My six weeks at Sabala have been really eye-opening. There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but I only wish to write about the positives.
The first thing I want to mention is that the ladies who work at Sabala are absolutely wonderful. The women come from under-privileged, difficult backgrounds. Many are very poor and there are a couple of people with disabilities making them unable to walk. For them, Sabala has provided a 3-wheeled arm-powered wheelchair making it possible to travel independently to and from work with the rest of the women. Some of the women come from ethnic tribes and live in remote villages. Others are either divorced or widowed. They all specialise in a particular area of the production unit, whether it’s in embroidery, Banjara craft, making jewellery, using the sewing machine, or creating bag linings.
I spent the majority of my time researching Indian trends, my target market, looking at Sabala’s fabrics and products. I would then attempt to come up with some designs – which was tough considering I had no experience in design and no real guidance in this placement. These designs were approved by my “supervisor” and I would then choose the fabric to use. Due to the fabric cutter constantly absent, and unable to communicate with anyone due to language barriers, I taught myself pattern cutting and over six weeks developed 21 products (I was only required to make 12 but with no assistance, supervision and being left to my own devices 95% of the time, I had no choice but to just keep making more).
Every day, I would be taken by rickshaw to the craft center, which was often a nightmare as I would have to haggle a price every morning, which got a bit tiresome. I loved spending my lunch time with the women of the craft center. They tried to teach me some of their Kannada language, and tried so hard to speak to me despite their limited, broken English. Often one of the men at Sabala would take me home on their motorbike at 6pm where I would meet Brendan and we’d go out for dinner – not that there was a great number of places to choose from.
My final day at Sabala was a very emotional one – in two ways. Despite being made to cry when my “supervisor” – Teju – shouted at me for getting photos printed for the women as a leaving present, she didn’t ruin my day. I had also bought some small gifts for the women and we spent the day taking photos, eating and Brendan came in the afternoon to bring the printed photos so it was a wonderful day, which I will never forget. I did not expect that everyone at the centre had put some money together to get me a gift too – a framed image of the Hindu god, Ganesh, a hairband, some flowers they had picked outside and a bar of chocolate. Such a beautiful experience!