Helping Narikurava women export products to global markets

JALY Home, run by Samugam Trust, provides a new lease of life for members of the nomadic tribe with a range of initiatives

The gift stockings hung from evergreen trees across several homes in Australia this Christmas will have a connection to this city. The gift hampers are the handiwork of young women from the Narikurava tribal settlements here.

At the JALY Home, a refuge for street and gypsy children run by the not-for-profit Samugam Trust, a group of destitute women, including members of the nomadic tribe, are busy sewing a range of products from upcycled saris — from gift stockings, dolls and eco-friendly bags to purses and pouches.

The export demand originates from the U.K., Australia, France and Belgium.

The tailoring unit with a dozen sewing machines is part of the self-sustaining activities at JALY (Justice Awareness Loyalty for Youth) Home, which was established 15 years ago to wean away the children of Narikurava settlements in Lawspet, Udayampet and Madagadipet from rag-picking and begging on the streets for sustenance.

“The tribal families would try to justify seeking alms or rummaging garbage piles as they had children to feed. So, we realised that our first intervention should be enrolling the children in government schools,” said Bruno Savio J., who founded the Samugam Trust and Home.

“We had to break through the initial resistance and distrust to convince them to send the children to school. The nomadic nature of these people also posed a challenge,” he said. “Now, it is almost a standard practice, and we have 100% enrolment rates in these colonies and drop-outs are very few.”

300 children

The NGO has under its care about 300 children, including 116 at the Krishna Nagar shelter, 96 at the Boys’ Home in Tiruchi, and another 70 children who are being sent to school from the settlements.

The project has had plenty of benefactors in the city and abroad, like Rita, a Belgian philanthropist who helped in various ways in its early days, and Jal Ong, a Spanish citizen whose donation helped it move from a rented place to its own premises at Krishna Nagar.

There are Samugam Trust chapters in Belgium and Australia, as well as volunteers in the U.K. and Spain, who coordinate export orders for the products.

The tailoring enterprise is supported by the Province of West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, and Gayle Factor, a women’s empowerment initiative in Melbourne.

Award

Last year, the Samugam Trust/JALY Home was presented with the 2019 Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar.

The first generation of girl adoptees are now job-ready, while a few others have, by choice, been married off to fine young men.

Kausalya, from a Narikurava settlement in Lawspet, who was enrolled as a 13-year-old under the Right To Education Act, 2009, and Khushboo, have completed a nursing course and are set to become nurses at private hospitals. Vijayalakshmi, who is pursuing a catering course, is interning at a restaurant opened by the Home in Kuyilapalayam near Auroville.

The Home raises these children in an ambience that matches, if not exceeds, the regular experience of mainstream peers, with guitar/keyboard lessons, yoga, computer classes, classical dance and silambam training.

Changing the lives of street children has sparked an attitudinal and behavioural change back in the tribal settlements, said Mr. Savio, who is supported in the endeavour by his wife, Annie Nirmala.

The tribals procure balloons and toys in bulk and sell them for a profit on the Promenade Beach on a one-time Trust grant of ₹7,000 for each family. During the pandemic, the Trust has been providing a regular supply of groceries to the settlements.

Efforts are on to retrain the Narikuravas in their traditional skill of making beaded jewellery to tie in with a proposal to get corporate clientele to use them in the lanyards of ID cards.

There is also a noticeable awareness on health and hygiene. Not too long ago, women would deliver their babies in their ramshackle hutments. These days, institutional delivery is the default choice.

The Home does not keep images of any God. “We celebrate Diwali, Ramzan and Christmas with equal enthusiasm,” Mr. Savio said.

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