Making ends meet was a daily challenge for Aatmaja (35) since her marriage at 19. Her husband was an alcoholic and she worked as a domestic help to bring food to the table which, on most days, was just not sufficient. “Today, thanks to the selai (tailoring) training, I am earning at least ₹600 a day. I can send my daughter to the local school now,” she says. Aatmaja has transformed into a skilled tailor after attending a tailoring course provided by RC Calcutta, RID 3291, two years ago. Now she does picco for sarees, and stitches blouses, children’s dresses, and salwar sets.
In 2021, the club embarked on Project Gati – a long-term sustainable project to help underprivileged women earn a livelihood. “Our goal was to set up five centres every year in areas extendingfrom the Sundarbans to Purulia. In the first two years, 10 centres were installed with the support of our RCCs,” says Arindham Roychowdhury, the club’s Special Projects Chairman.
The centres are equipped with sewing machines to train women in tailoring; and desktop computers to give them computer education. The tailoring classes were begun in collaboration with Singer which provided sewing machines at a concessional rate to the club. The computer classes follow a curriculum of the West Bengal State Board of Secondary Education and is certified by the George Telegraph Institute. Around 300 women have completed the tailoring course and 165 students have received their computer education certificates, says Arindham. The women are now getting regular job work from the state government to stitch uniforms for the government schools. “They get a steady income now through this assignment,” he adds.
For a century now, it has been a tradition for the club to distribute dresses to both men and women during Durga Puja. “This year we procured the material for shirts, pants and blouses and have engaged the women to stitch the garments at the centre,” he says.
This Rotary year the project’s name was changed to Atmanirbhar, to reflect its focus on self-sustainability. The club plans to expand it by installing 10 such centres, through a franchisee concept. “We are involving other Rotary clubs to partner with us through their RCCs to reach a larger community,” says Roychowdhury. Adult literacy classes are also run at these centres. Basic and financial literacy is being given to 50 adults over a six-month period in each centre.
PRIP Shekhar Mehta and RID Anirudha Roychowdhury inaugurated this year’s first centre at Metiabruz, near Khidirpore Dockyard. “This is one of the largest garment manufacturing areas in Eastern India, so the women getting trained here will get regular job works from the local industries,” smiles the project director.
The second centre opened at the Niharika School for the Handicapped in Garia will be a boon for the mothers of differently-abled children studying in the school. “They get to learn a vocation while they wait to pick up their children from school,” he says. Basic computer education is being provided to the school students too at this centre. The centre at the RCC Ranihati Netaji Samaj Sathi in Domjur village, Howrah, set up two years ago with five sewing machines and three computers, was upgraded with 30 machines and 11 computers. Around 40 women stitch and sell the garments in the nearby markets from this centre.
Thirty women are enrolled for each batch for tailoring classes and 15 students for computer classes; the centre works two shifts daily and the course is for six months. “Our aim is to set up 65 centres by the next five years,” he says. The cost of setting up each centre is ₹1.8 lakh and ₹250 is collected as course fee by the RCCs. “This amount is utilised to meet the administrative expenses at each centre.”
From January, the club will be introducing soap/shampoo making classes for women in all its centres. “The raw materials will be given by the sponsoring Rotary clubs and we will help the women market the products,” he says. The club’s plans for the next year include immunising 1,000 adolescent girls against cervical cancer, and setting up a mega Rotary blood bank and a cornea bank with CSR support, at a cost of ₹1 crore each.