KERALA

Women weave a success story

CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITY: Women in and around Kodungallur engaged in making screwpine products. Photo: K.K. Najeeb

CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITY: Women in and around Kodungallur engaged in making screwpine products. Photo: K.K. Najeeb  

More than 100 products manufactured

K. Santhosh

KODUNGALLUR: Till recently, they found it hard to make ends meet, with an income of Rs.7.50 a day.

Mat weavers Mary Thomas of Nedumaparambil House at Kara, Fatima Siraj of Puthussery House at Azhikode and Mani Soman of Kalarikkal House at Kottapuram speak about the problems the screwpine weaving industry faced.

"Less demand for traditional screwpine mats, with the emergence of plastic, rendered the weavers jobless," they say.

All this changed once the women got together and formed self-help groups, at the initiative of the Kottapuram Integrated Development Society (KIDS), run by the Kottapuram diocese.

"About 30,000 families in and around Kodungallur have benefited from various women's empowerment programmes implemented by the diocese. About 5,000 women work in the screwpine weaving sector," says Fr. Johnson Panketh of KIDS.

The work won appreciation from the Union Ministry of Textiles and support under the Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojana.

Screwpine is a plant of the genus Pandanus, characterised by aerial prop roots and clusters of long, slender leaves. Dried screwpine leaves are used for weaving and thatching. "It is an effective substitute for plastic," says Fr. Panketh.

The KIDS has conducted skill upgradation and design improvement programmes for weavers.

"We knew that only value-added products through design improvement would help the weavers. We made experts from the National Institute of Design conduct workshops, develop new patterns and introduce innovative colour schemes. The result was amazing. The products had a lot of takers. A foreign spice company uses chocolate-coloured screwpine boxes made by us. An international hotel chain gives its clients gifts in boxes made by us. Most of the products made by the weavers are exported. The demand is such that we are planning to form more self-help groups and step up production," says Fr. Panketh.

The weavers make more than 100 products, including baskets of different shapes and sizes, mats, cushion, laundry boxes, stationery kits, bags, hats and greeting cards.

"We knew to make only mats. Thanks to KIDS and experts from the NID, we create a lot of innovative stuff now," says Ms. Mary.

Fr. Panketh says the major achievement of KIDS has been the setting up of a marketing network for products developed by the self-help groups. "Every woman makes between Rs.1,500 and Rs.3,000 a month. With more skill upgradation programmes, we will be able to increase their monthly earnings."

Fr. Panketh says that membership of self-help groups is given irrespective of caste or creed. "This is a development programme launched by the diocese, not an ecumenical service. There are less than 15 per cent Christians in the groups."

With huge demand for its products, KIDS plans to enter screwpine cultivation. "We will plant screwpine in a few areas in Kodungallur," Fr. Panketh says.

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