Meet a group of women who spotted an opportunity in the Covid-19 induced crisis. Jeevanam—a women empowerment initiative based out of Thakazhi in Alaphuzha were quick to tackle the pandemic head on.
With the impact on their means of daily livelihood due to the nation-wide lockdown and the stores running low on mask stocks, these women came together to make cloth masks to help society. “Due to the lockdown, we realised that the availability of masks was limited in our area. That is when we decided we will start our own mask production,” shares Deepa Nair, coordinator of the group.
The initial challenge was getting the raw material in a lockdown. “Procurement of raw material was a cause of concern initially as most of the shops were closed. But the ladies came up with the idea of using the clothes purchased for stitching their children’s school uniform for the first lot of our mask production,” says Deepa and adds, “These women believe that it’s their duty to do something for the society during a crisis situation. So we decided to stitch masks as most of us know how to sew. Now, donors are helping by giving us cloth, but earlier, we put in our own resources.”
Jeevanam was formed after the 2018 Kerala floods as a rehabilitation program to help the people recover from the natural calamity, shares Deepa. “Initially, we focussed on providing the flood victims with needed utensils, groceries, and so on. But, we were also thinking about a programme that will help give them livelihood too. That is when, we decided to bring together the women of the flood-affected areas together, and that’s how Jeevanam became a stitching unit,” says Deepa, a HR professional who returned to Kerala from the US early 2018.
With the help and support of the local municipal authority, the first unit of Jeevanam started functioning at Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai Memorial Government UP School. The unit is run by the mothers of students at the school. The network gradually spread and their stitching units are now at two schools in Alappuzha and one in Kottayam.
“The main idea of the product is to give back to society and contribute while building a sustainable living. We started with producing garments and moved to the recycling of clothes when the state-imposed plastic ban. We made bags, and purses out of old clothes. Now, we are focusing on creating re-usable masks, as it is the need of the hour.”
Since most of the women are from a poor background, making ends meet has been a challenge during the lockdown. Jeevanam has stepped up their efforts to help them. “The whole idea of Jeevanam is community building. We support each other in every possible way. We pay for their groceries. We tell them to purchase from a particular grocery shop in their locality, and we transfer the amount directly to the shop’s account. Hence, there is no need for anyone to physically handle all this. We try to understand what they would need the most and provide them with the same,” says Deepa.
The group has so far distributed masks in various government departments like the local KSEB office. “We work with the help of CSR funding and donor contributions. The money received is utilised for material purchases. While the money we get from the sale of the product is paid to the women.”
Emphasising about the future plans, Deepa shares, “We are planning to get necessary permissions to make hand sanitisers and distribute them for free. We are also trying to make this unit more financially viable.”