One hundred young girls will be ready to be inducted as beauticians this June-end, thanks to the women’s empowerment committee, Dhriti, of RI District 3232. Of these, 20, all of them hearing-and-speech-impaired, received their course completion certificate recently. This is the third of five batches to be trained under the committee’s Project Sundari. “We wanted to skill them to enhance their earning potential,” says its chairperson Sharada Sundaram, adding, “we also facilitate self-employment and job placement for them.”
The team has tied up with the Naturals Training Academy which has a chain of beauty salons across Tamil Nadu. “Veena Kumaravel, its founder, is offering the course at a highly subsidised fee — ₹10,000 a student against the regular fee of ₹50,000 — and has promised them jobs in Naturals salons,” she adds. District Rotarians from 40 clubs are sponsoring the fees for these trainees from underprivileged families. The first batch of 20 was sponsored by RC Madras West through their trust in memory of PDG Boja Shetty, PDG Rekha Shetty’s father. RC Madras sponsored five girls and RC Ambattur eight in the later batches.
“My dream is to introduce the Sundari project to every district on the subcontinent,” says Rekha who is the WE team’s mentor. She recalls her first brush with the project when her club RC Madras Temple City trained women prisoners in beauty care five years ago.
“When I was appointed Dhriti chair I planned to skill just 20 girls, but DG Muthupalaniappan and PDG Rekha motivated me and increased the number to 100. It has been a wonderful journey so far and by the year-end, 100 girls will be employed,” smiles Sharada. Of course, she is happiest about the last batch.
The idea to train differently-abled girls came to her several years ago when she went to a beauty parlour, “whose owner Yamuna had employed two such girls, Preeti and Thangam. They would do facials, pedicure and head massage with so much care. She even helped them get married. What she told stayed with me for a long time: it was easier finding them grooms as they were employed. Men were ready to marry them because they were not a burden. So now when I got the opportunity to empower young girls and women, I grabbed it,” says Sharada.
Most of the girls are from the MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science and its school for special children run by Lata Rajendran, the committee’s vice chairperson. The college’s Rotaractors helped in screening the students for the course based on their aptitude and the family’s economic condition. Basic English knowledge is mandatory to be able to read and decipher instructions given in the cosmetic packages. The package includes skin and hair care, beauty maintenance and bridal basics, with 30 days of intensive classroom sessions, 15 days on-the-job training and an exam to qualify.
Lavanya, a final year BCom graduate from the present batch conveys, in sign language, her excitement as she will be interning at the parlour soon. “Almost all the girls are applying for the internship. Some of them will join after finishing college,” says the trainer Vimala S. Vijayalakshmi, the college PT teacher, accompanies this batch of students to help them coordinate with the trainers at the academy. A basic stipend of ₹7,000 is given to interns. Internship is for two months and there are three levels with a hike in the stipend as they pass each level, says course coordinator Rajini Bala. “A few months from now, they will be financially strong to pursue advanced course and then there is no stopping them. Eventually, the girls move out to freelance or even set up their own parlours,” she adds. Bridal makeup is the most sought after service which helps them to pocket a handsome sum.
The relaxing of the Covid-induced lockdown has been a godsend for the first batch of 20 girls. They all are now offering doorstep services as people are hesitant to visit salons. Meera, a trainee, says she earns ₹20,000 a month and an average of ₹3,000 from each house visit.
“In Rotary, I believe, we should always think of large impactful and scalable projects. The cosmetic industry is a one-billion-dollar industry in India, growing exponentially. This is a vocational training that would help them become entrepreneurs or enable them get a strong foothold in gaining employment,” says DG S Muthupalaniappan.
Enterprising WhatsApp group
Sharada has formed WE-Jiti (meaning success), a WhatsApp group of 200 women Rotarians, Anns and Rotaractors to promote their business or share ideas. It was created in September and has seen roaring business ever since, she says. “From pickles and snacks to jewellery, accessories, apparel and even bindis, you have it all here. Vidya, a Rotarian’s wife, markets her home-made organic kajal, lipstick, lip balm and lip scrub and they sell like hot cakes. Counselling services are offered for mental health and POCSO Act awareness.” This group has sponsored two girls through crowdfunding.
So far this innovative and energetic team has helped raise funds for 80 students and “for the last batch of 20 girls, we are trying to rope in Nissan and Carborundum Universal to sponsor from their CSR funds. If not, our Plan B will be a district grant,” says the women’s empowerment committee chair.