Welcome to Anoothi

by Delta Donohue / Feb 24, 2010 /

It started with 18 women. They came from three villages outside of Jaipur, in the State of Rajasthan, in Northwestern India. These women were part of a Self Help Group (SHG). These groups came together on a monthly basis in a desire to learn more about health, hygiene and gender education. They were supported by the NGO, Vatsalya (www.vatsalya.org). Vatsalya coordinated training and helped them learn the basic concepts of microcredit. Each woman contributed an agreed amount of Rupees each month. It was different for each village, as the economic ability of each village was substantially different. Within the poorest village, each woman contributed 10 Rupees (approximately $0.21) each month, and within the wealthiest village, each woman contributed 100 Rupees (approximately $2.13) each month.

SHG’s are self-governed. They pool their monies and then loan to individual members as agreed upon by the total group. Vatsalya acts as an advisor and a party to all deposits/withdrawals to ensure transparency.

In talking with these women, there was a strong desire to do more; to create a business venture that would give these women the opportunity to gain a measure of economic self-sufficiency. Thus, Anoothi was born! Anoothi is a for-profit business, founded by Jaimala Gupta, that hires Indian village women, pays them  a fair market wage, and trains them in the production of semi-precious jewelry and native handicraft which is then marketed around the globe. Semi-precious jewelry seemed a natural fit as Jaipur is one of the world’s leading processors of semi-precious stones and it would take relatively little capital investment to get the business up and running. My role was to partner on the Indian side and then form a US business that could import their products and market them globally.

We began working to set up the introductory session and make sure the women agreed with moving forward. We had hired a jewelry designer who was going to come and give a basic overview of how the jewelry would be made. We set out to talk with the different villages. I realized very quickly how easy things are in the West. We can set up a meeting just by picking up a phone or sending an email. Coordinating between 3 villages meant an entire day’s worth of walking back and forth.

 

Anoothi - jewelry making in India

 

We first had to seek permission from the men in each village. There was a great deal of concern about whether the women would have enough time to be trained, involved in production, and still take care of all their daily responsibilities. Given how hard these women work, this was not an easy assurance to make, but after a great deal of talking back and forth, everyone finally agreed to give it a try.

The first session was set up one late afternoon in December of 2007. Chai and snacks were provided. Most of the women tied the snacks into an edge of their scarves to take home. We all sat in a great big circle on the floor. The “level” seating was important to demonstrate there was no caste hierarchy within the group.

 

Anoothi - jewelry making in India

 

The women were overtly suspicious at first. This may have been prompted by my presence, as a white foreigner, in their midst. Jaimala talked with them at length and answered all of their questions until they seemed to gain a comfort level.

Then the designer began to show them how to build simple necklaces. The sun began to set and solar lanterns were brought in. Before long the woman were crowded around the lanterns watching, learning and building their first necklaces. The excitement was contagious and soon the room was filled with laughter.

Before the women left, they held a quick SHG meeting. I watched them contribute their hard earned Rupees. Many of these women work out in the fields from sunrise to dusk and then take care of their family duties. None of the women are literate and so they all “signed” for their deposits with a fingerprint which was initialed by the Vatsalya representative. Two of the women had begun learning how to sign their name. At first they wanted to use their fingerprints, but they were encouraged by the entire group and eventually they wrote their names in Hindi script.

 

Anoothi - jewelry making in India

 

That was December 2007. Next month I’ll write more about where Anoothi is today. Feel free to check out our website at www.Anoothi.org or email me, Delta Donohue, at Delta[at]anoothi.org for more information. 

 

 

 

Delta Donohue is the Voices of India Editor for Wandering Educators. Click here to read more of her articles. 

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