Renu radiates confidence. She wears brightly-colored saris, bold makeup and sparkling jewelry. Other women flock to her - to hear her stories, jokes and the laughter that erupts around her. Always loud, smiling, and on the move - Renu is often the mastermind behind office pranks and the quickest one to start an afternoon dance party.
It's hard to imagine that Renu had ever been any other way - but during the artisan interviews, Renu shared the details of her life before Anchal.
Renu guessed that she is around 35 years old. She went to school until she was about 13 or 14 and then started working for her family's store. Today she is married but has no children. About 10 years ago, Renu was told that she couldn't have any children due to a rare medical condition. Instead of showing sympathy toward Renu and making sure she got the care that she needed, Renu's family was ashamed of her and ostracized her from the community. They convinced her that her husband would leave her and she too, believed that she was not worthy of his love. Though her husband chose not to leave her, it was a constant threat that loomed over their small family and pulled on Renu's self-esteem.
For years Renu struggled to find worth and meaning in herself and in her life. 3 years ago, a neighbor suggested that she get involved with Anchal. Renu reluctantly joined. She started attending workshops regularly, bonding with the other artisans, and loving the work.
When Colleen and I did the home visits, Renu grabbed Colleen's hand and lead the neighborhood tour. She couldn't wait to show Colleen and I her home--a tidy one-bedroom where the artisans filed in, sat on the bed and passed around a plate of cookies. She showed us a water-filter and wheat-processor that she now shares with her extended family -- sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews. She is able to provide for them. She is very proud.
After the home visits I began to understand, a little bit, about Renu's growth. She is able to give her family more than they ever expected from her. Her life's worth is no-longer measured in her ability or inability to reproduce. She is a wonderful person with so much love to offer. Her feelings of emptiness and self-doubt are now replaced with feelings of accomplishment, pride and value. As we wrapped her home visit, I let the other artisans walk ahead while I waited for Renu to close the gate to her home. She could tell I was impressed and she nodded with acknowledgement and said, "I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and everyone can see that now."