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The Rana Tharu Women : Part I

Nakuliya_Fotor

The Rana Tharu is a tribal community settled in the Terai and Bhabar region of Uttarakhand, now the district of Udham Singh Nagar. The Tharus lead a very simple life revolving around agricultural work. In today’s day and time, it is encouraging to observe that among Tharus the women hold a higher position not only in the case of work volume but also in the case of decision making. Recently the community has been fully recognized for its unique crafts made of local grasses in the area. The women use a variety of locally available natural grasses such as Seenk, Moonj, Kansi, Pateri, Gondi, Motha etc. to develop baskets with intricate motifs, vibrant colours and patterns. Primarily a cultural practice with the highly decorated baskets being given to daughters in marriages, today the Tharu community is diversifying into making basketry-based handicrafts for sale, in order to supplement their income from other sources and increase their ability to withstand fluctuations in income at different times of the year.

While the Tharu women are extremely motivated and hard – working, they tend to be a little shy. So it has been very courageous of Amrawati, to take the first step, and organise the women into a Co-operative. When you ask her what motivates her in turn, her response is endearing, and reminds us of the simple joys of life : “We are a community of farm labourers. For 100/- a day, we work at other peoples’ farms, or construction sites. It is so hard to toil in the sun all day. I decided to forego the earning per day, and decided to sit in the shade of my home to weave baskets. I sold some, and earned almost as much as I would have on the farm. Seeing me, a lot of women started coming to my home to sit with me, and weave…”

And thus began the journey of Amrawati, and her group of wonder-women!

This year, we at Happy Hands Foundation are proud to associate with the Rana Tharu community and look forward to building an enterprise with them – so they can continue to grow and prosper, in the shade that motivates them so much!

Part I: Enterprise Training:

Over a week, we worked with 50 women of the community, to streamline their co-operative and establish best practices which would enable them to reach their craft to a wider audience in the village, and outside.

We began by having the women analyse their current working model based on the MAIR framework. It was imperative in the beginning to establish the importance of a social enterprise, and even more important to draw their attention to the most important elements of a business which sustain it.

Kiran (MAIR)

The next part of our training was challenging – we had to explain costing and pricing to a group of women, of which hardly 8 were literate! While they understood the concepts, they could hardly translate their calculations to paper. But the women, enterprising as their spirit is, chose to endeavour to form groups and lead the activity.

The good thing that emerged of this was, that the women chose to stick to groups, and learnt and moved ahead – together.

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Of course, once the activity was underway, it brought the most disappointing look to the women’s faces – they had suddenly discovered that they had been making losses all along, by under-pricing their products!

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This further inspired them to work harder during the training.

But like they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

The Marketing Game we played had the women hooked on for an entire day! In teams, they challenged each other to learn better, and came up with some of the most interesting strategies for marketing their products!

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Over the next few days, the women crafted their Business Plan, focusing on all the elements necessary – customer relations, branding, product line development, etc. and structured their organisation according to functions while taking full responsibility for the tasks to be undertaken. They even drafted their own brand identity, and announced the beginning of “Rana Grass Product” [ drumroll + loud applause ] !!

BusinessPlan

Identity_FotorAs a mentor to them, we felt most happy when the group leaders presented their action plans  on the last day- it was a moment of great pride for the women as well us us – the direction the women seem to have chosen was clear now, and their determination to succeed was heart-warming!

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To applaud their efforts, and recognise each individual’s contribution to the workshop, we gifted women with Sarees (generously contributed by Tribhuvan Das Jewellers) – and one of them quipped, “Now we know what it feels like to go to school and receive a prize!”

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On a more retrospective note, the “prize” is definitely the feeling we retained as we came back from the humble village of Nakuliya – a lot more loved, and a lot more energetic.

We are grateful to our donors for the training – British Council India and DIAGEO who felt this project was worthy of being included in the Young Women’s Social Entrepreneurship initiative that they have undertaken this year.

Women_Fotor_Collage And because all good things must never come to an end, we will continue updating you on the lovely Rana Tharu women as we continue working with them through this year. Until next time..

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