From hopeless to hope: You have a choice

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions,” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

The Bard’s words of wisdom proved right again in another place and another time – around 8,500 km away from where the Bard lived, in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu, in 2017. The Leprosy Mission Trust India’s (TLMTI) SOAR project (SOAR stands for ‘Securing Opportunities towards Advancing Revenue’), while doing a survey in Rubanarayanallur village in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu to identify persons with disabilities who need project support for livelihood, came across six women, either with disabilities or having children with disabilities. For these women, the challenges of disability and the social exclusion were not the only problems. Every day was a struggle as they had no or limited source of income. It was so pathetic that they ate only on those days when someone gave their husbands work. They could not go out in search of work leaving behind children as many of them, due to disabilities, needed personal care throughout. “For days together, we used to live only with one meal of plain kanji (rice porridge) and urugai (pickle),” said one.

The project decided to provide them training for starting a cottage industry so they could work from home, caring for their children with disabilities, and earn some extra money.  With this in mind, the project roped in Ms Neelaveni, a livelihoods consultant. Neelaveni advised the project about starting a cottage industry for manufacturing disinfectant liquid cleaner and fragrance agarbatti (incense sticks), as these products have a huge demand in houses and temples for worship.   The women were told that with few equipment, such as a manual pressing gun, perfume spray, trays, buckets, bottles, and packing boxes, they could manufacture these items in one of their huts. And the project offered to buy the equipment. The women found this a sustainable livelihood opportunity to break them out of their low-income traps.

In March this year, the project organised a 2-day practical training workshop with Neelaveni as the resource person. The enthusiastic group went all out in starting the cottage industry and the project supported them unstintingly. It was a good start – each member produces over 2 kg of finished products every day.  They sell their products door-to-door and also through street vendors.  “I was sitting at home without doing anything. After we started the industry a few months back, each of us is earning a handsome amount every month. It is a great achievement for us. I do this at my leisure time so I can take good care of my son who is mentally challenged. I feel happy I am contributing to my family as a productive member,” says Surya, one of the group members.

“We’ve great plans for this group. We want to increase production and diversify into other products. With the high quality of the products and the hard work of these women, we’re certain we’ll be able to take this venture to greater heights,” says Mr David Jaganathan, project manager, SOAR project.

SOAR project has proved that misfortunes may come in a cavalcade, but we have a choice to turn them to our advantage.