From learning how to place a yarn on the loom to bringing out trendy organic home decor products, the Ganaur community has come a long way
It’s not everyday that we get an opportunity to do something meaningful for the society. In the year 1960, when a group of women expats learnt that a leprosy community in Ganaur, Sonipet was in dire need of rehabilitation, they went out of their way to make a difference. Initially, the expats volunteered to provide basics like housing, medication and education facilities to the people affected by leprosy, the handicapped and their children. With passage of time, they initiated an organisation called Maximising Employment to Serve the Handicapped (MESH), which was channelised towards creating employment opportunities for the people, one of the biggest challenges faced by the community. The main motive of MESH was to train the community to make products/things and to sell them, which would help the community sustain.
A NEW BEGINNING
When people in Ganaur begun learning handloom weaving, it was the beginning of a new dawn. The cotton bedspreads, tablecloths and napkins crafted by them were liked and appreciated by friends of the women expats in Canada and USA. The products also found a market at exhibitions. This handicraft business soon motivated the registering of MESH as a society and purchasing its first outlet in 1981.
The honest efforts of the women expats paid off. Today, MESH is an established Fair Trade firm operating out of Uday Park in New Delhi. It sells home décor, fashion accessories, soft toys and gifts that are sourced from groups across India that employ people affected by leprosy or people with disabilities. As many as 30 groups that are autonomous, rehabilitation centres, self help groups, women’s groups, leprosy colonies, etc., are bought by MESH in a year. Their products are exported around the world mostly to Fair Trade businesses. Above all, MESH has been successful in providing daily bread and butter for many less fortunate families. Like Uma, a member of the leprosy community who is a tailor, says, “We might be less educated or from the leprosy colony, but considering all these drawbacks, MESH is able to give us work. We are treated equally, which is difficult to find in other places of work.”
FACING CHALLENGES HEAD-ON
With fierce competition and limited resources, it has been a challenge for the volunteers of MESH to maintain their standards of quality and safety that make the products acceptable in international and Indian markets. It is only their dedication and willingness to extend support to the less fortunate that has helped them sail through tough situations. Although MESH works within the government’s framework, it does not seek monetary support from the government. The organisation is registered to receive foreign donations to run a studio or to upgrade machinery for producers.
MESH also provides design and quality/ technical support to the artisans so that they are equipped to interpret international buyer demand. Apart from this, capacity building trainings are held to teach artisans how to manage their businesses, i.e., costing and pricing, stock control, quality control, etc., and how to function within the framework of fair trade. The MESH family now wants to go a step ahead and establish a marketing agency to promote the products thereby providing a link between the artisans and the consumer.