Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Panchachuli Women Weavers

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Last week I heard a talk given by a representative of Panchachuli Women Weavers cooperative who have made a name for themselves by making pure pashmina products.

In 1997 funds were received to start a training program for about 150 women in the villages around Almora to teach them spinning and weaving wool and natural fibers available locally as a sustainable form of employment. In order to empower the women of this area, who were used to toiling in fields and raising cattle and being dominated by menfolk, it was necessary to chalk out a program encompassing basic and advanced training, along with infrastructure and facilities for common production centers where women could work.

Training was imparted by master weavers from the tribal communities on the Indo-Tibet border where weaving of fine wool was a tradiational occupation. Although the program was first opposed by the men of the area, eventually the women gained the support of their families and with substantial income gains brought home by the women, the whole socio-economic dynamics of families and the community turned around. The women are truly empowered. Panchaculi women and their families, moreover, have been able to swing th evotes in favor of particular elected candidates.

By the end of 2000 there were 400 women trained in various skills and the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation provided the funds for importing sophisticated pashmina processing machines from Scotland, for building a complex comprising seven large weaving halls, rooms for spinnng and processing of wool, stores for raw materials and finished products, administrative offices and four buses to transport women from their villages to the production center and back.

Between 2000 and 2003 another 300 women were trained and Panchaculi became a brand name in the local market, domestically and abroad.

Panchachuli procures the bulk of its wool, namely pasmina and lambswool, from the highlands of Tibet where founder Ms. Mukti Dutta and women employees go trekking over in 22,000 ft. high passes to buy wool from Tibetan nomads around Lake Manasarovar and Mt. Kailash. They are officially recognized traders by both the Indian and Chinese governments, who have allowed them access to these restricted areas.

Women also work with nettle fiber and oak silk procured locally through traditional methods of growing and processing, and have plans to work with hemp fiber.

I was particularly impressed with the beauty of the natural colors, the soft texture and the delicately intricate weaves. This photo is a display at Sasha where the Panchchuli Women Weavers are currently exhibiting their products til Dec. 24.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Merry Christmustard!

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Close your eyes and look inside yourself. There you will find the gift you can give to your friends and your community...and the world.

But in the meantime, it's time to play Secret Santa gift exchange at Mustard Seeds Library!! While sipping hot cocoa, kids exchanged small gifts with their friends and sang Christmas songs. In the evening we took it out on the streets, doing two rounds of carols in the parks of our apartment complex -- It certainly was not a silent night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time to focus

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Around this time of year, one starts thinking about winding up the year that's finished and planning what to do next year. Recently I wrote up a short statement about Mustard Seeds that explains to a certain extent what we are trying to achieve here. I'd like to share it with all our fellow mustard seeds!

Mustard Seeds is a conceptual project for community-based action on a small scale started by Maura Hurley and Gautam Basu in a suburb of Kolkata, India. The name comes from the mustard seed spice which is an important ingredient in regional Bengali cooking. Although it is a very tiny seed, it gives a potent and delicious flavor to dishes that just wouldn't taste the same without it. Mustard Seeds aims to do small-scale, peopel-to-people projects that connect those living inside and outside Kolkata.

Mustard Seeds began in 1997 with the help of friends and family outside of India who donated books and financial contributions. The very first project was setting up a children's library and activity space in one room of their flat for young people in the neighborhood. With school and study pressure being so high in Kolkata, children feel happy to come to the library and browse through the book collection, go wild with paints, write a poem, do a craft project, or have a story read to them. The library has organized coloring contests, poster contests with environmental themes, visits to local social welfare projects, and always has a big Earth Day celebration in April. Children help maintain a small garden space, Malancha, that used to be a garbage heap and raise funds for a children's rehabilitation center in south Kolkata, RCFC.

Besides the library, Mustard Seeds self-published a children's book entitled To the Local Bazaar with a simple story that uses illustrations by a traditional story scroll artist from the village of Medinipur. Sales of this book and the postcard set that was also printed give a little more support to this artist and her family. More books that use traditional artwork are set to be published too. Mustard Seed also creates outlets for some of the budding fair-trade producer groups in Kolkata to sell their products while at the same time spreading the story of women's and rural development issues in this region.

