It was wonderful meeting the new women in Jaipur the previous week, but there was something magical about seeing the familiar faces of our artisans in Ajmer. I was anxiously waiting the moment when I could lock eyes with the women I had been fighting for the last two years, the same women who inspire me and the same women who you have supported through your purchases and donations.
As our car pulled up to the office, I anxiously jumped out and peeked over the fence to see Shakuntela’s smile. No words were needed; the look of recognition and excitement was enough for the both of us. Shakuntela has been with the program in Ajmer since the group’s formation in August 2010. During my first visit a few months later, I was especially touched by her story and care she put into her work. After this initial glance, we were warmly welcomed by the other artisans and the Vatsalya’s local outreach team. The reunion I had been waiting for had arrived. Similar to the Jaipur workshops, we also began with color lessons and exercises that taught the color wheel and rules of color value. However, the experience with the artisans in Ajmer was different in many ways. The energy was respectful, curious, and peaceful. Unlike the chaos of working in the slums of Jaipur with a new group, the artisans in Ajmer exuded a new confidence and professionalism. No questions or confusion on why we were painting or cutting out colorful circles, they were here to learn and perfect their craft. There was care with every stroke of the paintbrush and a relaxing calm over the group. I later related this shifting tone with Jaimala and Hitesh who simply attributed it to the success of the program. After two years, the change within the women was visible to not only me, but to Maggie as well. This change was later confirmed during a conversation with Shakuntela. When I first met Shakuntela, she was quiet, fragile and reserved, almost nervous to speak to others. Now after two years at Anchal and working as a leader in the group, I see a new confidence and willingness to share her experiences. Two years ago I wasn’t even able to ask her a direct question and now I see a completely new woman. She sits with a new confidence, one that only comes from self-empowerment.
After the completion of the first day, we were warmly welcomed back to the home of Anchal artisan, Anita. A fifteen minute walk, a 20 minute bus ride, and 10 more minutes on foot; we finally arrived. I had no idea how far many of the women traveled to the office. Living on the outskirts of town, we entered into her cement block “home.” It was entirely open air. The door consisted of a few branches propped near the frame. The hall of small rooms lacked many basic necessities such as running water or natural light and was swarming with mosquitos. It felt like I was walking into a dark tomb.
Despite Anita’s desperate living conditions, she was very excited and proud to be hosting us in her home. As we sipped the tasty chai she made for us, I reflected upon how much work still needs to be done. Though I can see visible changes in artisan’s like Shakuntela, I still see the desperate situation these women face every day. They are all very poor and often caring the weight of the entire family’s finances on their shoulders. It increases my determination to take the necessary measures to create financially sustainable jobs and alternatives for my friends in Ajmer.
-Colleen & Maggie