Strapping on the seatbelts of the passenger seat, Shereefa Rasheed begins to explain the working of the gear shift to her students. Speaking as only a veteran in the business can, she asks the neophyte in the driver’s seat to gently push the throttle. The car rolls forward.

The learners in the vehicle are, however, ignorant of her story, one of transformation from a plastic chair in a public call office to the bucket seats of the hatchback. Thank Kudumbasree.

Over the past decade, the movement has played a huge part in empowering thousands of women as Ms. Rasheed by equipping them with skills. Ms. Rasheed owes much of her success to the driving lessons arranged by Kudumbasree.

“I was working in the STD booth on a low-paying job when I joined Kudumbasree’s Tripthi unit at the Civil Station [in Kozhikode] in 2004. The first few months were tough. Those days, the autorickshaws for collecting waste were ridden by men. Later, some of us decided to learn riding the three-wheelers. Within two months, the men were replaced. Ours was the first group to do so in the city,” she says.

After working for more than five years, she decided to quit for health reasons. Lifting the waste-laden containers was taking a toll on her shoulders.

“On the last day of my work, I informed my acquaintances in various colonies that someone else will be collecting waste from the next day. Luckily, one of those house owners was running a driving school, and asked me if I am interested in teaching. For that, first I had to learn it myself as driving a car is a different game altogether from riding an autorickshaw. Thankfully, I made the shift easily and started teaching before long,” she says.

She has lost count of the number of students she has taught in the past three years. Be it sanitation work or driving lessons, she is happy in work that involves interacting with new people every day.

“When I used to do sanitation work, all but a few treated us with respect for the work we were doing. It is one of those acquaintances which paved the way for this new career,” she says.

She still regularly does cleaning work in a residential colony here after the families there requested her to do so.

“My day starts at 7 a.m. and I teach driving till noon. In the afternoon, I have a three-hour break during which I visit the colony to clean the streets. I help with the payment of electricity and phone bills for 77 households there,” she says.

Ms. Rasheed views the recent moves to close down some of the loss-making Kudumbasree units with a tinge of sadness.

“Many of the units find it hard to repay the loans and give enough payment to the members from the meagre amount that they collect from the households. But the government should support them rather than closing them down. Kudumbasree has changed the lives of many who would otherwise find no work, including me who has not even completed SSLC,” she says.

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