I'm Aarti Malik, born in Delhi and raised in Gurgaon. I completed my Bachelor's degree in Commerce from Delhi University and then embarked on a professional journey at EY. One day, while casually scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled upon a fellowship opportunity that instantly resonated with me. It was one of those moments where I decided to seize the opportunity without hesitation.
The driving force behind my decision to apply for this fellowship was the desire to explore my potential and make a meaningful contribution to society. I yearned to take on challenges that would not only push my boundaries but also bring about positive change.
During the early stages of my field visits, I couldn't help but notice numerous vacant houses scattered across the landscape. As I delved deeper into the community, it became apparent that this emptiness stemmed from migration. It was a stark reminder of the challenges faced by these communities, and it fueled my determination to make a difference.
That's when I discovered the Stitching Unit initiative initiated by AKRSP(I), which aligned perfectly with my goals. I made up my mind to contribute to this initiative, aiming to create livelihood opportunities within the very heart of these villages. The journey ahead was filled with the promise of empowering tribal women, fostering women entrepreneurs in India, and crafting beautiful handmade bags that would not only tell stories but also support communities in need.
Background of Nav Durga and the Tribal Community
In that pivotal moment, I made a resolute choice—to become an integral part of the solution. My journey led me to join hands with a remarkable group of tribal women from Nav Durga, aged between 18 and 32. These women are drawn from diverse backgrounds, each carrying a tapestry of unique stories, marked by struggles and resilience that define their lives. Their fervent aspiration to initiate a handcraft bag enterprise was undeniably inspiring, igniting a spark of hope and determination within them, even in the face of numerous challenges.
Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly embraced this project, which had been set in motion by the AKRSP(I). The project was founded on a deceptively simple yet profoundly impactful idea: to empower the tribal women of Nav Durga, elevate them into the ranks of women entrepreneurs in India, liberate them from the clutches of daily wage labour, and concurrently tackle the issue of migration.
Challenges Faced by Women in Nav Durga
However, the journey ahead was marked by a series of hurdles. These resilient women had to skillfully balance their roles in managing household chores, caring for their children, and tending to agricultural responsibilities. This intricate juggling act made wholehearted entrepreneurial engagement a formidable endeavour.
Many were drawn towards the allure of immediate income through daily wage labour, and the capriciousness of nature introduced an additional layer of complexity to our mission. Yet, our commitment to empowering tribal women and nurturing women entrepreneurs in India through the creation of handcrafted bags remained steadfast.
Empowering Women in Chinchali Village: A Transformative Odyssey
The odyssey of growth embarked on in Chinchali Village was marked by significant milestones. It all commenced with an enlightening exposure visit to a thriving stitching unit, a journey that offered invaluable insights into the world of craftsmanship. Buoyed by this experience, the stitching unit took shape in Chinchali village, equipped with essential infrastructure and materials to facilitate the creative process.
Under the guidance of a skilled tailor, the women underwent intensive training sessions, honing their expertise in crafting an array of products, including bags and nighties. This training not only enhanced their skills but also instilled confidence in their abilities. However, our commitment didn't end there.
We decided to accompany these empowered women to the bustling local market, where they showcased their handmade creations directly to vendors. Their enthusiasm, coupled with the allure of these intricately crafted handbags, not only translated into successful sales but also commanded higher prices. This accomplishment not only bolstered their economic independence but also validated the value of their craft in the market.
Moreover, continuous monitoring and evaluation became the linchpin of our efforts. Regular assessments ensured that the project stayed on course, empowering tribal women and nurturing budding women entrepreneurs in India. The spirit of creating exquisitely handcrafted bags became a beacon of hope and a testament to the resilience and creativity of the women of Chinchali Village.
Early Triumphs: Building Women's Confidence and Market Momentum
While the project is still on its path towards achieving substantial milestones, it has already witnessed a series of promising developments that paint a hopeful picture. One particularly noteworthy accomplishment is the gradual emergence of women from their comfort zones. They have exhibited a keen interest and initiative by actively participating in our visits to the local market, where they confidently engaged in discussions with vendors.
Though these may appear as small steps, they signify a significant shift in their confidence and involvement levels. In a heartening twist of events, approximately 20 dozen bags were expertly crafted and successfully sold. What's more, some of these exceptional creations fetched an impressive 180 rupees per dozen, while others found buyers at 90 rupees per dozen. These initial strides are indicative of the project's enormous potential for future growth and improvement, underscoring the importance of our continued efforts and unwavering support.
These early successes not only empower tribal women but also serve as a testament to the budding women entrepreneurs in India who are carving their niche in the world of handcrafted bags.
Embracing Culture, Independence and Self-Discovery
But this journey is about more than just work; it is a personal transformation. The heart of this journey lies in the relationships I've built. I've connected with people on a profoundly personal level, fostering empathy, compassion, and a sense of shared humanity. The people have given me the space and comfort to just be me without any expectations, to be vulnerable, to be who I am as a person without thinking twice.
This Fellowship has allowed me to immerse myself in a different culture fully. I’ve embraced new food habits, explored the stunning rural landscapes of the village, and forged bonds with the local community. It's been a journey of cultural exchange and understanding.
From managing my own expenses to learning how to cook, this experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I've discovered newfound independence and confidence in making life decisions. I've become adept at travelling alone and seeking help from strangers when needed. These experiences have empowered me in unexpected ways.
In the midst of this vibrant community, I've also learned to appreciate solitude. It's here that I've found moments of reflection, self-discovery, and a deep connection with my inner self. To sum it up, my experience in Dang has been a life-altering adventure, brimming with instances of connection, personal evolution, and heartfelt appreciation. These major takeaways will forever shape my perspective on life and the world around me.
Words of Wisdom for Fellow Adventurers
For those aspiring to embark on similar journeys, I offer the following advice: be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the unfamiliar. Remote territories often hold the key to discovering your true potential and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. Challenges will arise, but remember that resilience is your greatest strength.
Approach every interaction with an open heart and an open mind, listen to the stories of the people you meet and build genuine connections with the locals. Building trust with the community members can lead to more meaningful and impactful work. Embrace the slower pace of rural life, appreciate the little things, and live in the moment.
Take the time to explore the natural surroundings, learn from local practices and wisdom, and develop an appreciation for the environment. It's okay to feel homesick or overwhelmed at times. Reach out to your Co-Fellows for support, and do not hesitate to ask for help when needed. As you work on your projects, strive to leave a positive and sustainable impact on the community. Your efforts today can shape a brighter tomorrow for them.
Finally, practice gratitude daily, for this Fellowship is not just about the work you do but about the profound personal transformation that occurs when you immerse yourself in the lives and cultures of the people you serve. It's a journey filled with moments worth treasuring. Cherish every moment, for it's a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world and in your own life.