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Yesterday was a good day for me…. After a long time I saw something encouraging…. I have shared my pain and anguish with you…. Now is time to share something positive….

I walked into an NGO (Yerala Projects Society) office and found some women industriously doing something… they were preparing tube light ballasts……..(for the uninitiated, ballasts are those ugly boxes that sit on the middle of the tube light fixture…. Of course the new ballasts are electronic and much sleeker…) The wonderful thing about the set up was that the women were involved in a variety of tasks…. One was using a tension machine for winding copper wire….. some were attaching wires to the ballast… some were soldering the components on to PCBs…….some were assembling the ballasts – the PCBs in their plastic sheaths…. One was involved in testing and quality control of every PCB that was soldered…..

‘A common sight in any industrial unit’ you will say……. read on…….. all of these women were semi literate….. 4th standard in school does not really qualify as education anyway… one was illiterate…. She was the one doing the QC!!!! These women had been trained intensively by the NGO…. All the women could do all the functions…… they did every thing by rotation….The women were not only manufacturing these ballasts, they had gotten started on the whole tube light assembly… The next foray was into small emergency lights……. The NGO has established a complete chain……

  1. components are sourced in Mumbai and Delhi,
  2. the PVC covers were made to design by a local manufacturer (the dies had been cut by the technical man in the NGO)
  3. the ballasts were being marketed to tube light assembly manufacturers.
  4. The tube light assemblies themselves were being marketed in Pune and Mumbai… at very competitive rates…

In spite of paying fair and just wages to the women, the NGO is showing a surplus… 25 women work in the unit …. They are unable to cope up with the orders that are flowing in!!! This has been on for 8 months now and the unit is definitely a ‘going concern’.

Now the kicker…….. all these women are HIV positive!!!!! They have contracted the disease from their wayward spouses……. Most of them are in the 25-35 year category………. To look at them and their children (who tag along) is gut wrenching….. knowing that death at an early age is certain… and yet fighting it out with dignity……. That’s great….  This effort that they are involved in has brought new life in them… their position in the family has improved……. They still live and eat separately but at least the abuse has lessened…. They have established a good camaraderie amongst themselves……. The work and the act of coming together for a few hours is a psychological booster……..

This experience has resulted in learning for me…… the key one being that there is no need to constrain ones thinking while making choices for trades that one can teach women from rural and tribal areas….. women can adapt and adopt newer skills…. One needs patience, vision and lots of hard work in establishing the backward and forward linkages…. Never again will I say ‘let us look at imparting Income Generation skills that are not ‘alien’ to women’…. There is nothing alien…. Our vision is narrow……..

I leave you with words from Tagore….

Said the setting sun,

“Now who will do the rest ?”

Offered the small lamp,

“I will do my best”………..

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