At The Lifestyle Portal we encourage and support organisations such as Swayambhar NARI that make an effort to create a sustainable and a respectable life and living conditions for people around them.
You will notice that we have covered many such organisations – be it for the environment, waste upcycling and recycling and even animal support groups as they all form an integral part of our lives and we want to spread the good word with the aim of creating a better world for everyone in it.
The Lifestyle Portal had the chance to visit an exhibition by this Kolkata-based NGO called Swayambhar NARI in Mumbai last year and ever since our first visit, we have become a big fan of their handmade products on sale.
We spoke to one of the founding members 69-year-old Surangama Bhadra who has devoted more than 32 years in the field of human resource development, product development, marketing about her desire to start Swayambhar NARI along with five other members.
Swayambhar Nari is a registered non-formal action research institute and a non-profit organisation situated in Kolkata, West Bengal. Armed with a vision to create communities which are self-supporting, to improve their socio-economic status and to create a sustainable resource in order to improve the standard or living through income generation, education and health of certain socially backwards communities.
When did it all begin?
“It was my inborn desire to start something and even though we got Swayambhar NARI registered in 1991 we had started work on it since 1987. With a small amount raised from our own savings we started work on order basis at Swayambhar NARI,” recalls Mrs. Surangama.
Swayambhar means self-dependent and Nari means woman, so the main motive of the NGO is to make the artisan mainly the women of the villages self-dependent. It is an organisation meant for the under privileged women and children with the aim to empower them.
The name was given by her friend and co-founder Bikram Sen. Started by six founding members out of which Mrs. Surangama is the only working member so far while two of them are very old so cannot work anymore and the rest have all passed away.
Swayambhar NARI was launched by Mrs. Surangama along with her friends at a time when help wasn’t readily available from the government especially for self-help groups like theirs. Their main aim was to make women self-reliant and economically independent so that they can gain the confidence of the village artisans to provide them with exposure and reach out to other regions to spread their artform and skills.
A noble cause like this does come with its share of challenges. As Mrs. Surangama recalls that way back in 1988 when they wanted to launch their first exhibition the marketing and sponsorship for the exhibition was a big challenge for the team. The other challenge was that as a participant in the interact festival of Hyderabad, Swayambhar NARI’s main motive was to let others know about the work they do; thankfully the Governor at that time who witnessed their exhibition praised their team for this event.
“Every time we faced several challenges, but with positive thinking and sincerity we found ways to overcome,” smiles Mrs. Surangama.
What makes Swayambhar NARI so unique?
According to Mrs. Surangama – honesty, togetherness and sincerity form the backbone of Swayambhar NARI. So everybody associated with the NGO, which includes artisans, employees and volunteers portray the moral values and respect the work, which makes Swayambhar NARI different from others.
Products on offer
Apart from other handicraft items, Swayambhar NARI is known for its gorgeous Kantha embroideries products like sarees, bags, file folders, jute bags, slippers and lots more.
“We offer different training programs in such skill and art form from time to time. These products range from INR 100 to INR 10,000 and their products are marketed and sold through exhibitions, wholesale and retail. Swayambhar NARI enjoys a huge patronage from the government authorised Cottage Industries Emporiums as well,” adds Mrs. Surangama.
The training programs as she mentioned earlier are conducted by ‘Integrated Design and Technology Development Programme’ where each art form is sponsored by different organisations, like a workshop on Kantha was sponsored by DCH and the one on weaving was sponsored by NABARD.
Skill development and design development are the main aims of these training where the artisans benefit from such programmes. These training programmes are mainly conducted at Kamarpara and Birbhum districts of Bengal.
The revenue earned is further used to run the whole system and mainly for the development work of the villages where Swayambhar NARI operates.
“Apart from this, we also run four education centres for preschoolers and have mainstream and coaching centres for school dropouts as well. Recently we started an eco-tourism centre at Kamarpara near Shantiniketan where we built an artisan cluster as that’s where the main production takes place,” adds Mrs. Surangama.
Swayambhar NARI runs 4 education centres in Howrah, Bhangar, Panditiya and Kamarpara that conduct motivation classes and training for the main school. The coaching centres are dedicated for school drop outs where they are provided special guidance as they need extra help after school hours.
The village Kamarpara is located 9 kilometres away from the Bolpur station the gateway of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan and is endowed with a rich and varied biodiversity.
“Our eco-tourism centre in Kalabhumi has the spirit of the village that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.
This eco-tourism centre is supported by NABARD and is meant to be run by the self-help group who are under training now; while the generosity and warm welcome of the villagers and the mud house have added value to this place.
The primary objective of Swayambhar NARI is to showcase the natural resources to different segments of the society, while restoring the natural resources for cottage industry, handicraft, educational and recreational values and to propagate the message of environmental conservation.
Mrs. Surangama concludes by mentioning, “We want to make Kamarpara a model village where we can form a cluster of highly skilled artisans in Kantha stitches and weaving. Development of these villages is our main motive and so we organise several programs such as awareness campaigns on health, culture etc.
Mrs. Surangama Bhadra
P-101 Kalindi Estate
Kolkata – 700 089
Tel : +91 33 2522 0240
E-mail : [email protected]
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