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Sewing machines: an opportunity to pay it forward

By October 19, 2017

India (MNN) – Imagine living as a woman in an impoverished area of India. Fortunately, your husband is healthy enough for work, but work availability is unreliable and the wages low. You want to send your child to school, but food comes first.  For a variety of reasons—be it a lack of education or cultural barriers— you’re not able to get a job that can help support your family. In effect, you feel powerless to help those you love most.

Now, imagine just a bit of compassionate care added to that equation.

Today Donna Glass of India Partners shares a story where one woman took a gift and paid it forward.

Background: tailoring in India

In the United States, we’re used to buying clothes ready-made. The act of making our own clothes or even working with a tailor is a novelty. But in some parts of India, this is the primary way women get their clothing which means tailors are in high demand.

India Partners has been providing women with the training and tools they need to start their own viable career as a tailor. Glass says, “We started, originally, with just one or two tailoring schools that were serving women in villages and we have added over the years. And now, we are supporting eight tailoring schools that are serving women in different villages.”

(Photo courtesy of India Partners)

These classes are offered to women, free of charge. One of the schools they opened up more recently is in a different sort of location than the others—it’s in the slums of an average sized city.

“’These are very poor people in these areas … they’re definitely below the poverty level,” Glass says, explaining that they make much less than $2 a day.

Time and time again, India Partners has watched the gift of sewing change that reality. At the end of the six-month training, women receive treadle-operated sewing machines. This means that regardless of their access to electricity, they’ll be able to keep up with their work.

The multiplication of a gift

Glass shares the story of one woman who recently graduated from this city school: “Her husband worked as a daily wage laborer, only earning about 500 rupees a day which is above the extreme poverty level but, with two children, that doesn’t go very far if you have to pay school fees and provide food and a roof over your head.”

After she completed her training, she began to sew clothes for herself and her two daughters. Soon, the word got out that there was a new and talented tailor in town. Her neighbors began bringing her fabric to make dresses, saris, and blouses. They brought her clothes that needed repair.

“She started off just earning about 100 rupees a day. And then as her business increased, she’s earning 300-500 rupees a day, depending upon the availability of work. So this is supplementing the 500 rupees a day that her husband is earning, so it’s almost doubling the family income.”

(Photo courtesy of India Partners)

It wasn’t long before she was able to build up a savings account. But for her, it became more than saving up money—her sewing began to be a way she could pass on the kindness that had been shown to her. The woman was still in contact with some of her fellow students of the tailoring school. When the workload got too big for her to do herself, she called upon her friends.

“They kind of have this cooperative that they are sewing together. So it’s not just providing [for] her, but she’s taken it upon herself to organize these other women together. So she’s not only just helping her family, but she’s helping these other families, these other women to expand the sewing that they’re doing.”

As time went on, she was able to purchase items from wholesalers and provide saris at a small profit for people who can’t afford very much. And for those who were especially poor, she began to gift saris.

“So, it’s multiplying. She’s expanding, she’s helping other women to earn income. She’s providing clothing without a huge amount of profit but enough that she’s earning some profit, and she’s also able to give generously and give to others as well as [provide] so her daughters can go to school. It’s really exciting to see the changes that this six months of training and a gift of a sewing machine has made in the difference of the life of her family and the women around her.”

How you can multiply kindness in India

Glass says there is always a waiting list to go through the training. The biggest expense of the tailoring schools is for the sewing machines themselves. Each machine costs $100. But that price is nothing compared to the impact this program has.

“You’re talking about changing, not just the life of a woman, but the life of a whole family for $100. Giving her a livelihood, giving her hope, empowering her to help better the lives of her whole family. That sense of self-worth—you can’t put a price on it.”

To give a sewing machine through India Partner’s gift catalog, click here.

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