She answers the question ‘what is your age’ with ‘twenty something’. Soni Tirkey does not know her birth date. Many people from Soni’s age in rural India are not registered at birth. Soni, a stitching and finishing assistant at Paces Crafts, is happy to chat with the Women on Wings team that visited the social enterprise last December to explore how the two could partner in creating more livelihood opportunities for women in rural India.
Good for nothing
Soni comes from the state of Jharkhand and has never been sent to school, hence cannot read or write. Her family consists a married sister, a younger brother and her mother. Due to her poor circumstances she has never been diagnosed or treated for the acute asthma all her life. Being ill so often, people told her from a young age that she was good for nothing and she therefore saw a bleak future ahead of her. Maybe that is the reason Soni did not get married off at a young age, as was the norm in villages.
Taking action and control
After learning about her acute asthma, Soni somehow managed to come to old Rampur, a town close to Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, for treatment and started working as a cowherd. However, when she saw an opportunity at a local stitching training centre in 2016, she went and got trained. This is where she found out about Paces Craft and got herself a job at the social enterprise. Today, Soni lives with her aunt in the old Rampur village where Paces Craft is located.
Achieving dream by earning
Said Soni to the Women on Wings team comprising Supriya Kapoor, senior business consultant, and Gwen Windhorst, expert in finances: “My entire life has changed. I earn and live a life of independence and dignity. I am using my earnings to get treatment for my illness and I am also able to send some money to my mother. Paces is like my family and I am very happy working here.”
The biggest thing this job has done for her – she has learnt to dream. She wants to earn enough to make a house of herself and her mother. And it has given her the ability to achieve her dream of financial independence.
Paces Crafts empowers communities
P.A.C.E.S. stands for Production of Artisanal Crafts for Empowerment of Society. Its mission is to produce exclusive handmade textiles for the export market in a fair way. With the profits it finances support-programs for vulnerable children and their families in India. Paces Crafts is founded by the Belgian non-profit organisation Solid International. Paces Crafts develops custom made collections of conscious designers and sustainable brands abroad. With the help, technical input and marketing support from its Belgian founder Solid, Paces Crafts is empowering communities and keeping local craftsmanship alive.
In February 2020, Women on Wings has worked two days with the Paces Crafts team and its Belgian founding organization Solid on its new strategy and the way forward.
Picture – obviously from before Corona lockdown – f.l.t.r.: Sunita Topo, Gwen Windhorst, Soni Tirkey, Supriya Kapoor
Note: Because of COVID-19 Solid’s projects in the rural areas are postponed, but it continues staying in contact with the families it works with through WhatsApp and other digital means. The Indian government has obligated its 1,3 billion people to stay at home for a period of 21 days. Consequently, the Paces Crafts workshop is closed till further notice.