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A Stitch In Time

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sara Shah speaks to Priya Somaiya, executive director of USHA Social Services, about the humanitarian efforts of her venture for women empowerment, the USHA Silai Schools

You may be familiar with the USHA sewing machine as a quintessential staple in Indian households. And, our country’s fascination with stitching and sewing is well-known — in fact, sewing has for long served as a means for women to earn a living. Dr. Priya Somaiya aims to promote the economic aspect of sewing with her venture, USHA Silai Schools. She tells us more about the idea and her efforts to spread goodwill across India and even beyond its borders.

What was the inspiration behind the USHA Silai Schools initiative?
The inspiration behind USHA Silai Schools is to facilitate economic self-reliance for women. The programme helps women in rural areas  to overcome the difficulties that they face. This kind of empowerment helps women assume a leadership role and confidently face all challenges.

Can you tell us about a few interesting and notable experiences that you’ve had while working on the initiative?
During my visits to numerous villages across India, what captivated me most was the hunger for learning that rural women possess and the courage that these women display while travelling and interacting with strangers. They are extremely intelligent and talented, and are ready to
assume responsibilities in order to ensure the well-being of their family.

What do you think stands between woman and empowerment today?
The key factors that interrupt a woman’s growth are poverty, lack of education, orthodox traditions, as well as the conservative attitude that men have for women.

What, according to you, are the challenges that rural women face today? Do you think that times have changed and that they have more room for progress today than they did before?
Women who live in rural India face numerous challenges. These include a lack of basic facilities and education. Early marriages are still thriving today and several women suffer from a lack of nutrition and poor health. However, the social reality in rural India is changing because of media attention and government and CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes.

The Silai Schools initiative was undertaken by USHA International around four years ago. Has the company always wanted to do something like this?
For the last 25 years, USHA International has been committed to helping improve the quality of life for women and youth through sports and skill development activities. USHA has been supporting women through sports sponsorships and the company imparts sewing education to urban India through USHA sewing schools. The Silai Schools initiative is a natural extension of this philosophy. The initiative is aimed at empowering women who hail from marginalised sections of society.

What are the most noteworthy milestones that the initiative has achieved in the last four years?
We have expanded the number of USHA Silai Schools and as of February this year, there are 7,500 Silai Schools operational across the country. We have also set up schools in Nepal and Bhutan, which has allowed us to increase the earning potential of women working at our schools. For instance, on an average, women have started earning `3,000 per month, with some of them earning as much as `18,000 per month. Several women have even gone on to become master trainers in sewing and stitching.

What’s next for the USHA Silai School initiative?
We plan to scale up the programme. We are also hoping for a meaningful partnership with the government as well as with corporate groups. We plan to open the programme for men as well, and we’re also thinking about starting vocational training for the youth. Furthermore, expanding the initiative to all SAARC Nations is part of the agenda.

What is USHA International’s one message to the women in India?
Our message is simple — stand up on your own feet with courage, dignity and respect.

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