Fifteen Years of Stree Shakti
What started as a one housewife teaching another how to make a quilt was to metamorphose into a social enterprise of 170 women who come under one of Purkal Stree Shakti. It’s been fifteen long years for Chinni Swami and her women as the hallmark quilts have grown to include exquisite corporate gifts, ready to wear garments and household soft furnishings. Reflecting to the journey so far is a quick question-answer session with Chinni Swami.
Tell us about the journey.
Chinni: In the spring of 2003 a woman came to ask me for help so she could earn some money, so I taught her how to make a quilt. Then more women came to learn, so I decided that I would support a few of them. I never thought we would become an enterprise. We have grown to 170 women who have formed self help groups of ten each whom we are now facilitating. They are keen to learn what they have been taught – good design, good finishing – all the skills that I insisted on. Now they have become so good they can pick up fabrics and have even become assistants to designers. We have given them entreprenual skills, taught them about fair trade, which means getting fair wages and being equally fair to customers.
Tell us more about the women of Stree Shakti.
Chinni: I have a wonderful team. There is a lot of giving. In the initial years we realised that as women had to do so much of home work we had to ‘bus’ them to Stree Shakti so we began doing that. Every year on Swami’s (Chinni’s husband who runs the Purkul Youth Development Society) birthday they hold a blood donation camp. All women when they heard the merits of blood donation wanted to give blood. But none of them could as they were all anemic – they came from poor economic backgrounds and that is the time we realised that if we needed women to continue to work for us we needed to ensure they had a mid day meal scheme as well. Now our production has gone up and so have the women’s health. There is also great camaraderie.
In the 15 years tell us how far you have come and the way ahead.
Chinni: Oh yes the women have come a long way. They were just village women who married, brought up children and lived on what their husbands earned. Now they have become bread earners too. They are respected for the money they earn. In the 15 years in a bid to empower them even I have become empowered. People no longer call me a home maker I am now called a social entreprenuer and at Stree Shakti we have developed a double bottom line – one is women earning and profiting from the enterprise and the other growing as economically independemt women and being respected for that.