Weaving a Different Life

T. Dhanalakshmi
My Transformation
From a struggling weaver to a leader in my village

My Story

My husband Thanagaivel and I were struggling as poor weavers in the village of Annaipettai. We lived in a thatched house with our daughter and two sons. My husband and I would travel to nearby villages and work as weavers on looms owned by others, but struggled to earn even Rs. 5,000 a month. Our money mostly went in bus fares and in trying to educate our kids.

The year 2011 marked a turning point for us after SST adopted our village. Their team conducted several meetings and encouraged me to join a women’s self-help group. I did not know anything about handling money, maintaining record books, or how to get loans. SST arranged three-months of training in basic accounting, or coolie kanak, and how to apply for a bank loan as part of an overall skills development program.

Emboldened, I applied for a loan to buy my own loom. SST helped me get Rs. 10,000 and I installed a saree-spinning loom in my house. So this means I ended up with an  income of Rs. 10,000 a month from weaving four silk sarees. After paying off the loan, I got another Rs. 10,000 to buy three goats to boost my income. SST also arranged a third loan through which I got an additional loom installed in my friend’s house, and we share the income from this.

Our monthly income has risen to Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 5,000. I have purchased a plot to build a house. My children now go to a private English-medium school.

Given I am a successful entrepreneur, everyone respects me and asks for opinion and inputs before taking any decision. This includes my husband, other family members, and people in my village. This has empowered me in so many ways.

The SST Way

Community Development Officer R. Thanabalan who worked with Dhanalakshmi

Dhanalakshmi was in a very bad state when we started to work with her. In the beginning, she did not get much support from her family when she joined the self-help group. Some of the members withdrew and she herself lacked confidence.

We began to use her for community development work in the village, and for jobs such as cleaning the village. We were initially skeptical and wondered if she and others were convinced about the gains they would make.

However, soon it dawned on her that she and others stood to benefit collectively from their actions as part of the self-help group. That as part of a group they could apply for bank loans, mobilise resources and be taken more seriously. The women also support each other and ensure there is peer pressure to remain responsible.

Soon Dhanalakshmi began participating in Gram Sabha meetings. She also regularly attended parent-teacher association meetings in balwadi and schools. She became very active in the community and began to lead from the front. She came forward to form the Thanjiamman SHG in 2011 and we extended all our support.

Today, she has grown as a business person. She is a natural leader and also a change agent because she is willing to help others and share her experience with them. What she’s achieved as an entrepreneur, clearly demonstrates to others in the community how it’s possible to improve one’s life. Today she employs four people, so villagers can see her prosperity and want to improve their lives, using skills they have. It’s almost impossible to think of her as poor weaver who was struggling and for us, that’s sustainable change.

Our Takeaways

People skills are key and it’s important to provide solutions that work for them.

We have to partner people as a family and be with them during their ups and downs in life to show we are supportive. Such an approach helps build trust over the long term. Think long term.

We do come across people in the community who maybe skeptical about our programs or in seeking loans. It is important to motivate and involve this group first, and so we try to work even harder to convince them. This approach has paid dividends.