Ashirwad (“Blessings”) is a small group of women artisans who work in and around the Kolkata suburbs. The basic objective of the group is the social, economic and psychological well-being of its members, to enable them to provide a better life for themselves and for their families. Ashirwad seeks to upgrade the artisans’ skills, and to promote self-reliance and leadership. The group also fosters entrepreneurial skills among artisans, provides education opportunities and encourages the creation of savings accounts. Although they come from Hindu, Muslim and Christian homes, the artisans of Ashirwad share love and respect for each other. Ten Thousand Villages has purchased products from Ashirwad since 1989.
In 1989, Devadson was working with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) India’s child sponsorship program. Through the program, North Americans assist individuals by providing monthly support. As a way of saying thank you to the sponsors, MCC sent a Christmas greeting card with a star to the sponsors. One sponsor wrote back asking, “Why don’t you get a group together to make stars?
From there, Devadson and a group of eight women began the journey of forming Ashirwad. Although a compassionate person, Devadson emphasized that it’s not a charity. The women need to have skills; training generally takes about one and a half months. Though Devadson doesn’t take credit for the women’s success, it’s her love for people that has kept her going over the years.
“It’s not the money that comes in,” she says, “but seeing people’s lives changed in beautiful ways.” She enjoys interacting with people and being exposed to different lives. “When I hear about all that others are facing, it helps me to be grateful for what I have.”
Manzabi Khan, is one of the 12 women who had the opportunity to learn from Devadson. She’s been a part of Ashirwad since the beginning. Every Thursday, all the women meet at Devadson’s home. The women bring their products for quality control, and pick up new supplies. Today, Khan does all of the quality control and helps with training. Working one-on-one with each woman, she checks and measures every item—noticing things that others miss.
Much of Khan’s success in life can be linked to her work at Ashirwad. Like many Indian women, she lives for her children. Earnings from the past 19 years were often used for her children’s education and family necessities. With an arranged marriage at the age of 15, she dropped out of school in 8th grade after giving birth to her first daughter. She was 16 years old at the time. She now hopes to give to her children the education she was not able to attain. Today, her children are well educated, and all four of them speak English well. Her first daughter was sponsored thru MCC’s program and today, that daughter is working on her MBA while holding a part-time job.
Aparna Sarkar has worked with Ashirwad for only two years, but has proved to be a fast learner. Learning from both Devadson and Khan, she now helps teach the other women. Sarkar enjoys the companionship received by working with the other women—in addition to receiving an income.
In order for Ashirwad to continue being a blessing to others in the future, Devadson wants to train someone in the administration work. With the recent larger orders, her next step is to build a larger reserve to hire an administrator.