Like so many people, Uma from Upasana wanted to do something for the residents of the tsunami affected villages. But what could that be? Fashion design was maybe not the first thing needed in a village which had just lost so much. She decided to go ahead anyway and start with something small, hoping to bring a little joy to some residents by teaching them something they couldn't do before. No promises were made; no guarantees were given when she and her dedicated team of fashion designers started working with a group of 25 ladies to make dolls from left-over fabric in Chinnamudaliarkuppam, a small fishing village off the main road to Pondicherry. The workshop was a great success. All the ladies stayed on for the five days that the workshop lasted. The dolls turned out so nice that Upasana decided to use them as a complimentary product to be attached to their garments, happy to be able to pay the ladies for their joyful effort, while at the same time creating an ongoing awareness among Upasana's clients and relations about what is happening along the Tamil Nadu coast.
One month later, more than 150 ladies from four different villages had enjoyed the opportunity to create, not just dolls, but also other small, useful items from waste cloth. Each workshop saw its own leading ladies coming forward, who were then gently persuaded to take up responsibility as assistant teachers for continuing workshops in their own and neighboring villages. By training them in teaching skills, Upasana's designers feel these ladies will acquire enough competence and self-confidence to be able to run these workshops in other villages.
A week ago a group of twenty students from the Chennai-based National Institute for Fashion Technology came to Auroville and gave all their creative power in order to come up with new product ideas and prototypes. The outcome is an amazing array of small gadgets, all relatively easily made without initial investment in raw materials. Small doll paper clips, CD covers, decorative pins and broaches, bracelets, anklets -- all the products share three characteristics: they are lovely, made with love and highly marketable. To give more students the possibility to give their good will and creativity and so do something that can make a difference, a special Upasana workshop will be held in Chennai soon, for 150 design students, surely resulting in more beautiful product prototypes.
Recognizing that something beautiful was happening, Upasana broadened the scope of the project. Seen now as a pilot project, its aim is to create a comprehensively documented model that can easily be replicated all over India. Three modules have been developed, ranging from beginners to the more advanced. Up till now only the first of 21 modules has been offered in four villages. In total Upasana will organize workshops in seven villages, to a total of 1050 women, each workshop giving more responsibility to the trained selected teachers. With the products in place, Upasana hopes that with adequate monitoring and sufficient teacher training, self-sustaining women's cooperatives will be established, giving motivated women a chance to earn a living.
There is still a lot of work to do. A lot more work than Uma realized when she felt a strong urge to do something to help tsunami-affected women. She found out that what starts small can easily grow in a very short time into something much bigger and much broader.