A proud mother of two, Epsheba makes sure that both her son and daughter have equal opportunities in life. The salary that she earns from working at Women on Wings’ business partner Shalom Ooty is used for continuing the education of her two children. Her son studies in 8th grade and her daughter wants to become a nurse after completing the 12th grade this year.
The tradition of getting married, not of getting a job
The Women on Wings team that worked with Shalom Ooty on its sales strategy this summer, came into a conversation with Epsheba who was very pleased to share her journey in life. She moved to Ooty, a popular hill station town in the Nilgiri Hills in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu after she got married in 2005.
Says Epsheba: “When I lived with my parents in a small town, I got a diploma to work as an electrician. However, the diploma never materialized into a paid job. I had no dreams of working. In those days, in my community, it was common that girls would get married, move to their in-laws, stay at home to do the household chores and have children. That’s what I initially also did. I never could have imagined that earning an income would give me pride, joy and increased self-confidence. All that I am feeling today.”
Income provides children quality education
Soon after she moved to Ooty, she started doing small mock up embroidery at home to supplement the family income. Her husband works as a security guard, but his income never allowed them to put money aside. “After giving birth to my children, I realized I needed to save money for their education. The more quality education they get, the better opportunities they have in life. So, I really wanted to work and contribute to their education,” says Epsheba.
Creating a marketplace for Toda women
In 2015 she learned about Shalom Ooty, a social enterprise founded by Sheela Powell, that sold household items handmade by local women in Ooty. Epsheba began working for Sheela, on a paid-per-piece basis. Women from the Toda village in the Ooty region also began approaching Sheela to sell their hand-embroidered shawls. Toda women who were once Sheela’s student friends in school, but who were now oppressed and had little left but their unique craft. Sheela became dedicated to creating a marketplace to enable the Toda community’s women to strive for increased financial freedom.
Epsheba worked as a freelancer for Sheela and then became an employee at Shalom Ooty with a fixed salary giving her family a regular additional income. Epsheba greatly enjoys creating products that are appreciated by many tourists who visit Ooty. “My technical background helped me in quickly mastering that huge professional stitching machine with which I turn the beautiful Toda embroidery into various products, like bags and pouches in all sizes, table runners, key chains, and even Christmas ornaments.”
Work brings respect, pride and self-confidence
Initially, her husband objected to Epsheba working outside their home, but now he is very proud and supports her. Concludes Epsheba: “I experienced a change in me that I did not know was possible. I also see a change in my social standing and my extended family respects me for what I do. That makes me very confident. And I am most proud that I can provide a good education to my children, especially to my daughter. I can’t wait for her to become a nurse.”
Unique rich embroidery of the indigenous Toda community
Shalom Ooty’s vision is to transform the lives of Toda women. The Toda are the most ancient and unusual tribe of the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu. They speak their own language and have secretive customs and regulations. Also the Toda community is well-known for its embroidery. Women embroider only red and black threads in graphic designs on a white background, creating a rich effect. Using their traditional talent in exclusive hand embroidery on mainstream products such as cushions and bedspreads, the women have found a means to enhance their self-worth and independence within the constraints of their daily routine.
Collaborating for a better future: Women on Wings and Shalom Ooty
Women on Wings and Shalom Ooty have collaborated since March 2019 on realizing their joint mission of empowering rural and tribal women economically to create a better future for the next generation.