As the rainy season in the UAE comes to an end, Kerala is just gearing up for its next monsoon. A group of UAE-based expatriates are lending a helping hand to unemployed tribal mothers in the state by promoting a brand of handmade umbrellas made by these women.
While leading umbrella brands engage in marathon campaigns to capture their share of the 10 million umbrellas sold every year in the state, the group of socially concerned expatriates have come together to help women of Attappadi – the largest tribal pocket in Kerala – to make a living by producing their own brand, Karthumbi.
Peace Collective, a group of Non-Resident Keralites, has helped the pilot project in order to provide employment to the to 50 tribal women.
The Kochi-based voluntary organisation Thampu, Peace Collective and Karthumbi, a welfare organisation for tribal children, are coming together with the umrella project to provide employment to tribal mothers of Attappadi, a tribal pocket in Kerala’s Palghat district.
Attappadi is one of the largest tribal settlements in the state. Last year, about 1000 umbrellas were made and sold profitably with the help of loans raised from expatriates. This year, the ambitious plan is for 50,000 umbrellas made by unemployed tribal mothers.
“Last year, our FB group members gave a loan of Rs 1,00,000 (Dh 5,500) to the Umbrella Project under Thampu, active in Attappadi. About 1,000 pieces of handmade umbrellas were made and sold in 2016. We have selected 50 unemployed tribal mothers in Attappadi, who lost their jobs after the central government stopped the self-employment scheme,” said Rajendra Prasad, who is pioneering the project.
“We are getting support from expatriate Keralites for the small-scale project. The tribal mothers can make good umbrellas that can compete with the big brands. It will be available for Rs 350 through direct marketing and online sales, a difference of 150-200 rupees per umbrella compared to big brands. We are giving jobs daily to 50 tribal mothers who work eight hours to make eight to ten umbrellas per day in their own homes,” said Dubai-based Chinthu Ratna Ravindran, coordinator of the Peace Collective FB group. The new batch of umbrellas are expected to be ready for sales by May this year.
“Peace Collective’s online group in Dubai have supported the tribal mothers of Attappadi and we are trying to get some more loans from the expatriate supporters to make 50,000 umbrellas this year.
“Whatever money was lent to the women last year was returned after the umbrellas were profitably sold. This year, the plan is to expand the umbrella making and in the process, each tribal mother will get Rs500 per day by making 10 umbrellas. For each umbrella, they get Rs 50 as wages,” said Prasad, who is in Dubai to meet the online mentors.
“Our dream is to reach the 50,000 umbrellas goal this air and give financial support to the women,” he said.
The Peace Collective group on Facebook – with members from India, USA and the UAE – was originally a small Google Plus group among friends.
“Fifty members have contributed some capital for the umbrella unit. This year, the government of Kerala has given a Rs1.6 million loan for the project and the remaining amount will be raised through small scale loans from the expatriate community; each member is trying to get Dh500 and will be returned by October after selling the umbrellas,” said Ravindran, a medical professional based in Abu Dhabi.
“Last year, we spent Rs100,000 and the money was returned to the lenders in October. We also plan to help them make soaps and detergents. Selling 30,000 umbrellas through direct marketing will not be a big problem in a state where Rs150 crore is spend every year for buying umbrellas.”
The umbrellas are being sold through direct marketing in Kerala colleges and schools; Rs 100 coupons are sold directly to the students and in-state government department hostels which provide free umbrellas.