David met with the local councils (or Panchayats) who have told us the community most needs work. Feeling a little daft that we hadn’t thought of that ourselves, we’ve listened and decided to set up a training project for widowed women who are the section of the community most ostracised and socially marginalised.
Eager to learn more about the community, DG spoke to the local Panchayats about their specific regions. And this is what he’s found out. There are two local panchayats, called Jadurhati and Raghunathpur, which cover around 50,000 people scattered in 25-odd villages and settlements.
Although they receive more help from the regional and national government than they used to (for example, many local roads have now been paved which if you’ve ever travelled to Badhuria is nothing short of a miracle in itself), to some extent India’s economic boom has passed them by. The district is agricultural, with jute and rice grown all around and freshwater lakes that supply the fish much beloved by all Bengalis. 8 out of 10 of the mainly Muslim population are engaged in farm and agricultural work. It is a poor area and most of the work is menial labour – helping out with harvests, processing crops and so on. And like the rest of India, the population is young: 40% are under the age of 19.
We asked the councillors what local people needed. Fresh water? They have plenty. Food aid? No need – this is a fertile rice-growing area. Clinics? They have good ones. Schools? Also good – but the locals said that because of poverty, families cannot afford to keep their children there. From the age of 8 onwards, children are being sent to work in the fields in order to support their families. These kids are only making a few pennies a day, but that money is desperately needed. The older the children get, the more drop out of school.
Interesting. We asked a few more questions. Most men were able to find some kind of work (even if it is only sporadic and part-time) but there is a chronic shortage of work for women. The locals said that if their mothers were able to find work, many children would stay at school longer; they would be better educated, able to get better jobs and standards of living would rise.
Supporting women – and helping them to find well-paid work – would be a good thing. And so the WBC India Project has its first project: a Skills Training Centre for women.
We want to give the poorest local women the skills training they need to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. In the jute industry, this could mean training them to make and stitch bags, but that’s not the only route to financial independence. They can learn how to create other jute handicraft items such as purses, dolls, jewellery and shoes. We also want to help these ladies learn basic business skills so they can set up their own cottage industries if they prefer.
We’re really excited about the centre, and have already secured the prestigious backing of the National Jute Board of India. We have earmarked a plot of land for it – next door to our factory in Baduria. It’ll take a while to build and fit it out, but we’re planning to welcome our first trainees next summer. We can’t wait to make our distinctively WBC contribution to the community that supports our factory. Now, time to get to work and start selling some bags to pay for it!