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July 2012
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Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – March 2012

Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley


Continuing our updates of our work through The Strengths Project with the Women’s Sewing Co-operative that we established in Shiriti slum, Kolkata, India, Avirupa is pleased to share the news from March this year:


“March is the time for “Holi” or “Dol” in Bengali. It’s the festival of colour celebrating the colours of nature in springtime. The weather is generally pleasant, but can get quite scorching for days culminating in “kalbaishakhi” (norwesters) thunderstorm accompanied by spells of showera.  Although people welcome “kalbaishakhi” for bringing temporary relief, in Shiriti it is anticipated with apprehension, as it results in uprooting trees, disrupting roofs and more often than not, long hours of power-cuts, as illegally hooked electric wires get tangled and rip. We had to cancel two meetings in the beginning of March due to the “kalbaishakhi” that followed “Dol”.


In the second week when we assembled, Shyama had already made a survey of sorts in the local market for the price of steel chest. A medium sized chest was estimated to cost between Rs.400 to Rs.500. Subsequently Arpita volunteered to take the responsibility to buy it, but she wanted at least one other member to accompany her. It was decided that we will be ready with the chest by end of March.


But we had a different problem at hand now. With the change in political party in the state, the local club committee has also revised, making the older lot, with whom we were acquainted with, being replaced by a new group of people owing their allegiance to the new ruling party. The women said that the boys now were not careful about our machines kept in the club, and indeed we saw that the four machines were dusty, some small parts missing.


We figured the best way to ensure that we maintain cordial relationship with the boys and make sure that they do not mess with our machines would be to offer them a token gift. The women decided to make a cover for the carom board which is kept in the club, by stitching scrap left over fabrics.


Next week we were almost ready with the carom board cover, but none of the club members were available to receive the gift. I asked the women to inform the men in advance, so that we can hand over the gift next day. The chest buying project however received a setback because of lack of coordination between the women. We decided to keep the target for the end of March as final. So dialogues were initiated between the women to find out the best solution. We talked about how united in our mission we were to buy the chest in the interest of our group. Each of them then narrated to what extent they can adjust time with the other women, so that they can go and buy the chest together.  Finally Sharmila agreed to take responsibility to see through the process with Arpita and Mousumi as companions. We were happy.


In the last meeting of the month we gave the carom board cover to the boys, unfortunately the men of the club committee were busy in their workplace. The boys were delighted with the gift and promised to take care of the machines henceforth. However we felt something more was needed to protect our precious machines. Mousumi, Shyama, Sharmila and I came upon the idea of manufacturing little plywood box covers for the machines. Tushi gave a clever suggestion to add hatch bolt with a lock and key to make safety a certainty.  We were enthused at the idea and the women said they will ask for price quotes from their neighboring carpenters.


Thus in April we had two projects: i) to finally buy the chest, and transfer all our products to it, before we organize a sale and ii) to scout for the cheapest quote for making safety boxes for the machines. With these dual agenda, we march onto April.”


Further updates from The Strengths Project will follow shortly. Watch this space!

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