Chandrika Naik – a story of grit and determination

Thirty-seven-year-old Chandrika Naik (left) lives with her large family of nine members in village Sulumaha in India’s south-eastern state of Odisha. All her four children are getting educated, albeit online currently due to COVID-19 pandemic. Her marriage at the age of nineteen changed the course of her life. She wanted to continue her education, but her plans had to be paused as her first child, a daughter, was born within the first year.

Supportive family
Chandrika knows the value of education, hence always worked alongside her husband to educate their four children. Since she herself was a class ten pass, she would teach her children in the earlier years. Her older daughter, along with her husband -a small-time businessman- rooted for her to finish her schooling and do her graduation, which she did after all her four children were born. Her understanding of English is strong, learned Seema Dawar, Communications Officer at Women on Wings who interviewed Chandrika earlier this month for this article. Like most women, Chandrika’s happiness lies in her children getting educated. Her secondary happiness is derived when she works for the women in her village.

Hopes and Dreams
Chandrika dreams of her eldest daughter becoming a doctor. Whereas she has given her second daughter the freedom to pursue whatever she likes. And her twin sons -being only twelve years of age- are still figuring out what to do. Chandrika’s own dream is to work for the community in her village. She believes that for the society to grow and prosper, every individual must advance, particularly women who steer the families and communities towards progress.

Professional journey
Due to her education, Chandrika got an opportunity to become a bookkeeper with Orissa Livelihood Mission in 2014. Her salary, albeit small, contributed to supporting her family. Eager as she was, Chandrika also became a member of a Self-Help-Group (SHG) in her village and availed of Government schemes and incentives. She started stitching plates made of Siali leaves, a biodegradable dinnerware option, alongside her bookkeeping job, thanks to which her income increased. It gives Chandrika happiness that the plates making is done in her village. This way she can balance her family and professional life, plus she gets to interact with other village ladies who also make Siali leaf plates and who have become her friends.

Extra income live changing
Her earnings are Chandrika’s own and she and her husband collaborate in every sphere of their lives. She, however, puts aside her savings to educate her children and her whole family’s future. Chandrika understood early on in her marriage that livelihood and an additional income changes lives. Her husband fell ill after they had two children and it put a lot of pressure on the entire family. It was then that Chandrika started working which changed the course of their lives. Experiencing the change in herself, she then put this to motivate other women in her village to work for the SHG’s. As a result, Chandrika witnessed that more women got empowered in her village and more children were sent to school. Luckily, her husband recovered and was able to resume work after a while.

COVID-19 impact
COVID-19 had a huge impact in Chandrika’s village, like in any other place around the globe. Due to the lockdown, transportation stopped and there was nowhere to sell the leaf plates. SHG’s stopped getting loans and hence no money was being distributed. Chandrika’s husband’s business also shut down. But resilience is Chandrika’s middle name. She continued with her bookkeeping job at Orissa Livelihood Mission which generated some basic income. She also made some additional money by stitching face masks. Her positive attitude inspires many others. She is confident of riding out this wave and see the other side.

Women on Wings and Chandrika
Chandrika’s SHG is associated with Women on Wings’ partner Rassaa Creations and Innovations (Rassaa), which operates its business from Jamshedpur, in the Indian state of Jharkhand. The social enterprise produces and markets ethical, eco-friendly products such as Siali leaf plates, hand made by tribal women, for the environmentally conscious customer. Women on Wings and Rassaa started collaborating early 2020 on their joint mission to increase the number of jobs and create livelihood opportunities for women in rural India where Rassaa is working, like in Odisha, south of Jharkhand.

Image: Chandrika (left) with Women on Wings’ joint managing director Shilpa Mittal Singh during a field visit with the Rassaa management, December 2019