2 schoolgirls help some Calcutta slum dwellers keep warm

They collected scraps of cloth from tailors and got them stitched into shawls

By Jhinuk Mazumdar in Calcutta
  • Published 1.01.19, 3:00 AM
  • Updated 1.01.19, 3:00 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Saumya Bhartia (right) and Vidula Agarwal (in white) distribute blankets and shawls at a slum near Ballygunge Picture by Arnab Mondal

Two friends on way to school a couple of winters ago saw a boy shivering in the cold. They stepped out of their car and gave him one of their sweaters.

This winter, the girls got over 900 shawls stitched from bits of cloth they collected from tailors and distributed them among slum dwellers.

Vidula Agarwal and Saumya Bhartia, launched Piece by Piece, last year when they went from one tailoring shop to another asking for bits of discarded cloth.

The distribution of shawls began this October, just before winter set in. The two Class XII students of Loreto House visited slums in Southern Avenue and Ballygunge and handed over the shawls to the residents.

“We do not know whether we are doing enough…. When we visit the slums we see that there are so many people and we don’t know whether it’s enough,” Vidula said.

The greatest reward for the girls has been the warm response they have received. It’s a mixed feeling of “happiness and sorrow” that the girls experience when women, most of who work as domestic help, gather around them and children half their age tug at the sleeves of the “didis”.

But there have been heartbreaks too. Saumya remembers running out of shawls on a visit to Southern Avenue. “There were children still waiting for their turn and we didn’t have any shawls left. We told them we would return but we were really heartbroken, especially as we shut the doors of the car and they kept knocking on it. But there was nothing we could do about it just then,” she said.

On another occasion, the girls saw a child with “not a thread on him” in Salt Lake. “We had a few shawls with us in the car and we gave him one. He smiled back at us,” Vidula said, her face lighting up from the memory.

The girls have also helped generate employment by engaging women from the slums to stitch the shawls. For every shawl stitched, the girls paid them Rs 150.

It was a family chauffeur who gave Saumya and Vidula the idea of getting women from the slums to stitch the shawls. The girls had initially approached a few tailors, who charged the, Rs 250 per shawl.

The girls arrange the shawls outside Vidula’s house on Ballygunge Circular Road
The girls arrange the shawls outside Vidula’s house on Ballygunge Circular Road Picture by Arnab Mondal

“The women collected the material from us and took them home. They did the stitching in between household chores and also earned some money,” Saumya said.

The girls also collaborated with an NGO and some women stitched shawls as part of their vocational training.

Saumya and Vidula have been spreading the word on social media too. They have created posters with the message “Spreading Happiness through Warmth”.

“We were given things which we didn’t ask for but these kids deserve something too,” said Vidula.

Saumya’s heart goes out to the children as well. “These children don’t get education or a piece of clothing and are sometimes forced to beg because their parents are helpless or their circumstances do not allow them a decent living,” she said.

The girls also sold some of the shawls at Rs 400 each and the money will be used to buy a computer for a neighbourhood school that doesn’t have the funds to buy one.

The school is proud of the friends for going beyond the call of duty and setting an example.

“Saumya and Vidula have always been involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities and have looked beyond the usual curriculum. They were also involved in the We Care programme (where elderly people are invited to the school for a get-together). It’s their nature and they are always scurrying behind me for some help… they do art and craft with the children of Rainbow Homes as well,” said Aruna Gomes, the principal of Loreto House.