A night out with the girls
We’re writing to you from Mysore looking at images of the blizzard on boston.com. We hope that you are safe and wish we could melt the snow with the Indian sun!
Without a doubt, the greatest gift of this journey has been the opportunity to build friendships with the women of our new cooperative. Wednesday, we took a break from sightseeing and returned to Coimbatore to take the women and their children out to dinner. When they saw us they put flowers in our hair, pinched our cheeks, and painted our fingernails.
At night, our group of nine women and girls and two little boys marched through the city and into the restaurant. We were undeniably the largest group of women without an adult male present that we’ve seen during this trip. Sr. Alphonsa explained that a woman would never venture into a restaurant at night without a male counter part. We know that cultural norms run deep and that America struggles with its own gender inequalities, but that night we felt strong and proud and wondered if small moments like this could begin to change perceptions.
After dinner, we treated everyone to ice cream, including Leena’s 4-year-old son. Leena, a 25-year-old with a contagious smile, is the newest member of our cooperative. Her husband fell from a tree and needed to have his leg amputated. His parents currently take care of him since he is unable to work, but asked Leena and her son to leave their home shortly after the accident. Though she no longer lives with her husband, divorce is not an option. In India, it can take up to seven years for a divorce to go through and most men won’t agree to pay for the costs associated with the process. When asked how she felt about the situation she told us, “My life is over.”
Though she faces a tough road ahead, we know that there is hope. Rather than working as a housekeeper for $50 a month (rent alone is $20 a month), Sr. Stella invited her to join the sewing cooperative on the night of our beautiful welcoming ceremony. We can see that she is beginning to believe in a new future for her and her son. At dinner, she kept saying, “Much thanks, much thanks.” We are so excited to be a small part of her journey.
Joseph Anthony, Josephine Margaret’s 9-year-old son, had a sweet, gentle look in his eyes, and told us several times how he looks forward to coming to America. His father was killed in a motorbike accident five years ago and his mother, Josephine, still tells him his dad is serving time in the Indian military. While our focus has been on the women, we believe it’s so crucial here and in the US for little boys to grow up seeing their mothers as strong capable people.
Just two weeks ago we packed two little dress prototypes in our suitcases and headed to India. We never imagined that in just a few days Christina would replicate it so perfectly. Here, Josephine Margaret stands with one of the dresses we presented the first night and the new dress by Christina. Now the challenge will be for the other women to perfect their sewing skills.
We hope to raise funds to help train these fledgling seamstresses over the next six months. Ideally, they will become self sufficient, producing items not only for the Indian market but for our future product line as well. We’re incredibly hopeful, given that Leena sewed the dress she’s holding after just one day of training!