“I’m too busy.” Each year when it was time for Anchal to visit the artisans in Ajmer and Jaipur this was my response to being asked to join the team. To an extent that was true; however, this past summer I made the decision that I had to see the other side of Anchal’s project in India.
I have had a firsthand view of the astounding growth that Anchal has seen over the past nine years. From attending fashion shows and pop-up events to carrying heavy boxes and serving wine, I am familiar with the ins and outs of Anchal in the US. I knew that I would regret not going to India so I purchased my plane ticket as a “no backing out” step.The first week in India was a wonderful experience with the celebration of International Women’s Day and our visit to the Taj Mahal being the highlights. But I still kept looking forward to being in the Anchal office in Ajmer to meet the artisans and to see the products come to life.
I knew many of the artisan’s names and faces from marketing pieces so I felt as though I was meeting celebrities when we first arrived. The women were so excited to see Colleen again and it was clear that they had been looking forward to this visit for a long time.It can be easy to go about your life in a somewhat detached state. You read headlines of the plight of people across the globe and you have a sense of empathy, but day to day trivialities take over and you move on. To be fair, it would be impossible to handle all of your responsibilities if you carried the burdens of the world with you. To truly get a sense of lives of others you have to engage with them, laugh with them, and listen to their stories.
In the nine days that I spent with the artisans, I was able to see how important Anchal is to them. For most of the women, getting to go to the office is the best part of their day. They get to spend time with their fellow artisans and friends, but more importantly, they get to perform work that gives them a continually growing feeling of pride and empowerment.
Pride and empowerment. These are words that we use often, but their meaning is limited when you cannot see it firsthand. These women live in a society where they have been treated as objects for most of their lives. To go from working in the sex trade to creating textiles that have won awards in the United States is a transition that should not be understated. Their faces beamed with joy when Colleen and Natalie showed them Anchal’s spring catalog and the promotional video. They not only saw the fruits of their labor and the appreciation a world away, but their expressions seemed to say, “Wow, I did that!”
This feeling is contagious and this is how changes in our world can come about. The oppressive system that these strong and brave women are overcoming was created over long periods of time. Those in control will not willingly give up the power and control they have lightly. But, person by person, generation by generation, things can and will change.
One of the artisan’s daughters recently had a project at school that required stitching. She proudly boasted that her mother did this work and other kids said the same. She responded, “No, my mom’s work is better.” She brought her sample to school and out of the entire class, her’s was so impressive that the teacher asked if she could keep it! Imagine what this girl will go on to accomplish with this feeling of self-worth and confidence. She will not get swept into the system her mother fought her way out of because she knows it is possible to achieve more in life.Visiting other parts of the world always makes me realize that humanity has an overwhelming amount of similarities. The aspects of culture that separate us are minuscule but they receive more attention and are used to manufacture fear for the purpose of asserting control. Seeing the progress that the artisans have made in a short amount of time with very little education or encouragement gives me hope for the future.
Talent and potential are not characteristics that belong to any singular demographic. The challenge is providing opportunity. The women at Anchal that were previously discarded by society have seized this opportunity and are helping reverse the script by writing their own.Being on this journey has completed the picture of the impact Anchal is making. The products are beautiful and unique, but you cannot lose sight of the most important aspect of this organization. Anchal is truly changing the lives of women. These are not just words. This is reality and it has been an honor to witness.