Let us celebrate the journey of these 500 women who have risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The story begins with six women starting to write their futures, and little did they know, they were set on the path to change life of several hundred others. They have given the gift of a self-sustaining community to the society for future generations to depend on.
We heard this story at the International Women’s day conference organized by the Art of Living Foundation and couldn’t help but share and spread the joy. Two women, Art of Living volunteers, walked into rural areas of Bangalore hoping to get together women to meditate. Those were, however, their first steps into lives of these women and beginning of beautiful future waiting to unfold.
The Art of Living volunteers fondly known as Sankari Amma and Padmini Amma took very little time to realize that the women and their families were struggling to meet their day-to-day needs. The women were dependent on their husbands and more often than not, the men were consumed in alcohol. They were somehow surviving and living on debts to be able to feed their children. The volunteers reached out to Gurudeva Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and asked for guidance. It was decided that the women need to be vocationally trained to take charge of their lives and families. Two more volunteers were sent from ashram to train these 4 women (to begin with) to make jute bags. These women, who were tired of waiting for the circumstances to change, could now make and sell these bags to earn their living. Unaware of the jargon floating around but tuning into their intuitions, women realized that they need soft skills training or in their words, “learn to talk and communicate.” With support from the Art of Living volunteers, these women could now efficiently market and sell their bags.
As the word spread, more and more women came forward and joined hands to form an informal self help group. The group started noticing that a lot of these women had skills and were equipped to earn their living; they just needed a platform and motivation. The group started identifying women from the village who already had the knowledge of making aggarbattis (incense sticks), soaps etc. They were brought in to train others who were looking for opportunities to be able to earn their bread. Also, women who enjoyed cooking were identified and trained. They eventually started cooking meals in offices and homes. Some of them now are looking forward to rent a place and run a small canteen.
It is amazing how the strategies of the corporate world were intuitively and seamlessly put into practice without realizing the impact that they were creating. Innocently, one step led to another. There were no white boards, power point presentations, meetings and seminars, the women followed their hearts and with the help of Art of Living volunteers pursued their dreams. Now, each member has a bank account and the only rule to be a part of this self help group is that members need to send their children to school. Art of Living volunteers have not only come forward to empower these women but are making sure that the children are sent to school.
It has been 14 years since the four women first came together. They still do not have an office or a place to meet up. They meet up on one of the volunteer’s terraces. But their journey is inspiring: From struggling to earn their bread to now sending their children off to school and colleges, from burdensome debts to now being able to pay off their loans and save some money, from feeling lonely and waiting for situations to change to coming together to form a big family of close to 500 women who stick to each other and led a shoulder in times of need.
While, we were listening to their stories awestruck, these women would burst into smiles and then into tears recalling their journey. They know their life has turned around but they are innocently unaware of the extent of impact that they are creating. Hiding behind their shy smiles, they do not know that these are the stories that move the world to believe in goodness, karma, happiness and writing one’s own destiny. A happy one world family? The Art of Living dream doesn’t seem so far fetched.