I always thought my incomplete education would keep me from earning a decent livelihood. I have a family of five, including two younger sisters. I am the eldest child in the family. Both my parents work as daily wage laborers. They used to worry a lot as there I had no brother who could support the family financially.” Mamta’s story is no different from the many young girls and boys who inhabit the villages of Kanchipuram. Mamta’s parents had worked their entire life, earning and saving the little they could. Their lives were hard hit by the 2015 Chennai floods. Loss of homes, livestock and other belongings in the floods left little for the villagers. After the flood, the community people have been trying to put their lives back together. The damage was not only limited to the dark and dank homes with sodden belongings, covered in thick layers of mud. It was much beyond that.
To give a helping hand to the inhabitants in rebuilding their lives, Smile Foundation in association with PepsiCo Foundation launched a community development and rehabilitation programme in Mamandur and 11 other villages of Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu. One of the major highlights of the intervention was the Mamandur Vocational Training Programme, which encouraged women and girls from the village to enroll for a 3-month skill training course in tailoring and sewing so that they can have a dignified and independent livelihood.
“Initially I was apprehensive about joining the vocational training programme as women in our village only work as daily wage laborers at construction sites or stay back and look after their homes. Girls don’t get to study or train to get a job. When I attended my first class at the training center, I felt so good about myself that I was also capable of learning a skill and earning a decent income. With time I gained confidence in my abilities and as I practiced more, I could see a good future ahead for me. Once I completed my course, I joined a garment factory near my village. When I took my first salary home, my father proudly said I am more than a son for him”, shares a teary eyed, smiling Mamta. She hopes to open her own tailoring shop soon.
More than 235 women like Mamta from 12 villages in the district enrolled in the first two batches of the vocational training programme and successfully completed the course. Many smiling faces could be spotted during the convocation ceremony when the women graduated from the programme and were felicitated with certificates. To motivate and encourage the women in this new phase of their lives, and to give them a little extra support, they were gifted with a sewing machine each. The whole community, including dignitaries like Hon’ Minister of State for Industries, Thiru MC Sampath and Hon’ Minister of State for Electricity, Excise & Prohibition, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Thiru P.Thengamani, came together to congratulate the women on their achievement and wished them good luck for their future. The women in turn shared their stories and experiences, and the confidence with which they spoke left the audience speechless.
“I don’t know what was harder – for me to lose my husband, or for my daughters to lose their father. Life did not allow us the time to even grieve. We were thrown out of the family home, where we had lived with his brothers’ families. Penniless, I roamed around with my daughters for days, asking for food and help. After a month, I got my first job at a tea stall. From then on, I started doing part time jobs, which would also give me some time for my daughters. But the pay was very less and survival was difficult. I would have endured the suffering, if it had not been for my children. I could not bear to see them hungry and sick. When I heard about the vocational training course, I decided to join. I had to spend more time away from my daughters, but it was for their good. Now I have finished the course and have also got a sewing machine. In the first week only I got five orders. This is a new beginning for me and my daughters”, shared P Vineetha, one of the successful women trainees under the programme.
Most of the women who completed their courses have found jobs at tailoring shops and garment manufacturing factories like Mamta, or have begun working from home like Vineetha. There are many who have joined the programme after getting inspired from the success stories of the women who have now become independent, confident and able to merit a secure and dignified livelihood. Indeed, the villagers of Mamandur have not only successfully overcome the aftermath of the floods, but have also found a positive hope for a better future.