At first glance, women in long saris and covered heads or black burqas may seem intimidating or unapproachable. But under those mysterious exteriors are beautiful and kind women longing to be known, challenged, championed, and appreciated. Marred by hard lives—whether poverty, lack of healthcare or education—they struggle to care for their families. They are gifted women in handiwork, house work and hospitality, but can struggle with the pressures of life and lack of opportunity. They want to give their children a better life but don’t see a way to make that possible. Our desire is to see dignity restored to these individuals and poverty alleviated.
In our Indian cultural setting, it is difficult for women to work outside of their homes. Many of them rely on their husbands or brothers to do the daily shopping required and couldn’t imagine leaving their homes to work outside. Because we provide work for these women to do in their homes, it is an opportunity not otherwise available to them to be trained and to work for fair wages.
In the beginning, our focus was primarily on empowering women, but we’ve realized that men (in spite of their relative privilege in Indian society) are often in great need of opportunities to protect and provide for their families as well. Today we employ many men, who make silver, brass, and copper components for our fashion jewelry, as well as others who cut and polish gemstones. Others make our wood-carvings and handmade paper. We also have skilled men tailors who are experts on their sewing machines.
The men working with us have been practicing their crafts for years. In fact, it is a family tradition for them to do their craft. They want to provide well for their family doing work that is respectable and fulfilling for them. They could make more money driving a rickshaw or selling vegetables on the street, but that is not their heritage or tradition. Part of empowering local artisans is allowing them the opportunity to flourish in the ways they are gifted.
India has a highly segregated culture. The women have their world; the men have theirs. There is not much cross-over unless it has to do with the children, major life events, or illness. Women often lack influence or voice in the family, so we encourage our artisans to work as a family as closely together as possible.
Some of our artisan families are really thriving with this concept. For example, the husband of one of our sewing hub ladies is very involved in his wife’s work. We also see her helping him with his gemstone work. We love this value of partnership and mutual appreciation in a marriage. The children get to see their parents working in a partnership that’s mutually beneficial which makes a tremendous impact on their children.
Another of our company’s values is education for our artisans’ children. Most of our workers are not able to read or write, but they want to make a better life for their children. We believe that education is one of the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty. The children in our Student Success Program receive monthly assistance with their school fees. We check on the students each month to see how their education is going, also their health and nutrition (including providing regular treatment for parasitic illnesses so common in India). Often we provide books or educational toys to our workers’ children. We also work on getting our workers’ children to historic sites in town, like the zoo, science park, forts, etc, to broaden their horizons and show them that the world is much bigger than they may think!
Providing fair wages and earning opportunity is not the only way to alleviate poverty in these communities. Families can be built up through empowerment in preventive health and dental care, nutritional and vitamins awareness, as well as pre-natal care.
Most families live in small homes that have little to no sunlight. The culture being what it is, they do not leave their homes often. This can cause many issues in their daily health and well-being. The daily diet usually consists of dal (lentils and beans), vegetables, and roti (flat bread). Fruit is hard to come by, as it is quite expensive. Consequently the children are often malnourished and the girls are anemic. Just seeing their own health functioning as it should is a huge step forward and has many benefits for the whole family.
Moreover, we work with our Dekko families in household financial management, involving budgeting, household improvement and ownership, savings and loans. Not only do we want our workers to know the joy of being paid fair wages for a job well-done, we also want them to reap the long-term benefits of better financial management.
We are happy for Dekko artisans to work with any other companies or organizations to bring in more income for their families. The skills that they are learning are to be a benefit to their lives and the future of their families. We want to help them increase their income earning potential. Unfortunately, the opportunity to be trained in a caring environment and to work out of their homes at a fair wage is just not possible in our local setting. We do believe though that these men and women will be catalysts to bring more opportunities to other families in the future.
The common change we have witnessed in our families’ lives is the hope and dignity that have come through a simple and sustainable livelihood. These men and women have so much potential and talent that was not being realized before. Now an outlet for them has begun! Women, who are often seen as simply dependents here, are now contributing to their families’ income. This brings them a sense of accomplishment and dignity and gives them a voice. Men are bringing in money based on their heritage and giftedness, not menial work.
They are growing in their healthcare awareness leading to healthier meals, better home hygiene, and healthier babies. Their homes are changing in significant ways, from cooking on the ground over wood to cooking on higher surfaces over gas and being able to buy a small refrigerator. Children in their families are striving to get an education and be the first generation to read and write. Many families are handling their finances better and are able to help those in need in their extended families and communities.
One of the special benefits is that each family has found a caring community of friends, which brings love and laughter to the daily grind and hardships of life. There is truly a sense of “home” as we do life and work together, endeavoring to make transformation happen.