As you walk into the exhibition of Quiltessentially SNEHA, the thought that strikes you is how the sea of rich patterns and intricate weaves is such a powerful expression of SNEHA’s work; conveying both the range of its outreach work and the ties it builds in the communities it works in.
Quiltessentially SNEHA, the livelihood project started in 2009 by the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action, aims to equip women in slums with various skills that will strengthen them financially
“I was supervising a tailoring class for adolescent girls and women and that’s when the idea came about. We thought why not start a small unit that makes patchwork quilts”, says Naina Fernandez, project director.
Initially she relied on fabrics donated by clothing and furnishing stores that usually have large swatches left over.
“We taught the women basic stitching skills and we had some sewing machines and we were set to start”, she says.
The women would put the pieces together guided by creative inputs from Fernandez.
Some families took a little convincing at the start.
“There was this young girl who was really talented but in the early stages, the earnings weren’t that good”, says Fernandez. “Her family pulled her out because they felt she was better off working as a domestic help. I stepped in and insisted that she had a gift and they should not stop her from coming to the center”.
From quilts, the range of products has expanded way beyond to dupattas, bathroom mats, bedspreads and cushion covers. And then there are the small and thoughtful items like pouches for sanitary pads, an idea that Fernandez says came from school-going adolescent girls that SNEHA works with.
The designs are never repeated so each product is unique. The demand for the products is huge, especially among corporate houses.
The project employs about 40 girls and women, with 13-15 working on a shift basis. The timings are flexible as many have young children or elderly in-laws to look after. On an average, each person earns upwards of Rs 5000 a month.
Income that Manali, one of the earliest members, says comes in handy, especially when finances run low.
“My husband is a BEST driver and he earns decently but we used to feel the pinch when my children needed books or clothes. Now I contribute and ease the financial burden which makes me feel great”, says Manali. “I am able to support my family”.
Above all, the project offers a safe space for women to get together and bond over shared experiences and issues.
“We stitch together, we share, laugh, chat, give each other advice and in the process feel lighter”, says one of the project members.
“I can often hear them giggling loudly as they work” laughs Fernandez. “People in the nearby units tell me these people make such a racket. So I know they are in a happy space.”