Among various projects, currently Mustard Seed members sell jams and pickles for Ankur Kala, a women's center in Kolkata that trains destitute women to become skilled and self-empowered. Greeting cards made by physically and mentally challenged individuals at Silence and Asha Niketan, two organizations that work to make people with disabilities lead more independent. lifestyles, are also available at the library as well as cards from SUCHANA, The Uttor Chandipur Early Learning Group located outside of Shantiniketan. Profits go right back to the groups that produce them to sustain their important work.

Through numerous small networkings, Mustard Seeds works to encourage others to get to know more about the many worthwhile NGO efforts going on in Kolkata through the sale of products, written commentaries, or visits to the actual sites. Mustard Seeds does not aim to become a huge organization with a central office, but instead to inspire other individuals and families to do something on a small-scale that makes a difference to another person. Why not become a Mustard Seed yourself? What blooms where you are planted is a creative and never-ending process!

Feel free to contact us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Jane Webb

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
On this day, in the year 1998 we lost a dear friend of ours, Jane Webb. Though I only knew her for a short time here in Kolkata, her loving smile and true compassion for others inspired me beyond words. Jane, who became an Indian citizen just before she left to find her spirit, was the founder of RCFC (or Rehabilitation Centres for children). Mustard Seeds has been organizing small fundraising projects to help keep Jane's important work going strong. This is me with the statue of Jane that was put up on the RCFC grounds in Barasat, in south Kolkata.

Rehabilitation Centres for Children was registered as a society on 24th April, 1973 in Calcutta, India. The aim of RCFC is the treatment and rehabilitation of orthopaedically handicapped children from underprivileged families, so that these children will be able to live a fuller life and take a normal place in the society instead of being neglected, dependent, emotionally disturbed and frustrated.

Jane was the Founder Secretary and Director of the Centre. Her vision and continuous struggle for helping the disabled children to stand on their own feet is slowly but surely realised. The seed she planted with love, care and dedication more than 25 years ago, is now a grown up tree blossoming with flowers and evergrowing branches. RCFC has taken a solid root and is now a pioneer institution in the service of orthopaedically handicapped children from deprived homes.

Jane was quoted as saying, "We bought a house with a large garden in Barisha, on the outskirts of Calcutta with money donated by the German philantropic organization Christustrager Waisendienst (Aid to orphans); we repaired the house, cleaned up the garden, and started slowly. At first there was one child named Gopal from Siliguri who had lost a foot and it continued steadily after that.
Initially, we had very little idea as to how we would go about our mission or of the existing need; it was a new kind of venture for all those involved and in those very turbulent times. We found gradually that it was not always feasible to arrange for children's treatment outside the Centre; we faced too many problems as more and more children were brought to us. So, we set up an operation theatre in 1981 with attached X-ray unit. We had already been running the immunisation clinic for prevention of polio and other diseases. In 1993 our mobility aid and applicances manufacturing workshop was established. RCFC has a well-equipped 90 bedded hospital, an operation theater, X-ray unit, a physiotherapy department, a well laid out mobility aid workshop for making orthotic and prosthetic aids and a child development department which provides basic education and craft training during the treatment.
In addition to the above, there other extra-curricular activities like dance, music, drama and drawing. The craft classes include cane work and basketry, clay modelling, pottery, terracotta, mat-making, sewing, knitting, embroidery, tie-dye and batik. The overall aim of these classes is to make children develop their natural abilities and confidence. Talented children may also find a avenue for earning from the vocational trades learned at our Centre. Our involvement in various fields has increased manifold.
Simultaneously, we are expanding our activities and services to remote areas . On 23rd January, 1998, our new centre in Bolpur was inaugurated by Shri Somnath Chatterjee, MP. It was at his suggestion and insistence that the Government of West Bengal donated us land at Kalikapur where our centre stands. The Centre has been named "Miblou Jyoti Mahal" and the fund was donated by Miblou, a Swiss voluntary organization.

RCFC can be contacted at:
Rehabilitation Centres for Children
59, Motilal Gupta Road