Crafting Hope for India's Women

Kolaghat is a small town of some 4,000 people on the banks of the wide Rupnarayan river, a strikingly beautiful area where crops of rice and flowers provide the lion’s share of income. The village is home to an innovative women’s group that has created remarkable job opportunities and, in the process, changed the face of the village.

The Kolaghat Socio-Economic Welfare Society is an embroidery and tailoring workshop employing 35 women. The group’s origins are humble – it began with only a donated sewing machine and five women who worked for the first while without personal income in order to invest their earnings in more machines. Since then, the organization has grown substantially, as has the confidence of the women.

In their self-owned workshop, a white-wash building peacefully situated amidst lush green rice paddies, Shibani Ray, mother of a 13-year-old daughter, shares her story.

“Before we became married,” she says, “my husband had a job with a good company, Timex, making watches.” After several years of marriage, however, the company ran into financial problems and her husband was laid off. The family could no longer depend on the security that his income had provided. “I was worried about how we would survive,” says Ray.

Ray found the Kolaghat Society through the advice of a friend in the community. She has embroidered with the society for 15 years now. The income is essential, allowing her to provide for her family; her husband’s job as a security guard is neither full-time nor permanent. They have since built their own house, a one-room unit that also has a kitchen.

“We are strong now,” says Ray. “We’ve had good orders for a long time and our income has grown – we’ve been better able to support our families and provide education for our children.”

The economic improvement has been of great benefit, but even more significant is the way that attitudes within the community have altered. Kolaghat, like many villages in India, remains relatively conservative. When the society began, many in the community took issue. “They would say ‘you are only a woman, what are you doing working?’ But we had the confidence to say, ‘This is a very good job, and I’m going to work.’” Now, people in the community have a great deal of respect for the society and the income that has been created.

At the Kolaghat Society, like so many of Ten Thousand Villages’ partners, perhaps of greatest value is the network of support and solidarity that exists. “What is most important to me is that in this unit we share all of our problems,” says Ray. “I now have two families – my home family and my family at work.”