REHASWISS Generates Income for People with Disabilities in Kerala, India through the Creation of the ASHA-Center
Announcing the Inaugural Opening of the ASHA-Center
By Susanne Aerthott, Director of ASHA Production
On November 25, 2012, REHASWISS opened the ASHA-Center for Talent Promotion of Disabled People in Kottayam, Kerala. The goal of the ASHA-Center is to develop products that can be produced by handicapped people, who have already been supported by a REHASWISS micro credit loan. Employment through our program allows our clients to earn the income that they need to support their families and communities.
The opening ceremonies were captivating: 15 drummers played traditional music, tea and pastries were served, and the district president, Ms. Radha V. Nair, cut the ribbon to officially open the new Susan Villa facility. The participants visited the space that contains three new workstations as well as an exhibition of paintings created by two handicapped artists. Of the hundreds of community members in attendance, more than 50 were Swiss guests who traveled to India for the wedding of the new generation of REHASWISS leaders Ariane Lüthi and Santosh Aerthott. These ceremonies built on the tradition of the Swiss-Indian partnership between myself, Susanne Autenried, and Joseph Aerthott that has been the foundation for the long history and continued success of the REHASWISS organization. We are especially grateful when Swiss guests at Susan Villa recognize our mission and support our work through offering on-site expertise and placing product orders.
After the celebrations, we began to develop our talent promotion idea through training women identified as clients and brought to us by the local Social Service Society. The mission of the Social Service Society is to develop the socioeconomic status of the inhabitants of the area, without discrimination based upon caste, gender, or religion. Amminikutty, a woman with a disabled hand, entered the ASHA-Center after a prayer for good fortune. Due to her disability, she cannot carry out fine needlework, such as sewing on buttons or hooks. However she can do more general sewing work and in order to bring products fully to completion we employ Molamma, who will be supporting our clients for two days a week. She is involved in developing projects that each seamstress can complete on their own, given their limitations. We now have 6 women who are able to contribute to ASHA production and work mainly from their home.
REHASWISS leadership has decided to develop the following products:
– Placemats, the instructions for which came from a Swiss needlework teacher
– Bathrobes with matching nightgowns and bags
– Bedding of original design to include duvet covers, bed linen, and sheets
– Custom orders of hand-crafted needlework items by individuals and companies
With each step of the process we develop our abilities to collaborate between the Swiss and Indian cultures. We began by producing placemats because I already had the green and white patterned cloth and therefore did not have to spend any of our start-up money. I emphasized to our instructor that Swiss customers have high expectations in terms of the quality of the products and therefore everything needed to be sewn very neatly. According to Amminikutty, this was “not a problem”. She started very eagerly.
I soon realized that Indians have a very different understanding of precision than Swiss people do. For example, I pointed out that there were two parts that had to be stitched individually, as described in the instructions we received from our Swiss teacher. However, Amminikutty was convinced that the Swiss version included unnecessary extra work that could be circumvented without any visible difference to the end product. Unfortunately, after some diligent work, Amminikutty came to find that it would have been smarter to follow the instruction manual from the beginning. She had to unravel everything and start afresh.
The finished placemats (checkered green and white) were assessed at the next general meeting to take place at a market sales booth. Initially, according to my calculation of time, materials, wages, and electricity costs, the sales prices in India were not enough to recoup the costs of producing the placemats. Nonetheless, Amminikutty was proud and convinced that she could sell her product in Switzerland. Thanks to my experience living in India for the past 40 years, I learned not to lose hope but instead to be adaptive and to persevere. Through keeping an eye on your goal, to teach handicapped people new skills and offer them earning opportunities, we have worked together to overcome the challenges on the production side and have developed a model that works.
With the successful development of these initial products we have established that our model of talent promotion is feasible. We can offer the placemats as a high-quality product, in raw silk and in various colors. We are now ready to receive product orders form Switzerland and the United States.
We from the ASHA-Center in Switzerland look forward to receiving your order.