Shripur, Shekhwara and Matihani were nondescript villages on the peripheries of the famous Buddhist pilgrim city of Bodh Gaya not so long ago.
Lack of employment had encouraged migrations and its children and women to beg from tourists. That moved many, but few had acted to change the situation.
Now, thanks to women like 76-year old Jeanne Pere,a French national, some foreign women like Yuki Inoue from Japan and Monica Mass of Germany, who have adopted Bodh Gaya for a home, have now come together to change the lives of the deprived.
Pere opened an institute for skill development of rural women in association with Japanese and Canadian tourists frequenting Bodh Gaya. Mass and Inoue brought together benevolent donors and friends in Russia, Australia and USA to work on the project, which looked to financially empower rural women.
The efforts bore fruit and Pere managed to set up a sewing training centre at Moratand village.
“Many social organisations have been working here but none of them thought of ways to bring about a change in the condition of deprived women and children,” said Pere.
Pere, who has set up charitable schools for the children earlier, realised that the basic cause of poverty here was lack of work, especially for women. “That’s what sparked our interest in finding a way to help them,” she said.
Help was not far away. Inoue, who was moved by Buddhist teachings, passionately chose social work and married a local hotelier Sudama Prasad so that she could stay and help the deprived. Moved by the plight of street children, Inoue set up the Hapy Science Institute to launch a school for girls where admission, dress and books come free. Her foundation is now a valuable ally of Pere in the new endeavour to liberate rural women.
Mass who joined as a simple volunteer with the Bodhi Tree Campus - a centre for socio-educational training patronised by the 17th Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje , also joined the effort.
Mass had trained over 100 women in villages of Bodh Gaya block and her knowledge came in handy.
“Our efforts have yielded the desired result and the cloth and material manufactured at the centre are being marketed not only in India, but also in Europe. We have also roped in Big Bazaar chain in Gaya, which now sports a special outlet to sell goods made by the rural women”, said Pere.
Monica said the women today produce designer school bags, purses, carry bags, bouquet, toys and kitchen tools that are marketed in European countries with assistance of overseas volunteers.
“Our products are most sought after in the West. Thanks to our overseas volunteers, who spend most of their time with these women in villages, many have learnt to be self dependant with their earnings,” said Dhirendra Sharma, the director of Bodhi Tree Campus.