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‘Gulmeher’ Is Transforming The Lives Of Waste-Pickers By Training Them To Become Skilled Artisans

  • IWB Post
  •  July 12, 2019

Ghazipur in East Delhi is known to be one of the oldest functional landfills in the city. Spread over an area of 29 acres, the mountain of garbage is barely eight meters short of Qutub Minar, the world’s largest brick minaret. While ravens leisurely circle over the mountain of decaying trash, the community of waste-pickers in the area battle hazardous conditions to eke out a living, by collecting every bit of recyclable material from the simmering piles of trash.

Fortunately for those at the bottom of the pyramid, six years ago, as a part of CSR initiative,    IL& FS envisaged Gulmeher Producer Company, which was born with a vision to ensure that the benefits of development reach the underprivileged people.

Gulmeher, literally meaning ‘the blessing of flowers’, since its inception has transformed the lives of 30 women waste pickers working in said landfill by providing them alternative livelihood opportunities. These women are trained to become artisans and to ensure inclusivity the women are also made the shareholders of the company.

In a recent chat with the mentor at Gulmeher, Anurag Kashyap, we got insights into how the company is empowering its women by providing them a safe haven and transforming their lives.

Gulmeher

Salma

Here are the excerpts:

To begin with, how did you convince the women to come on board?

It wasn’t easy to convince the women initially, because they couldn’t understand what we were doing and what it would have for them. Belonging to a community that is prone to accidents in the landfill and often faces abuse, they were reluctant. However, gradually they developed confidence in us. They didn’t want to travel too far and leave their children alone. So we established Gulmeher right next to where they live and to overcome the challenge of their kids being left alone, we started an education unit where more than 200 children of the women working with us now are being educated. We have 30 women working with us who come from the community of waste pickers, out of which some are full-time workers and others are engaged on a part-time basis according to the requirement of work.

With these facilities available for them at Gulmeher, it gives these women the confidence that the company is not only a resource centre for them, but for their children as well. From an aspirational perspective, all the women are very clear that they do not want their children to be living the same kind of life as they did. The strength of Gulmeher lies in the sense of empowerment these women feel in themselves now.

Wow, that’s indeed great work that your organization is doing. So what items are they making and how much are the women involved in the creative process?

The women are making products from recycled paper and waste flowers. These flowers are taken from the leftovers from the wholesale flower market, which is next door. They make items like calendars, notebooks, gift boxes, photo frames, diyas, holi colours, and cardholders, to name a few.

Coming to the creative process, we have a full-time designer from NIFT who has been with us since the beginning. She conceptualizes the products and then trains the women in terms of what needs to be done. So, overall, the design component is our designer’s idea and its implementation is done by the women.

I have to say that these women have come a long way from being waste pickers to becoming skilled artisans. They have also made portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn with flower petals, and you see these are actresses who they would have never seen or heard of. So coming from a background where they didn’t have any formal education, or say, the patience to sit on a table for even half an hour, these women are doing amazing work that involves finesse.

The iconic Marilyn Monroe, captured on canvas with flower petals. Gulmeher artisans took three weeks to make this portrait, painstakingly cutting and pasting dried rose petals. (They didn’t miss out on the mole either!) . . . #gulmeher #driedflowers #pressedflowers #customization #custompotrait #potrait #ngo #ecofriendly #giftideas #gift #handcrafted #indianhandicrafts #zerowaste #socialchange #floralart #wastepickers #womenempowerment #socialentrepreneurship #socialbusiness #goodsthatdogood #corporategifts #customizedgifts #marilynmonroe #gogreen #recycle

47 Likes, 1 Comments – Gulmeher (@gulmeher_delhi) on Instagram: “The iconic Marilyn Monroe, captured on canvas with flower petals. Gulmeher artisans took three…”

Do you observe a change in them over the years?

Yes, there has been a tremendous change in how they were when they joined Gulmeher six years ago to now. We have seen in these women the quest to learn. They expressed their wish to be able to read and so we started conducting adult learning classes. They are very proud to be contributing to the family income. All of them have regular bank accounts in which their wages are credited. A couple of women have also made contributions to build pakki jhuggis and toilets.

These women are inherently intelligent; it’s just that they haven’t had an opportunity at the right time. It’s fascinating to see their growth and I would like to believe that with the opportunities that they are getting now, you will see them flowering and maximizing their potential.

‘Signature Essentials for Mom’ Check out our carefully curated Mother’s Day Gift hampers. . . . #gulmeherdelhi #Gulmeher #womenempowerment #women #womenentrepreneurs #womenscollective #india #skillindia #recycle #artisan #ecofriendly #greenproduct #wastepickers #notforprofit #socialchange #mothersdaygift #mothers #mothersday #mom #giftsformom

25 Likes, 2 Comments – Gulmeher (@gulmeher_delhi) on Instagram: “‘Signature Essentials for Mom’ Check out our carefully curated Mother’s Day Gift hampers. . . ….”

 

Would you like to share a success story of any woman who you are proud of?

Oh yes, there are many.  But to name a few, Rukshar is one of our supervisors in the phool-patti unit. She comes from the community of waste pickers and was one of the first women who joined Gulmeher six years ago. From being a waste picker to now supervising quality check and making sure that women are getting the right inputs, she has come a long way since she started. Another lady, Kusumlata, is one of the leaders in her community. She also comes from a disadvantaged family. Many women look up to her as she is someone who stands up for them, handling any issue faced by them. Then there is Aashiana, our artist, who made one of the portraits I mentioned before. It was gifted to the Prime Minister.

Gulmeher

Gulmeher certainly brings happiness and joy to many. So what’s next in store?

The women are good enough to become trainers themselves now. We are being called by people to conduct workshops and these women will now teach other people how to make natural holi colours from haldi and beetroot. Apart from this, they will also show them the fine work that goes behind making the portraits. I have to say that the portraits might appear simple but when you sit down to do it; it’s extremely painstaking work. These workshops will certainly be a step up for them, as it is a big morale boost from being someone who is told what to do, to being someone who has now become a trainer. Physically, they are confident in terms of what they can do, but mentally the transition will be something that will hold them in good stead.

We also got an opportunity to speak to Salma, who joined Gulmeher leaving behind a life of drudgery. When asked about the difference she feels in her life as compared to the work she did before, Salma shared, “I feel very good to be working at Gulmeher. Before this, I used to pick garbage. We had to face a lot of problems then. We would fall sick, and there were no fixed means of earning. We didn’t get proper food to eat. But now we get everything in Gulmeher. I learned how to read and write here and recently appeared for fifth grade examination. I have a daughter who also studies here. I would like her to become a doctor or policewoman.”

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