Self-help, self-confidence and self-sufficiency

In addition to offering skills training courses, the CRS women’s empowerment programme encourages groups of women to form Self Help Groups (SHGs). These groups are fully participatory and democratic and have a tremendous impact in terms of giving women a sense of self-confidence and equality as individuals, as well as the skills and resources to be self-sufficient and independent. During September, a representative from the West Bengal Government’s State Resource Centre conducted sessions at the CRS centres at Pally Mangal and Dum Dum explaining the concept of SHGs. The women were very eager to form SHGs so further sessions will be conducted to provide the support that they need to get established.

Stitching skills session

For the women and girls who take the year-long training courses at CRS centres, the hope is that their new skills can translate into making a living. Those who learn tailoring and embroidery, who can make jewellery or soft toys, or who can do hair and make-up are encouraged to set up their own micro-businesses or join a small business cooperative. Ten women who previously took the tailoring course at CRS’s Basanti Devi Colony centre gathered on 15th September to refresh some of their skills. There is particular demand in the local market for hand towels which are decorated with cross stitch. The CRS Production Leader gave a special training session showing the women how to prepare high quality products for sale. Funding for this event was provided by Anglican Overseas Aid, Australia.

Literacy landmark

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.

Brides for the day

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.

All sewn up!

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”.