Visiting the Cocobagh project this season finally feels like something has been achieved. Walking in and seeing the very smiley Shaikla Khatun was not only uplifting but really showed me far we’ve come not just strategically but relationally.
The detail of what we have achieved remains to be seen. I’m aware we must get something more than my inner gut sense down on paper. But the confidence of the trainees is palpable, visible and certainly evidence for me.
Looking back through the start of the training phase and our first set of students, it seems the first hurdle we’ll always face in the training process is instilling a sense of confidence and self worth. I can’t convey enough, but simply experiencing the change in people like Sakila’s confidence shows me that our vision is possible, and much bigger than simply training someone to stitch.
It may seem like a sloth-like process at times, but in a culture where caste is so deeply enshrined in the fabric of Indian psyche, it is a fine line to tread. If that’s the first hurdle, the second is just as tricky to manoeuver.
Giving an opportunity to those who have the least opportunity, whilst not discouraging those who are already working is not as easy as it should be. hard t build on the opportunity their dharma has given them. Not just that, now fully trained in stitching bags they are officially producing our Basic Cotton Tote bags that we use for our express printed bag service here in the UK.
So what have we achieved so far? We started with just six trainees back in July 2015. Just over a year later, they completed their training and are now stitching all our plain 5oz C01 cotton shoppers.
They have been paid a training fee for 12 months and back in July we moved them on to a basic stitchers salary. What is really interesting however, is that they now have the confidence to ask that they are paid what is called a ‘piece rate’ usually reserved for highly skilled stitchers who can operate very quickly. We are exploring this option with them but I’m mainly just encouraged they have the self belief to ask for it.
Three of our original students have now left the project, and this is for a variety of reasons. To be honest, I am yet to fully understand where they are now myself, but we intend to find out as it is interesting to see what motivates some to stay and some to move on. Possibly they have found that their new skills will allow them to find work from home where they are paid a very low ‘piece rate’.