Volunteer expert gets impressed and inspired during Kashmir field visit

So here I am, back home, sipping Kashmiri kahwa from a mug, and reflecting on and digesting the past few days when I worked with Women on Wings business partner SEEDS in Srinagar, in Kashmir, the most northern state of India. I travelled to Srinagar to work with Sanna Masood, founder and CEO of SEEDS, and her team on finalizing the marketing strategy of Vestaun, the brand name under which SEEDS sells its products.

We have worked already months on the development of the brand in weekly online sessions. But now it was time to do a field visit and finalize the strategy and prepare the official launch. Here’s a short recap of my experiences of the field visit that I did prior to the workshop with SEEDS’ team, to get a better understanding of how women are growing and processing the Vestaun products.

The definition of a power woman has been given a whole new dimension to me.

Sanna and I visited a small traditional village, one and a half hour’s drive from Srinagar. We spent some time drinking chai in the house of Shubhnum who is like a second mother to Sanna. Sanna is her “adopted child”. There was a lot of love between the women, I could see and feel it.

After some time, the men left the room. That’s when I got to talk with the women, with Sanna translating. I asked Shubhnum how working with Sanna and Vestaun has impacted her life.

Shubhnum, a leader of a Self-Help-Group of women and also of the SEEDS service centre, was happy to share: “All my hard-earned money goes to good only. I am not just eating and putting food in my mouth, nor buying fancy clothes. No, I am earning. I am earning not just money, but more importantly I am earning a better esteem and standing within my family and the community. I put aside money for my children’s education. I am working to give them a better future, more options, and a choice in life.”

We also visited another village, where we met Firdausa, a young, optimistic, and timid woman. She works on the fields for SEEDS during the season, and during wintertime she is a tailor. She said she likes both jobs equally.

She recently got ‘engaged to be married’, and after marriage she will move in with her husband and his family, in another village. She rents a small shop in her own village where she can sew the traditional gowns that all the local women wear. She also embroiders beautiful bedsheets. She makes very little money and asked Sanna if she can support her in getting more embroidery work during winter. She hopes she can keep the current shop open and have her sister work in it when she moves to her husband’s village and open another one there for herself.

We drink more chai, laugh and are curious about each other. It is not that often that women like me visit these villages. While talking to them, I get to understand that they live under harsh circumstances in a complex region, not only because of the harsh weather in winter.

These women are real heroes. Standing strong, facing whatever life throws at them, and always coming back up stronger, rising above it all like a phoenix, determined to make their and future generations’ lives better.

We can’t achieve progress if half of the world’s population continues to be left behind, and their talent and potential remain untapped. That is why Sanna and her company are of utmost importance to women like Shubhnum and Firdausa. I can’t wait to see the products of Vestaun – which means feminine friendship – out there in the market, shine on social media and have successful sales. Ultimately, we work towards that one goal which is to engage and empower more women in Kashmir.

Judith Heijnen
Marketing expert