CraftHER Week 2 Reflections

Another week in India and here are my thoughts…
CraftHER Week 2 Reflections
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This was another jam-packed week, starting off with a train journey to our next location: Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. The journey boasted stunning views of the backwaters and it was the perfect time to take in the scenery.

This week, our main focus was to work with the Kerala branch of the all-female trade union SEWA. The branch, founded in 1983, has over 35,000 members and focuses its efforts on pushing change for women members working in the informal sector. This sector includes domestic workers, fish workers, reed and bamboo weavers, street vendors and craftswomen, all of whom before becoming members of SEWA were not formally organised so could not have their voices heard or push for change. The work of SEWA is invaluable to these communities, especially as all leadership and members are women, so they truly understand women’s challenges, ensuring women recognise their labour as work. We had the opportunity to work with some of SEWA’s key members, including Nalini Nayak, one of SEWA Kerala’s founders. Her decades of extensive work in forming a feminist perspective on fish workers and shaping SEWA into the force of nature that it is today means that she is one of the most knowledgable, inspiring and frankly coolest women I have ever met and her perspective on patriarchy as intertwined with capitalism blew my mind. 

The highlights of the week for me were visiting units of reed weavers and pottery workers. The reed weavers had such quick skill in weaving baskets and fans in intricate patterns and I immediately could see the impact of earning an independent livelihood and community amongst the women, who weave together. What struck me was their joy and pride in their work and they were so kind and eager in teaching us how to weave a simple pattern. Even though we do not speak the same language, their warmth, vibrant spirits and humour shone through. I am so grateful for the women in sharing their stories, many of whom learned the skill from family or neighbours and continued to weave after marriage and unlike the fabric weavers, they really took pride in their work. They were kind enough to cook us the most delicious traditional lunch and I am getting used to eating with hands!

The scholars with the amazing bamboo weavers!

We also had the chance to see how the pottery pieces are made. On a sweltering, hot (still not used to the humidity) day, we were shown in the pottery workshops how they use the potters wheel and I volunteered to give it a try! I have tried to say yes to as many things as possible on this trip and this was one of them. It was difficult but so much fun to make it into a shape with the help of potter Vijay. We also met Suma, who proudly told us that her daughter has gone into craft, making souvenirs out of pottery. Her story shows how crafts can be updated to continue with the next generation. 

Team photo with the pottery artisans!

After much discussion and convincing, we agreed that we would set up a Instagram account @sewa.kerala. This was a big achievement as they were resistant at first, because they had reached so many women without it, but as they wanted to reach a younger audience, they agreed if we set one up for them. I created a brochure and product guide for their reed products, which was a huge learning experience as these would be sent to businesses who we thought should carry these products. I developed skills in marketing, storytelling and pricing and really did enjoy being creative and collaborating on the final product, before presenting it to the team! I have become more confident already in putting my ideas forward and taking on feedback. 

It would be remiss of me not to mention the amazing women working at our accommodation, the SEWA Rural Centre, just outside of the city. From cooking delicious, home cooked meals to making paper in their recycled paper making unit, they were always so warm and there was always laughter with them, especially at meal times. They shared with us their achievements with SEWA, such as protesting every evening for years against truckloads of rubbish being dumped next to the village, stubbornly laying on the ground and refusing to be moved! The centre is eco-friendly, surrounded by nature and was so peaceful. Monkeys infiltrated one of our morning yoga sessions, not something I had ever expected! The week ended with some free days, where we got to explore Thiruvananthapuram‘s rich culture and go to the beach. 

Learning how to reed weave…

I am filled with gratitude towards SEWA and the team for giving their time and energy for us to learn from them. Their leadership structure, from the grassroots upwards, means that any member can have their voice heard and the upskilling offered to the women is invaluable to their development and independence. I cannot emphasise enough how much all the amazing women I met this week have taught me and I will certainly be taking their resilience and fighting commitment to change.

The fantastic team at SEWA and our CraftHER team!

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Go to the profile of Lily Grace Else
13 days ago

Amazing work Megan, I am glad you are having a great time!! :) 

Go to the profile of Lucia Laffan
13 days ago

Having such a fabulous time!

Go to the profile of Lily Bates
13 days ago

So happy to be on this project with the whole CraftHER team! 

Go to the profile of Asha Scaria Vettoor
12 days ago

Haha. I'm so happy to see you getting used to eating with your hands. You'rereally soaking up everything Kerala has tooffer you, Megan. Thank you for beingso open minded :)