Students of Loyola College reached out to the women after they noticed them struggling in slum pockets in the city

There is a common thread running through the lives of 20 women, recruited recently as conservancy staff by St. Thomas Mount-cum-Pallavaram Cantonment Board, the civic body of the ministry of defence in Chennai’s immediate southern suburb.

They are all widows and some of them lost their husbands to alcoholism.

None of them have studied beyond class VIII and they all have huge loans to repay. But now with help from a private institution, they have hopes of a regular income, having enrolled in primary garbage collection from households as well as street beautification by the Cantonment Board.

Gnaanamani (53) of Chintadripet lost her husband Williams, a daily wage earner, four years ago. Two years ago, Ramesh, husband of her daughter, Lourdumary, died in a road accident. “My husband never let me go for work as long as he was alive. He took care of the family. Then, the death of my son shattered us,” she said.

Vijaya (50) of Chetpet lost her husband Kamalakannan, a conch and drum player at funerals and other rituals, about 20 years ago. “He was not an alcoholic, but playing the conch continuously affected his health. My son ran away and it has been a struggle to raise my three daughters, only one of whom is married,” Ms. Vijaya said.

The women, who had been employed as domestic helps, earned anywhere between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 4,500 a month, barely enough to meet their expenses. They also had dues for loans between Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 1.5 lakh taken for their daughters’ weddings and college fees.

Students of Loyola College, in the course of an outreach programme, noticed the women struggling in slum pockets in Choolaimedu, Teynampet, Chetpet and Chintadripet.

“Initially they were hesitant, but we conducted a serious of counselling sessions and orientation programmes and they are now more confident,” said Bernard D’Sami, head of the programme.

“They will be paid Rs. 366 a day and report by 7 a.m., work till 11.30 a.m. and take a break for lunch, before resuming work at 2.30 p.m. They can avail of free treatment for their family at our health centres,” said S. Prabakaran, chief executive officer of the Board.

More In: Chennai | News