A group of women from the Sunderbans who started stitching and selling their own products in early 2021 now have their own bank account and a corpus of Rs 2 lakh.
The group of 17 started by learning or brushing up tailoring skills in December 2020 when none of them had any earning but needed money to either run or supplement their family income. The women make jute bags, kurtis, mats and masks and have organised exhibitions in the Sunderbans and in Kolkata.
For many of these women, unlike those who live in the city or on its outskirts, it is difficult to go to the city every day to earn a living.
The exhibitions helped them make a living at a time when most of them had no other source of income, said the headmaster of a school who started the group with mostly former students of his Hingalganj school.
One of them was Soumita Kayal, who has a master’s degree in English, and used to offer private tuition to schoolchildren before Covid struck.
Her income came down to zero because of the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Kayal enrolled for tailoring lessons in December 2020 and has been associated with the group since the beginning.
“I had joined it more out of desperation because there was no other source of income. Parents did not have the money or the inclination to send their children for tuition because schools were shut. At that time I needed something desperately but I did not know that we would come such a long way,” Kayal said on Tuesday.
A jute bag made by the members of the group
“After dividing a portion of the profit among ourselves, we keep the rest in the bank,” Kayal said.
The group works under the Mom Sundarban Society.
“We are focusing on taking Sunderbans honey and rice to the city because there is a market for that in urban areas,” said Kayal.
She now has a job as a school coordinator but is equally engaged in this. “My salary is not enough,” she said.
With winter on its way, the women — 12 of them now — have started making products for sale at different fairs and exhibitions.
“Even last year, a significant portion of the sales were in the run-up to the winter,” said Pulak Roy Chowdhury, headmaster of Kanaknagar SD Institution in Hingalganj.
For those who live close to the city, it is convenient to get a job that pays Rs 8000 to 10,000, but not for these women who live here, about 100km away, said Roy Chowdhury.
He said that the idea was to create a business opportunity for these women.
“I want them to understand how to manage a business, from sourcing raw material to managing the profit. Some of the women have a separate source of income besides this but still they are continuing this because there is a possibility of it growing. The fund of Rs 2 lakh will help them to expand their business. Their target is much higher,” he said.
The fund is not only used for buying their raw material but is also given out as loans when the women need it for any personal financial crisis. “It is an interest-free loan,” said Roy Chowdhury.