A report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed India to have 287 million illiterate adults, the highest number in the world. While there is full literacy among affluent Indians, the poorest members of society are not projected to achieve universal literacy until 2080. In 1965, UNESCO declared 8th September as International Literacy Day. This year’s 50th Anniversary honoured five decades of efforts to increase literacy rates worldwide. Children from the Sihsu Jagat (Children’s World) programme at the CRS Education Centres in BD Colony and Sukantanagar organised this year’s celebration including songs and recitations by children and teachers. Women and girls who attend the CRS skills training programme also shared what difference literacy made to their lives.
It wasn’t a mass wedding; it was 81 girls from five CRS centres in Kolkata completing a practical test for their beautician course. Beautician training is offered as part of the women’s empowerment programme. During a year-long course, students learn a range of skills including skin care, make-up, waxing, manicure and pedicure, facial treatments and hair cutting. This year’s batch of students gathered on 16th May for their final evaluation. They had three hours to prepare a friend in bridal attire which included face make-up, sari, jewellery and hair styling. They also had an oral test about things they had learned in their course. Some students go on to set up small beautician parlours in their communities as a way to earn a living.
Larsen and Toubro, the Indian multinational conglomerate which has been supporting CRS activities for some time, donated three new sewing machines. They were formally handed over at the end of April by a senior member of the company’s HR Department. The machines will be used as part of CRS’s empowerment programme which offers skills training to adolescent girls and women. CRS instructors offer year-long courses in tailoring, embroidery and knitting. The women are also taught financial and business management skills so that they can set up their own small enterprises. Khatiza Begum, an instructor at CRS’s Bibibagan centre, said “I am very excited on receiving the new machine and this is going to help more women to take the tailoring course”.
Tailoring and embroidery is the most popular skill development programme for girls and women at CRS centres. Courses run every year from April through to March. On 17th March, 125 students from six different CRS centres in Kolkata gathered together in the portico of St Paul’s Cathedral for their end of year evaluation. Over four hours, the students had to complete a series of tasks to demonstrate skills they had learned during their course. This included embroidering a flower; demonstrating hemming, darning, and picot stitch along the edge of cloth; and measuring, cutting and stitching a shirt and a bag. An external evaluator from a government training institution reviewed the practical work completed on the day, as well as the portfolios of work completed throughout the year. The students were presented with their results and a certificate of completion by senior representatives from Larsen & Toubro, the company providing support for part of women’s empowerment programme.
Since 1996 CRS has run a women’s empowerment programme in Pally Mangal, a neighbourhood in Tollygunge, south Kolkata. Training is available for women in tailoring and embroidery. Having completed their courses, women are encouraged to form self-help groups and then use their new skills to set up small business enterprises. Ten self-help group members received a boost on 8th February when CRS arranged a special training session led by a fashion designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Kolkata. With the focus on “quality products” the women learned how to improve the quality and finish of the items that they make. This will hopefully enable them to sell their tailored clothing at a higher price and boost their income.