Bestowing a new life

Her daughter patiently watches as Rakhi (name changed) counts and punches sheets for a notebook she is making – an activity that momentarily takes her away from her identity of being a sex worker, giving her life a new meaning. “I am mostly idle during daytime, so I thought of indulging myself in some activity where I can learn something new and also earn some extra money,” she says.

“Each notebook comprises 100 pages, and it takes nearly 20 minutes to finish one. After every 25 pages, we insert a story, our story, which the readers can read,” she adds, as she gives finishing touches to the spiral-bound notebook.

Like Rakhi, many other women at G B Road are being trained to make notebooks under Project Navjeevan, an initiative by Enactus Satyawati in collaboration with NGO Kat-Katha, which intends to “improve the lives of women” in the capital’s red light area. Started in November 2013, the team decided to train the women in making notebooks as it did not require any prerequisite skills.

“Didis trapped in brothels lack self-confidence; simple things scare them. They do not have the courage to leave the profession at their own discretion. Afraid of acceptability from the society, they do not even wish to leave their places. Many suffer from a host of diseases, both psychological as well as physical. Their lives are confined within the four walls of their room,” Hitanshi, human resource head of the project tells Metrolife.

She adds that this is why the team decided to help them get a new life by training them to make notebooks. “Hence the name Navjeevan, where nav means new and jeevan means life. Here, they feel free to do what they love, have no fear of accusations and are independent,” she says.

The team says their prime objective is to constitute workmanship efficiency in these women through notebook making and impart vocational training in academe, stitching, technology, so that they can independently form a cooperative society in the long run. Any woman who is willing can be a part of the project and is then trained.

“We aimed at making this an eco-friendly project, and in the process are saving approximately 840 trees by using recycled paper. These notebooks are not just mere objects, it is their story. Each notebook tells the story of every didi involved in the production; a story about their inner resolve, their trepidations,” Hitanshi adds.

For raw materials, the team organises waste-collection drives at various schools, colleges and localities, which is then sent to Green-O-tech for recycling. The spirals are bought, and the covers are printed in old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar area. The notebooks are sold at local stationary shops, by Kat-Katha members, and are also available online.

However, while the project has benefited the women and helped with their monthly incomes, convincing them to be a part of the project was difficult initially. “The project has seen many ups and downs. From the early days of struggle of convincing didis, to contacting schools and institutions for recycled paper, we have seen it all. The material has to be made available to them at the right time so that they don’t lose interest. It is difficult to convince more didis to join in as they will have to face the wrath of their house heads. Many such factors lie in the path of their development,” says Akshita Mangal, chief editor.

She says the production also suffers when the women go back to their villages, but adds that the team believed and “took it all in the stride”.

“Fortunately, now where we stand is a result of our past decisions. Thus as we move ahead, we try our best to take the legacy forward; for the battle isn’t done and the hunger to help is still there,” Mangal says.

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