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Learning About Impact Through Artisan Interviews

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Impact reporting is so vital to our program because it allows us to see how our efforts are changing the lives of the women we work with, and their families.  It also allows us to learn what we can do to improve or change programming to cater to the needs of our artisans.  After all, they are the reason we do the work that we do.

During our recent trip to India, we sat down to interview two of our Project Assistants, Shama and Shamina. These two women, side by side, give a snapshot of the very different places our artisans can be while progressing through our program. Shama is 34 years old, she has been with Anchal since 2014.  When you walk into the workshop she is often the first smile you see, her laugh is contagious, one that you wish you could bottle up so you can hear it all the time.  She has become a natural leader with the team, and is so smart when it comes to figuring out the intricacies of creating a product.  Her confidence is apparent not only in her work, but in the way she carries herself and interacts with her peers. It wasn’t always like this for Shama.  When she first joined our program, she was timid and cried every time she spoke of her life outside of Anchal.  Her husband was always sick and missed work often. Shama constantly worried about how she would be able to feed her children, and send them to school.  It seemed like every day that her husband would complain about feeling unwell and not want to go to work.  Tired of the worry and wanting to try to change her situation, Shama told her husband to stop working, take care of his health and she herself would become the bread winner of the family.  This idea of a woman stepping up in this role is not heard of.  This was the first sign that Shama was seeing her abilities and fueling that confidence inside of her.Over time Shama progressed from being in charge of cleaning the fabric, to being able to read all of the complicated guidelines, measuring and cutting patterns, to creating every product. She has not only shown incredible growth in the office, but she carried over her confidence into her home.  Usually, women take care of everything in the home from cooking, cleaning to doing the laundry for everyone.  For many of these women, there is no running water or electricity in their homes, so they are washing all the clothes by hand and building a fire to cook the food made entirely from scratch. Everyone is taken care of before they take care of themselves, with the little, if any, time they have left.  You can imagine the amount of time this all takes on top of a full-time job, sleep is not a priority and can begin to weigh on their mental health.  With Shama’s husband not working, she decided he should take on the role of caring for the household.  While very reluctant at first, as this is never the role of the husband, he slowly adapted through her persistence and training, and now he cooks, cleans and even prepares tea for Shama when she gets home in the evening.  Shama is flipping the gender roles of India on their head, and is pushing for a level of equality in her home that doesn’t exist here.  She would never have had the courage to do any of this before Anchal.  You can sense her pride, she has an amazing spirit. She now has hopes and dreams, and wants to keep working hard to continue her journey to empowerment.Shamina started with Anchal at the end of 2016 and is still early in her journey with the organization. When asked how old she was, Shamina bowed her head and said that she didn’t know. Her mother never got her an ID card when she was young, so she has no idea when her birthday is - she guesses either 29 or 30. She never went to school, was never given the opportunity to learn how to read or write.  She dreams of one day she will be able to do both.She is insecure, timid and has a hard time seeing any value in herself.  We asked her how it makes her feel to be a Project Assistant, an important role held by only 7 of the artisans in our program. She couldn't come up with an answer. Shamina isn’t able to recognize her accomplishments and bases her self-value on what others see and say about her. She lives with her mother in law, who has continuously verbally and mentally abused her, taken away any shred of confidence she may have had.

When asked what skills she wants to learn through the program, she responded simply with “anything that will make my mother-in-law appreciate me”. Shamina measures her worth through the eyes of her Mother-in-Law and feels she can only find happiness through her approval. As Saloni, Anchal’s Program Director,  translates for Shamina, you can see the worry and pain in her face as she hears her story.  Saloni is so gentle and encouraging, reminding her that we are here to support, to listen, to fight for her.

Shamina works so hard in the office.  Despite being illiterate, she cuts and measures fabrics for each product with precision.  She is quiet, but you will catch a small smile from her when she interacts with the other artisans, or when you catch her eye as she looks up from the cutting table.  This community of supportive women that surrounds her each day will help her realize her value and in the she will see what she is capable of becoming.  It is sometimes a slow process, but we are confident she will excel.Despite her low self esteem, there are glimpses of a fiery spirit in Shamina, aching to get out.  Along with now being allowed to leave the house and come to work each day, Shamina finds freedom and joy in driving. When she first started with Anchal she didn’t know how she would make it to work and back home by herself.  She was afraid because leaving the house alone was something she had never done. However, after her first solo trip on the highway, she began to slowly trust herself, realizing she was capable of something on her own.  At the end of the day in the office, we watch her hop on her scooter, Gulshan hitching a ride on the back, both smiling as they ride away.Shama and Shamina are at very different points in their growth with Anchal . On one had you see the amazing empowerment this program gives the women through Shama’s experience an incredible growth on the last four years. On the other, you see the amount of work that still lies ahead of us. Women like Shamina walk into our lives every day, beaten down from the harsh realities of their lives at home. Told constantly that they aren’t good enough, that they can’t do anything of value, that their only role is in the home, caring for everyone but themselves. 

The promise that Anchal provides is that every artisan will be shown a path to empowerment.  They will be taught the skills needed to excel in their role, and given access to the community that will recognize their self worth and build confidence.  There is a lot of work yet to be done, but we see our program working, the amazing impact it has, and we will continue to fight for these women.

-Natalie

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