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  • Travelling Alone for All: SEWA members represent internationally

  • SEWA selected as president of NASVI (National Alliance of Street Vendors of India)

  • SEWA takes step towards Women Friendly Climate Change

  • Women find their own occupations

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No. 31 | October, 2010
H2 Side Travelling Alone for All: SEWA members represent internationally

SEWA leaders are locally rooted in their towns and villages, they often do not know how to read and write and rarely understand English, but they are trusted by the members, are elected and sent to represent all internationally. It takes great courage and faith to travel alone across continents when you do not speak the language and have never travelled before. Here are two such leaders-Jamuben and Leelaben.

Jamuben reaches Santa Fe

There was excitement in SEWA over an invitation from Santa Fe international folk art festival. Many of the SEWA members did beautiful embroidery but due to visa restrictions the representative would have to travel all alone from Ahmedabad to Santa Fe, USA. Most women were afraid but Jamuben Iyer who had never travelled outside Gujarat alone said, "I will go ". She said, "For the sake of 15000 sisters in my district, I will dare to go alone. I will keep you in mind. God will support me. Give me every information in detail and write it down on a piece of paper in English and Gujarati. I will make everyone read this paper and find my way. Out of so many people somebody would surely help. Also give me your phone number. If I get too nervous I would call you."

Jamuben sat in the flight to New York in Air India. The air hostesses were helpful, but when she reached New York airport she got confused. She went upto a policewoman in the airport, and showed her the piece of paper. Amazingly the police woman understood Gujarati and helped her fill out the immigration form, and asked "Are you going to showcase your embroidery skills? Jamuben said, "Our life depends on it."

The next flight was from New York to Houston and two Gujaratis who helped her to reach the gate properly and so she reached Houston, where there were no more Gujaratis. However, Jamuben found an elderly Indian woman in a wheelchair and showed her the paper and fortunately the woman was also going to Santa Fe. So Jamuben stayed with her. Unfortunately, the flight got delayed due to rain by 2 days and both Jamuben and the old woman did not know what to do. Jamuben says,"I started to panic. At that very moment a man from Malaysia came near me and asked me whether I was going to Santa Fe. I could not understand his language again showed my paper to him. He asked me not to worry as he was also going there. He was also staying at the same hotel as mine. He assured me that we will be together no matter how late it gets.

“I was so relieved. Now I had the support of the man also along with the lady. We were informed that the flight would take of after two days. As soon as the plane landed and I got out, a woman came near me. I thought that this must be the lady who had come to fetch me. But there was a slight problem. I could not understand what she said and she could not understand what I said. She took me with her to fetch my luggage.

At last we reached the hotel at night. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could not control my tears on meeting everyone. I did not eat anything during the whole journey, but drank juice so that I have some strength. I had only one thing in mind; I was going for the sake of my SEWA sisters.

At the Festival there were 160 artisans from different countries. There was a stall of SEWA Hansiba which provided an excellent opportunity to understand the American markets for the artisans of SEWA. Jamuben says, “I understood that the US consumer is concerned about quality and price but also about who makes the product and they value hand made goods. This learning is invaluable for our sisters who have formed their own Hansiba brand"

Lilaben represents street vendors in Benin

Lilaben from Delhi is a SEWA member for the last 10 years. She says, "I am of sixty years. My husband died 15 years ago. I have four sons and six daughters, all of them are married. Now even their children are married. After joining SEWA, I came to realize the strength of union. We could talk freely and express what we feel.

"I was provided with an opportunity to go to Benin, Africa to attend a six day long meeting of Street Net. I had to travel alone. The first thing I did was to make my SEWA sisters write on a piece of paper all the details regarding my trip in Hindi and English so that if I am stuck somewhere I can show that paper and go ahead in my journey. Showing this paper, I travelled from Delhi to Dubai and even made friends with some fellow Indians.

