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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Empowering women in rural India

Reading Time: 5 minutesI-India Australia gets together with Franklyn Scholar to launch a vocational training centre in Rajasthan

Santosh with machine
Twenty-year-old Jaipur girl Santosh has serious physical impairment as a result of contracting polio as a child. Losing both her parents at a young age, she grew up under the care of her grandmother as part of a nomadic community of banjaras (gypsies) in a remote slum area of Jaipur. Growing up with absolutely no self-respect, she felt like she was a burden on her grandmother.
Determined to change her destiny, Santosh developed her skills as a jewellery and handicraft student and gained back her confidence. Today, she works as a trainer at the Franklyn Scholar Training Centre at Jhag Children’s Village just outside of Jaipur and earns a regular income. She is able to fully support her 90-year-old grandmother and does not let her physical disabilities hinder her.
Santosh owes her new life to Abha Goswami, founding director of the NGO I-India, who encouraged her to participate in the Ladli Vocational Training Centre in Jaipur in the year 2000.
Franklyn Scholar, an Australian workforce education provider, along with I-India Project, inaugurated the Franklyn Scholar Vocational Training Centre earlier this year at the Jhag Children’s Village, located 45km south of Jaipur on the Jaipur-Ajmer national highway.
Opening this vocational centre has been a long standing endeavour for I-India Australia, the local chapter of I-India, a registered not-for-profit organisation established in 2007. The centre is built on a 5-acre block of land in Jhag, which was sold to I-India by the Government of Rajasthan at a nominal cost. It aims at empowering women and children from troubled backgrounds who are living below the poverty line with only the bare minimum required to stay alive.
“Their homes are generally one room mud-brick dwellings with an outdoor kitchen and few meagre possessions,” recalls I-India Australia committee member Renate Barnett, who recently visited the village herself.
“I always feel so concerned about them when the weather conditions are extreme.  The mid-40 degree heat that is commonplace through the summer is unbearable for a day, let alone a whole season,” she adds.
Last August, many villagers lost everything they had in the world when their homes were washed away in the monsoon floods.
“With the construction of the Franklyn Scholar Vocational Training Centre, I-India Australia hopes to not only improving the living conditions of the people, but also at developing a feeling of self respect amongst them,” says Renate.
A leading provider of workforce education across a range of industry sectors and qualifications, Franklyn Scholar took on the role of the sponsor and financed the entire construction and fit out cost.
In a difficult financial climate, Franklyn Scholar is a company that has not shied away from its social responsibility of giving back to the community. Instead, the organisation has embraced this task with an open heart and has been helping I-India Australia since 2010. It began when Franklyn Scholar had started raising money for I-India Australia through ‘Franklyn Footprints’, a project that was developed with the desire to give back to the community and raise awareness.
“A footprint leaves an enduring mark and this is exactly what the Franklyn Footprint has been set up to do – allowing each and every person working for Franklyn Scholar to leave their lasting impression by engaging and participating in their State’s fundraising activities and creating awareness of this incredibly important project,” says Victoria Woodfall, Tasmanian based training consultant and coordinator of Franklyn Footprints.
Since 2010, Franklyn Scholar has donated more than $100,000 to help build the vocational centre. 20% of this amount has been raised by the staff of Franklyn Scholar through various fundraising activities such as raffles, morning teas, golf days, Bollywood dinners and movie and trivia nights. “The Jhag Children’s Village is in a rather remote corner of Rajasthan, off the tourist track and out of public view, so it is fantastic that the company is prepared to invest such a huge amount of its time and capital where it will not receive maximum exposure and recognition,” says Renate.
Besides the Franklyn Scholar Vocational Training Centre, the Jhag Children’s Village is planning two shelter homes for orphaned and homeless children, a health centre, sports field, produce garden, transport vehicle, as well as staff accommodation.
With the construction of this village, I-India aims at improving the quality of life for people in nine surrounding villages through provision of medical services, educating children and providing vocational training services. The goal is to make the community self-sufficient and in turn, put an end to the high numbers of people migrating to the big cities in search of higher income but who unfortunately, due to their lack of education, join thousands of similarly disadvantaged people struggling to survive in atrocious conditions. Another focus point is educating women of the community in skills that can help them become self-sufficient and may even eventually help them to set up their own micro-businesses or cooperatives. With the resources and connections that I-India has to offer, women will be able to sell items they make without having to give a large cut of their profit to the unwanted middleman. Not only will this benefit their local economy, it will also help build a feeling of self respect amongst the women and along with it, a feeling of self reliance and independence.
“Improving the status of women in these very traditional regions is a long and slow process, but through empowerment initiatives such as those offered at the Franklyn Scholar Vocational Training Centre, it is assured,” says Renate.
During the first phase of operations, the centre will offer students a number of vocational courses including tailoring, jewellery design, CAD, block printing and manufacturing of different kinds of handicrafts, paper products etc.  Since its inauguration, the centre has been organising regular personal contact programmes, home studies of locals, and orientation camps to spread the word amongst neighbouring villages and inform them about how they can use the skills and training programme to improve their quality of life. As a result of this effort, the centre has already started teaching the Tailoring Training course, as well as Computer Studies. Additionally, the local community is offered employment opportunities for construction and maintenance of the school and shelter homes. The prospect of improving their quality of life has created an eagerness to learn skills and work together harmoniously.
In the future, Franklyn Scholar plans to continue its support for the Jhag Children’s Village by financing their recurring costs for the next two years, at which point the centre will be able to support itself. They have already started fundraising to raise money for a van that will provide transport to teachers to and from the vocational training centre.
“I-India Project Australia is immensely proud of the Franklyn Scholar Vocational Training Centre, as it is a shining example of how corporate Australia has a heart and conscience,” says Renate.
For more details of the work done by I-India Project Australia, visit their website www.i-indiaproject.org.au

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