Working from within their homes, 20 women of an SHG in a small village of Uttar Pradesh, are making products like straws, baskets and slippers from eco-friendly bamboo and khus, and supplementing their family incomes.
Hathura Bujurg (Shahjahanpur), Uttar Pradesh
Hathura Bujurg village is like hundreds of other villages in Uttar Pradesh. Dusty, cramped, none too clean and with a lot of its inhabitants living in abject poverty. But, in the midst of all the squalour, there is hope.
About 20 women have come together and formed a self-help group (SHG) called Corona Samuh (because it was formed in August 2020, in the year of the pandemic) and are devoting several hours a day after they are done with their household chores to activity that brings them some much needed income, in difficult times.
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Bamboo straws have become an unlikely source of income for these women of Hathura Bujurg in Bhaval Khera block, Shahjahanpur, about 180 kilometres away from the state capital Lucknow.
The women are also making slippers, baskets, planters, etc., with both bamboo and khus (a natural, fragrant grass).
“I manage to keep aside three hours a day to make chappals, dolls, hats, etc.,” Yasmin, a 26-year-old inhabitant of Hathaura Bujurg, told Gaon Connection. “If I can spend three hours on this work, then I earn up to hundred and fifty rupees a day for it,” she added. Her husband, Abid Hasan is a rickshaw driver.
This group of 20 women is being helped by social worker Sakshi Singh, a graduate from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has initiated a project through her Shahjahanpur-based non-profit, Green Future Collective.
“These women mostly make bamboo straws that are easy to make and do not require great skill. If they can spare the time, they can easily make about four hundred and fifty rupees a day,” Sakshi told Gaon Connection. Her non-profit provides the group with the raw materials and helps it market the finished products.
The women of Corona Samuh SHG, are now on the path to earning a livelihood without leaving their homes.
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“We want to contribute to our family income. And Sakshi didi came into our lives at the right time,” Noor Bano, a group member, told Gaon Connection. Noor’s husband Dilshad is a daily wage labourer.
“When we got some raw materials to work with, we began to make things out of them, even though we had no training,” the 28-year-old said. “We are very poor women and sometimes we do not even have the means to buy the material needed to make these things. A little more organisation and streamlining would go a long way in helping us,” Noor added.
The women Gaon Connection spoke to all said they were very poor. They lived a hand-to-mouth existence. “We are willing to work hard and apply ourselves to the job so that our products sell better and we can earn some more,” Noor reiterated.
According to her, their income depended on how well the objects they made with bamboo and khus turned out. “If they turn out well, they sell for more, otherwise not,” she explained.
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“We are all members of the SHG and we are innovating and experimenting and creating new things,” Kusum Latha told Gaon Connection. The 60-year-old, who brought the women of the village together to form the SHG, hoped that the women would be given proper training so as to fine tune their skills and improve their earnings.
“The women are very motivated as some of the things they have made have already sold and they have received the money for them,” said Kusum.
It is difficult for some of these women to even spare a couple of hours for this extra work, they said. But they are determined to stick with it and it is something they can do from the security and comfort of their homes, without stepping out, said Sakshi, who is training these rural women.
Forty-year-old Jaitun Nisha added that they were not afraid of hard work. She said she made hats and footwear and earned about Rs 150 a day, depending on the output. Jaitun’s husband, Sartaj, works on construction sites.
“Bamboo is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly plants. It contributes nearly thirty three per cent more oxygen to the environment than other trees,” Sakshi of Green Future Collective pointed out. The Collective focuses on creating products that are earth friendly and do not damage the planet.
Straws the women in Shahjahanpur make are priced at Rs 125 for a set of four, but at the moment they are being sold at Rs 100 as a promotional offer, Sakshi told Gaon Connection. The straws come in three different sizes, she said, and they are reusable.
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“The baskets are priced between two hundred and fifty rupees and six hundred and fifty rupees. The chappals are at the fixed rate of three hundred and fifty rupees,” she added.
While at the moment Green Future Collective is sourcing the bamboo from Assam in the North East, Sakshi is in talks with farmers in Uttar Pradesh to start cultivating this grass. The khus, she said, was sourced from Malihabad, Shahjahanpur.
Meanwhile, the effort is on to market the straws. “We are promoting and marketing them in restaurants, hotels and corporate companies in tier one cities. We are confident the sales will pick up,” Sakshi said.