In Dubai airport, I was helped by my new friends to find the gate for Johannesburg. I had brought my own home-cooked food with me which I ate while waiting for the flight. However, when I reached Johannesburg, I came to know that you have to take an injection before boarding the flight to Benin. However, I did not have any money for the injection and I was afraid they would send me back. Although I could not speak the language, I tried to explain that I was going to represent my street vendors sisters from SEWA. That is why I was allowed to board the flight at last.

Anyways I reached Benin where I found that the vehicle that was supposed to take me to the hotel was not present. I noticed there were two men talking in Gujarati. I told them about my problem. They requested the guards to allow me to sit until somebody from the hotel comes and pick me up. However, the guard himself talked with the hotel authorities and after changing money helped me to the hotel.

The meeting was for six days in which many issues concerning vendors and protection of their rights was discussed and resolutions were passed. Then there were elections in which SEWA was elected.

The last day was fun where we saw the local market of the place. There was so much rush that the sellers had to pick up their load on their head. I felt there was more poverty in the area then in our country."

H2 Side SEWA selected as president of NASVI (National Alliance of Street Vendors of India)

NASVI is an organization which has a member base of 373 street vendors´ organizations representing.... vendors from 20 states. On 12th July, 2010 in Kolkata, West Bengal there was a meeting to elect the executives of the committee. This was a very nostalgic occasion as it was the same place from where few years ago the dealers had been removed from that place. The traders protested extensively against the occasion and successfully retained their rights. After that 2nd august 2010 out of this committee, the executives were chosen out of which Manaliben of SEWA was elected as the president of NASVI. Along with her Champaben Patni and Shikhaben from SEWA Madhya Pradesh were also chosen to be a part of committee.

Congratulations to the committee chosen!

H2 Side SEWA takes step towards Women Friendly Climate Change

SEWA always has tried to contribute by devising nature friendly techniques even while striving for provision of employment.´ A major problem which the members faced was that of ´chulha ´.Because of the wood that they used as fuel to cook, they had to suffer (specially the women) many health related problems like T.B., breathing troubles, coughing, eye problems etc. Along with the health troubles using wood proves to be of expensive for them.

The mission has been carried on in various districts of Gujarat like Surendranagar, Kachchh, Patan, Ahmedabad, Bodeli, Durgapur where the SEWA members have received the benefits of solar lights and ´smokeless chulha´.

Manjulaben, one of the members of SEWA residing in the Adivasi area of Bodeli says," In our areas we cannot cut trees and use the wood as fuel. The major amount of time is being spent in picking the wood. It came as a boon to us when SEWA gave us the training to make smokeless chulhas. Now our condition has bettered. We aim to reach out to all the women in our district."
H2 Side Women find their own occupations

SEWA Bikaner has nearly 1000 members and has discovered that although Rajasthan is a very conservative society many of its members have taken up non-traditional occupations on their own. Shantiben´s father was a carpenter and although her family disapproved she learnt to make wooden toys. She would come back from school and work late into the night making toys of her own design. One day, without telling her parents, she took the toys she made in a basket to the nearby fair. At first no one was interested and she got discouraged, but as the word spread many people came and bought her toys and she went back home happy to have sold everything. Her parents were shocked and refused to allow her to make any more toys.

After marriage Shantiben joined SEWA and wanted to earn from her skill again. SEWA leaders encouraged her and she started making toys again. She bought a sawing and shaping machine and now has a flourishing business. She says she is teaching her daughter to make toys too.

SEWA Bihar, with about 30,000 members too has many unusual women. Anjanidevi of Bhagalpur was always fascinated by cars. Today she is a truck driver, as well as a mother of four children. Sangitaben who started working in a petrol pump which is strictly a male dominated area after receiving the training of how to face interviews by SEWA. She says," I m proud to work in a male dominated area."

Santoshben from SEWA, Madhya Pradesh, an incense stick worker worked hard and educated her two daughters as well as got them trained in computers. She sees technology as changing the future of her family.



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