New Delhi: Born in a poor family, Pushpa Sharma, 41, never got a chance to attend school. Sewing clothes fascinated her, but her parents couldn’t afford to get her trained in it. However, 14 years ago, help from an all-women’s group changed her life.
Married off at a young age, Pushpa soon became a mother and was inundated with household responsibilities. “I grew up watching the male members of the family working throughout the day to earn. In those days, women were not allowed to work but I dreamt to become self-sufficient like them one day,” she says.
She came to know about tailoring classes being run in Chittaranjan Park’s block K by homemakers and senior citizens from the area. It was the turning point of her life. “We were encouraged to bring our toddlers. While I worked on the sewing machine, volunteers looked after my child,” said Pushpa. Eventually she became confident enough to take orders from customers and began earning. This was a huge turning point in her life.
Like Pushpa, many underprivileged women have become a part of this tailoring unit run by voluntary group Purbosree Mahila Samity. Classes are conducted in the evenings as most of the girls and mothers who come here work as house helps. They take two hours off work to attend the classes.
“My mother-in-law brought me to the classes. Here, I learnt to sew and alter clothes, along with making bags. I also know embroidery. I have started taking orders for stitching clothes and now I am now financially independent. Not just relatives and neighbours, people from outside CR Park also place orders with me,” said Dolly Bhowmick, 35, a tailoring student.
Mala Majumdar, who manages the tailoring unit, said that initially the group thought of conducting typing classes. The idea fizzled out when computers came into the picture. “We brainstormed and finally started these classes in 1998. At least 250 women have been trained here since and many have started their own businesses,” she said. The students are charged `150 per month. Mala says the fees ensures that they regularly attend classes.
“Many people have donated funds, some have given sewing machines. We teach the girls tailoring, stitching, cutting and embroidery,” said Radha Bardhan, 80, another volunteer. Bardhan said the number of students increased when they introduced a ‘Learn and Earn’ model. Through this, the women who couldn’t afford a machine of their own could use the group’s machines to take orders, sew, and earn.
The group of volunteers came together in 1973, with about seven homemakers. Today, the group has a little over 400 volunteers, a majority of whom are homemakers and senior citizens.
Bardhan says, “Old people have a lot of free time. Ever since this group came up in CR Park, senior citizens like me come here to look after the activities of the group, interact with other volunteers and teach children. This way we never feel lonely and end up helping poor people.”
The group has also established a Balwadi school for the nearby slum children. The idea of this school came up when the members saw children aged between 3 and 8 years from nearby slums who were illiterate would just roam about.
“Their parents work as house helps, labourers and vendors. We encourage them to send their children here, where they can learn basic English and Math. Children are seated in two class rooms segregated between the ages 3 and 6 years and 6 and 8 years. There is also a playground,” said Monica Basu, president of the Samity.
The school follows an informal syllabus. To ensure that the kids continue their education, they are prepared for appearing and writing admission tests for various public and private schools. Extracurricular activities like music, drawing and painting, clay modelling, story-telling are also encouraged. Children are also provided mid-day meals. In winters, sweaters are distributed for free. Twice a year, the group organises free medical check-ups.
The women also provide healthcare to all the underprivileged. They have organised health camps where consultations, dental check-ups, routine pathological tests and basic medicines are provided free of cost.
The group organises various cultural events to celebrate the Bengali New Year’s Day (Nobo-borsho), annual day, Rabindra Jayanti, Independence Day, Saraswati Puja, Bijoya Sammelani, etc.