking experience. She then came in contact with Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), founded by Lakshmi Venkataraman Venkatesan, daughter of former President R Venkataraman.

In 2017, Lalita got a loan of Rs 1.1 lakh from UCO Bank with BYST’s intervention. In the next six months, she could avail loans of Rs 5 lakh to purchase automatic plate manufacturing machines with multiple dyes and raw materials.

“The trust also assigned me a mentor, who taught how to build a business model. I never looked back thereafter. With seven machines, my unit is now making 8,000 to 10,000 plates a day. I am also planning to expand my business by installing a paper sheet making machine as quality raw material is not available here,” added Lalita.

Her unit has been recognised under the medium enterprise category and she received the Vijayalakshmi Das Entrepreneurship Awards for 2020 with a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh. She was also recently felicitated by the state government for her commitment to the community.

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