Namaste from Jaipur! Yesterday marked the first day of our design workshop in Jaipur. We traveled to the informal settlements on the outskirts of Jaipur to meet the newest group of Anchal artisans. Meandering through the narrow alleys and dodging the small streams of cloudy water, we arrived at an opening in the maze, a simple dirt and stone courtyard. There to welcome us was a group of 30+ women with forms, photos and government IDs in hand. All interested in the new opportunity with Anoothi and Anchal. This rare clearing in the dense housing also functions as our makeshift workshop space for the next week. With the paperwork completed, we spread out carpets, tarps, and old saris for a simple work surface. The women quickly sat, one on top of each other, with anticipation for what was to come. Before we describe the specifics of the first session, let me mention the spectacle we created. It is not every day that a group enters this neighborhood carrying bags upon bags of fabric, paint, thread, and other miscellaneous supplies in preparation for design training. While working in the courtyard, one quickly realizes our gathering is a unique site to say the least. Crowds of inquisitive children, shy women, and curious young men begin to gather on the surrounding rooftops peeking into this unique assembly of ladies. The space is exploding with excited chatter and vibrant colored saris. So much attention was attained that we received a consistent flow of women enquiring about joining the training. At the end of the day the count of completed applications totaled 37! Through all of the commotion, I can feel the beginning of something very powerful, women finally being offered an alternative career and a new life for their children.
What Maggie and I noticed within the first ten minutes was that no matter what language was being spoken, girl talk is universal. It took only a few minutes to pick out the jokester, the question master, and the leader of the group. The dynamic of this group seemed comfortable and for some reason easy to relate to. Though chaotic at times, we felt at ease sitting among a group of complete strangers. The power of the Didi Connection made visible. The workshop entailed lessons on the importance of color and the rules for color combinations. It began with, what we thought was a simple exercise depicting the color wheel. What majority of Americans learn in their early years of schooling was brand new to the women sitting before us. We had prepared this exercise to teach the relationship of colors and the potential of color combinations. What we didn’t anticipate was utter confusion. The women were a bit hesitant to begin and questioned the purpose of this strange circle of colors. It wasn’t until the completion of the wheel and the start of the second exercise that they begin to understand its importance. The second exercise was a simple paint by number chart. Many of us first learn to paint in preschool or kindergarten, we are given pages with lines to fill in with color and become familiar with the process of using a brush to lay paint on paper. This small privilege of holding a paintbrush has never been offered to these women before yesterday. Watching them practice strokes and needing encouragement to make the first move was a moment that brought true perspective to what we were doing. Though unsure at first, the women quickly picked up the technique of painting. They completed beautiful pieces that gave them a sense of pride. Though the day was full of questions and insecurities, both for the women and for us, the day was a complete success. The women began to understand the importance of color value and the relationship between colors. Most importantly, they gained confidence to create something of their own. They challenged themselves and hopefully saw the potential in the future with Anchal. Stay tuned for the second day!
-Colleen & Maggie