A Thriving New Plan for Women in India
During the height of the global pandemic last year, missionaries at Don Bosco Tech in Katihar, India wondered how they could best support area families who lost their jobs and their only source of income. Today, thanks to an agriculturally inspired idea, women’s incomes are flourishing—as well as their confidence.
“As an organization, we knew we had to create a program to teach these families new skills that would help them stay in their own villages and earn an income,” says Father George Mathew, executive director of Don Bosco Tech. Missionaries also knew from experience that this program should focus on women.
“In India, nearly 90 percent of employed women work in the ‘informal economy’,” explains Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “This includes, for example, household workers, street vendors, trash-pickers and unskilled laborers. It’s hard work that tends to be easy to find until something disrupts it. In this case, the unanticipated hardships caused by the pandemic ultimately created new opportunities for women to elevate their proficiencies and escape the trap of labor exploitation. More than that, it empowered them to make meaningful contributions to their families’ finances.”
Rooted in Salesian practicality, Don Bosco Tech’s new mushroom-farming program also appealed to women who had never worked outside the home and who otherwise may have lacked the confidence to do so. Participants learned the fundamentals of home-based growing and—with minimal up-front costs—were able to launch their own small enterprises.
“This doesn’t need a lot of land,” explains Soni, one of the program’s early enrollees. “And, more importantly, it doesn’t require a lot of money to get started.” Soni now grows mushrooms that she can sell to help support her family. To date, Soni and 52 of her fellow students have doubled (and sometimes even tripled) their initial investments in supplies.
The program has yielded many intangible results as well.
“In the beginning, many of the women were shy and hesitant,” observes Santosh, a trainer working in the program. “Now, they are outgoing and eager to learn new things.” In fact, he says, participants have even inspired their neighbors, who have noticed a positive change in the women’s demeanor and sustainable earning potential.
Because of this, Salesian-affiliated programs across the region are bringing the same training to even more women and families.
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