We recently heard an interesting programme on the radio about Empowerment Programmes in India and Africa. The programme highlighted some of the very positive effects of these programmes but exposed that in some cases the women are overburdened with the training and work they receive. We were sad to learn that sometimes, in order to get the work done, the women get their children to help them, and sometimes miss school as a result. Our primary goal is to enable the women we work with to earn a living and enable them to send their children to school. We want them to be able to make the best choices for themselves and their families.
Our Makers work together in groups, originally organised into self-help groups by local NGOs, but we prefer the term ‘Maker Groups’. A cluster of Maker Groups are known as a Maker Network. We have 5 Maker Networks in 5 different states in India. Teamwork underpins both their training and production of Secret Projects products. In Bangalore one of the women who has more advanced sewing skills and experience has rented a space in which she trains new members of the team. She also supports existing members to refine and perfect their techniques. In turn, the women she supports give her a share of what they receive for the products they make. In Tamil Nadu one of the women shares her sewing machine with other members of the group so that they can also stitch Secret Pillows and generate an income. In Kerala one of the women, nominated by her group as their leader, quality controls the products and spots any loose threads or imperfections so that they can be corrected before they are shipped to Bangalore, where our stock is held.
When we deliver training sessions we are always delighted to see how the women collaborate and help each other to complete the product they are learning to make: scarves, bags with zips (zips are very tricky to insert!), the Secret Sari Dress, Secret Pillows. They give each other positive support and advice, hold fabric in place while the other cuts it, praise each other as they completed the product and admired it in their hands. When we trained the Peace Valley Maker Network in September 2017 we all gave Angel Sherin a big round of applause as she modelled, in true catwalk model style, the Secret Sari Dress she had just completed!
The teamwork we see among the women we work with contributes significantly towards their feeling of empowerment. It is hugely confidence-building to share knowledge or a skill with someone. It is enormously satisfying to know that you have helped someone in their development. It is extremely rewarding to be recognised by your peers as a leader and someone they put their trust in.
The women we work with work together, at times that suit them, and with no production pressures or deadlines from us. They organise themselves as a collective in a way which suits them best. Genuine friendships stem from the teamwork, respect and support they show each other. They have taught us a lot about teamwork and how working together and collaboratively, as opposed to rushing to finish first, or jostle to take the lead, usually brings about the best results.