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From cleaning homes to running a business

Supratim Dey  |  New Delhi 

SKILL FOR THE UNSKILLED: The Action North East Trust wants to change the lives of folks in the Chirang district of Assam.
Four hundred women in the Chirang district of Assam, who had their backs to the wall financially and had been forced to work in distant towns as domestic help, today work out of their own villages and are mini entrepreneurs to boot.
They are skilled and earning, thanks to the support from an NGO, The Action North East Trust or ANT.
As part of its 'House Maid Rehabilitation Project', ANT is working to change the lives of rural folks in the Chirang district in Bodoland Territorial Council, one of the most backward districts in Assam. Since 2004, ANT rehabilitated hundreds of distressed and underprivileged women and enabled them to become self-employed.
"These rural women, out of extreme misery, work as housemaids in nearby towns and remain trapped in that cycle. Our aim was to make them self-employed and instill a sense of confidence and rehabilitate them back in their homes," says Sunil Kaul, managing trustee of ANT.
As part of the project, ANT has a special camp, named Udangshree Dera (Udangshree in Bodo language means a place where one attains liberation) for house maids, distressed women or those who have been driven out of their homes.
At Udangshree, they stay for a couple of months till they regain the confidence of earning a decent livelihood. At Udangshree, these women are engaged in weaving fabrics and various designs to earn precious little.
These fabrics and designs are marketed by ANT in markets like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai and also at various melas to generate income to sustain itself.
Once they have saved a decent amount and regained confidence, they return to their homes and either continue weaving for ANT or invest the money in other businesses. As Rajiv Pathak, a member of ANT, puts it: "They go back from Udangshree with a sense of liberty ".
At Udangshree, the only expense that these women need to meet is mess charges, which they run themselves.
ANT pays something between Rs 50 to 70 per meter, depending on the design, to women at Udangshree and also to the ex-Udangshree members, those who continue to weave for ANT.
This year, the women even received bonuses, as ANT could sell more products in the market, said Kaul. ANT also has a corpus to financially assist the children of the women to avail education.
Further, other skill- and employment- generation programmes like poultry rearing, pig rearing and exposure visits to various cottage industries, apart from literacy programmes, are given to women during their stay at Udangshree.

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First Published: Mon, May 07 2007. 00:00 IST