Hope and determination in Kolkata’s slums

Basanti is one of many women who is learning embroidery skills as part of the Cathedral Relief Service training centre, which AOA supports. Being the mother of two children, her new skills enable her to earn money and keep them in school. She hopes for a brighter future and says, “I want to work hard and earn more to make the life of my children better.”

The goal of the project in Kolkata is to ensure that local women and girls – who are some of India’s most marginalised – receive skills training so they can earn a living to sustain themselves and their families. The project provides this training for more than 300 women in the slum communities so they can set up their own small businesses and marketable skills. The program also includes education about their health and rights.

As has been the case in many parts of the world, the government lockdown due to COVID-19 in India has had a devastating effect on people living in Kolkata’s slums. Most people live from day to day, earning meagre incomes running roadside stalls such as tea stands. With these sources of income removed, whole families who are already living below the poverty line are left without the means to fend for themselves.

While the project’s work was suspended for a time due to the virus, CRS is now providing education on sanitation and producing masks and personal protective equipment. The project is even planning an increase in the number of women and adolescent girls participating and is extending the training to produce low cost sanitary napkins to ensure the women can continue to earn a living.

It also aims to help more girls have access to online education via smartphones, which may help prevent a surge in mental health conditions such as depression brought on by the pandemic.

For women like Basanti, hope abounds.