Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – April 2012
Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley
With our April update from Shiriti slum in Kolkata, Avirupa tells us about how the women of the Sewing Co-operative negotiated for the chest in which they could keep the valuables of the Sewing Co-operative safe:
“April marks the end of the Bengali calendar. Throughout Chaitra, the last month of the year, the shops traditionally offer huge discount, known popularly as “Chaitra Sale”. We decided to take advantage of this. So in the first Thursday of April, Sharmila, Arpita and I ventured out in the local market on foot to buy the chest. Mousumi could not accompany us being down with fever. Our effort paid fruit. After scanning different shops we were easily able to get the chest @ Rs.300, instead of Rs.500 as anticipated. This was our moment of victory. So we decided to celebrate with ice lollies, from roadside.
We had a wonderful fun time, which brought out the witty side of Arpita. While haggling about price, we were inquiring about the durability of the chest, when Arpita quipped that the chest looked like it will outlive the shop owner (who incidentally was a chirpy old man). We took turns to carry the heavy chest on our way back. This time we took an autorickshaw to Shiriti. The women decided to inaugurate the chest on poila boishakh, the Bengali New Year day, since it is considered auspicious. The chest was temporarily kept in Arpita’s custody.
On the next week Arpita and Sharmila decorated the chest with regilious symbols with vermillion mark to offer a small puja, before we start transferring our belongings. Poila Boishakh being a traditional holiday, women of the house go for spring cleaning, children wear new clothes, special meals are cooked, and the day is generally utilized by spending quality time with family and friends. So we did not organise any meeting that day, just exchanged greetings and left early as the women had to attend to their respective homes.
On the third week we encountered another problem. The boys in the club were reluctant to part with keys of their cupboard as the secretary was not present, and money collected as donation for a football match was kept inside. Our materials and registers are kept in the cupboard, so we could not transfer them that day. We then brain stormed how we can avoid such a situation, finally it was agreed that by April we will transfer all out material and documents from their cupboard, and we will keep everything in the chest, which will be kept locked.
The group settled on the decision that one key will remain with me, while the other will alternate among members. The chest however has to be kept within the club. So we looked for a safe place inside. We found that there is a built in cement shelf high up the wall, which is empty. That became the place of choice. We were happy to resolve the problem, in this way we can minimize our interface with the boys, and it will be less bothersome on their part to hand over the keys every time.
The carpentry work though needed more time. Firstly we did a rough budgeting. We had in the collective fund (generated by the sale of bags to CAPP) about Rs.800, out of which Rs. 300 was used to buy the chest. We have about Rs.500 to make the wooden boxes for machine cover. This is not enough, so Mousumi suggested that we start selling our petticoats to interested customers, including members of the group, without waiting for an exhibition.
Since petticoats were in high demand and in fact a lot of local women have expressed their interest to buy those, we indeed have a ready market. This was a very practical proposal and everybody voted for the motion. Thus we now have a financial plan ready to fund our “ensuring sewing machine safety” project.
This is what I call a classic example of strength-based sustainable development!”