February 9, 2010

The weaving project

In a dimly lit warehouse live a variety of looms that work in a soothingly efficient rhythm as they fabricate 
pieces of cloth. Some men spin thread onto bobbins, while others prepare the thread for the looms. The majestic contraptions magically produce cloth with a mechanism I have yet to understand.

Among the rice paddies of Canning lie the two weaving projects of Calcutta Rescue, the main Tamuldah site and the smaller Canning site. Training students who fail to make it to school as well as impoverished local youth, the program offers them both skills and employment in the fine trade of weaving.  All of the cloth produced goes to clothe the patients of CR clinics, to make uniforms for the students who often cannot afford clothing, is used by the people at the handicrafts project, and even supplies the entire stock of bandages used at the clinics, particularly the leprosy clinic. Materials produced are poplin, cotton shawls, and even fine silk. Rather than exporting its goods as a business, the program is an internal way of sustaining CR through supplying necessary fabrics, as well as sustaining the 4 staff and 12 weavers it employs. Trainees were recruited by the local government in 1997 when the project began, giving them basic 6-month weaving training, after which most students continue to work for the project while some move on to production at other sites. Workers are paid a salary and a nutrition stipend, which helps to support their family in this area of high unemployment and poverty.

Asif has been the supervisor of the entire weaving project for the past 11 years, having received a degree in export management as well as government weaving society training to prepare him for this demanding job. He is proud of the work that goes on at these training centers, glowing as he shows visitors around Canning and Tamuldah with delight. However, he has not always been in such a fortunate position; it has taken many years of work to get to this position. "I grew up very poor," he says. He used to do hotel work in Delhi before he found this opportunity at Calcutta Rescue. "I am continuously fighting. I am still now fighting. My life is fighting. But my mind is honest. I am honest. I have inspiration from my past history. This is my challenge."

I had the honor of sketching one of the men that create the excellent, colorful threads and fabrics. Kanai Sardar is an expert weaver at the Tamuldah site, who has worked there since he completed the training 11 years ago. From South Iswaripur, he was a "native local poor boy" when he was recruited for the weaving project and took advantage of the education and job opportunity. His favorite thing about his job is producing the very finest weight cloth. He says his biggest difficulty in life has been not being able to find a job and support his family, an anxiety that he is thankful to put to rest now that he can rely on employment through the weaving project. Through his work, he earns enough to support a wife and two daughters.

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