Banumati shared her story for Trusted Clothes blog. This story is used with her permission.
Banumati was born in the Government hospital on 14 June. She doesn’t know what year, but thinks she is now 21 years old. She doesn’t celebrate her birthday but her brother (who used to be the only one in the family bringing in a regular income) would buy her a new dress every year to celebrate her birthday. She has her Ma, Pa, 2 big brothers and 1 big sister. She attended school up to class 10. From class 7-10 she went to girls only school – “I didn’t like the way the school boys and village boys looked at me [impersonating the boys looking her up and down] so I got safety at the girls only school.
Banumati (Banu) enjoyed school. She enjoyed the friendships and jokes with friends. She was a well behaved student achieving average results. After completing class 10 (at age 15) she attended the 3 months sewing course at the chowk (where the village connects to the main road). Her big brother bought a treadle machine for her so she could make the family clothes, and do mending and altering. However, as the sewing class at the chowk has only two machines for 12 students, they spent the majority of their time hand stitching miniature clothes. She says that she didn’t learn how to sew on the machine and felt shame in her family. After that she worked with her mother planting rice in the paddy fields and raising goats for a few years.
A few years later, her sister came to hear about the Holi Boli sewing classes inside the village and suggested Banu attend. Her mother had also seen ladies walking to and from the sewing house and had asked them where they were going and verified the big sisters story. Banu’s parents and big brothers agreed and decided she would sign up. She was a bit nervous, her last sewing class was not fruitful. At first she felt confused as she did not understand all the new things and English being spoken at the Holi Boli sewing class. But she had a natural talent for sewing and enjoyed the developing friendships with fellow students. She felt relaxed after the first week. The translator (Jeni Paul, originally from Tamil Nadu, South India) helped her so much to understand and relax. Her family started to compliment her on her progress during the course and were impressed by all the different designs and sewing quality she was producing. On her graduation day she was so happy. She ran home with her certificate and jumped up and down in her house with pride.
Her family all congratulated her, patted her on the back and her Papa said, “Well done Banumati”. People in the village started to bring fabric for her to make them salwar dresses. She was earning money and could contribute to the family income. Now the family didn’t rely on one brother and worry if he fell ill. Eventually, an invitation was sent to her to join the Holi Boli sewing team. Her family were very happy and let her accept the steady part time employment. She still sews from home for the village in the afternoons, and earns money from that. And as a testimony to her hard working spirit and family values she still takes time off from working at Holi Boli on occasion to help her family plant rice in season (back breaking work). Some of the villagers that come to Banu say they can’t afford to pay her for the work. Banu does it anyway!
We love that! Banu’s hard work got her a chance, she is empowered and any chance she gets she ‘pays it forward’ – she empowers others! She is a sister helping sisters. That is the model Holi Boli encourages.
Banu enjoys sewing at the Holi Boli house and being part of the team. She holds high status in our village and her parents are very proud of her. Holi Boli is doing its best to sell more beautiful dresses to increase Banu’s hours and to employ more ladies in our village into meaningful work. There is so much need. India has launched ‘Make in India’; promoting businesses to manufacture in India to create jobs. Work and education are keys in the eradication of poverty they go hand in hand. Ethical fashion empowering sisters through meaningful work. It is not easy but it is worth it.
Thanks for reading Banu’s story. Love your sisters!
About the Author
Ana Wilkinson and her husband Daniel founded Holi Boli. Ana is passionate about fabrics, design and empowering women. Ana graduated from the College of Fashion and Design (now called Design and Arts College) in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1994. After a tour of India in 2006, it was time to realise her dream to create a company that offered the chance for women to have a respected niche in their village and money to feed their families. Holi Boli empowers women in villages through sewing training and employment.