Empowering rural women in remote Rajasthan

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I-India Australia’s support for the ‘Gudri Project’ taps into a much-loved art form to eradicate poverty. By USHA RAMANUJAM ARVIND


When Abha and Prabhakar Goswami were commissioned by UNICEF to do a study on street children in remote Rajasthan, they were moved by what they saw – abject poverty, destitution, vulnerability, unsafe work practices and severe malnutrition. Coming from severely disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, the duo set up the I-India project to give rescued street kids a fresh start.

Since its humble beginnings, the project has found additional benefactors around the world who have facilitated many new programmes to make these children not just well-nurtured, but self-sufficient as well.

The Jhag children’s home, Annapurna canteen, structured curriculum based learning at Prem Pathashala, Ladli girl’s home, rudimentary healthcare facilities and Franklyn Scholar vocational training centre have been some of the positive outcomes along this arduous, but fulfilling journey.

Most of these facilities were made available through the unstinting efforts of I-India’s Australian offshoot, which since 2007 has time and time again rallied their resources to sustain the expanding project.

I-India Project Australia (I-IAP) has teamed up with Singapore-based Street Children’s Project to raise funds and brainstorm for fresh new directions.

I-India Australia founders Celia and Renate Barnett are now lending their support to another exciting venture – the Gudri project.

Set up in 2010, the project is the brainchild of Abha and Prabhakar’s daughter-in-law Darshana Goswami, and aims to empower local women by providing them a steady and sustainable means of self-employment. The project provides illiterate women from the poorest slums both training and resources to hand-stitch quilts, floor covers and homewares. ‘Gudri’ is an ancient Rajasthani tradition, where block-printed cotton fabrics are layered and sewn in straight lines to form an appliqué work. The Street Child Project is working closely with the Indian team to design products that appeal to the western marketplace. The products made from this venture have been sold all round the world.

Besides tools and supplies, women participating in the programme are provided rations, solar lights and blankets, as well as a share of the profits. By reaching out to women, the Gudri project aims to improve these women’s quality of life which extends to their families as well, thus eradicating the root causes of poverty in their respective communities. The Gudri women have since formed cooperatives, taking ownership of the project and have worked tirelessly on their beautiful craft. “Darshna Goswami is working tirelessly to extend the project as far as possible to benefit as many women as possible on a limited budget. We were able to see the work for ourselves for the first time in November last year,” Renate told Indian Link.

“After driving south from Jaipur, we left the highway and trundled across the desert, through a few villages and then out into the middle of nowhere.  All you can see as far as the horizon is sand, and small shrubs.  Eventually we pulled off the road into a small area of land, where a number of shacks had been set up out of corrugated iron,” she explained.

“As we pulled up we could see women gathered in the rough shade of the lean-to shelters.  They were all hard at work, quickly sewing long lines into gathered layers of fabric.  They smiled at us as we arrived, and then went back to their work, quickly tugging the thread through the fabric,” she added.

“What we were seeing was the first opportunity these women had had to gain employment, and to help to support their families.  For the first time in their lives, they had been given a vocation and a means of helping themselves out of poverty.  The project not only empowers women, and assists families financially, but also changes attitudes of entire villages in relation to the rights and roles of women,” she stated.

The Gudri Project was one of nine finalists in UNIFEM’s ‘Project Inspire 2012’.  The winning project will receive a grant of US$25,000.

A digital and social media-driven initiative targeted at empowering marginalised women and disadvantaged children in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa region through entrepreneurship, Project Inspire is in its second year. Founded on the fundamental belief that empowering women fuels thriving economies spurring productivity and growth, the project hopes to give the right support through access to funding and skills development.

The scheme was launched for centenary celebrations of International Women’s Day in conjunction with Master Card.

Targeting youngsters in the 18-35 age brackets, the project also hopes to inspire young change-makers to create a better world of opportunities. Gudri Project team members included Darshana Goswami, Pippa Reid and Edwina Ong.

Call for pitches, which included 5-minute videos, written proposals and live presentation opened on March 8. Gudri Project was shortlisted from over 350 other proposals worldwide.

Two other India-based projects – E-learning for change and Women’s private personal marketplace also made the final cut.


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