At a tender age of 27, Rajiben Vankar* took up the duties of her household and raised 3 children aged 6-8 years, after the sudden passing away of her husband. Without any support from her family, she chose to leave Mota Varnora and relocated to Awadh Nagar with her sister and children. Back in 2008, Rajiben used to work as a labourer with a daily wage of 70 rupees. On this meagre income, she nurtured her three children. With the uncertainty of availability of work, raising her children was challenging. At times, affording a square meal was unpredictable. Somehow though, she pushed through the first two years.
The society often looks at widows from a colored perspective, considering them weak and incapable. However, Raji Ben had a strong desire to build her image as a successful independent woman. It is said that if determination prevails, nature also cooperates, paving the way and giving opportunities.
In 2010, she received an opportunity to work at Khamir. In 2012, NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) started to support Khamir’s ongoing Plastic Weaving Project. Rajiben accepted this opportunity whole heartedly and joined the project. Being from the Vankar community, the skill of weaving was her prized inheritance. Yet, Plastic Weaving was new for her. Like all challenges, determination to overcome them is the key. In her mind, Rajiben knew this very well.
She used this time to sharpen her weaving skills. With the help of the team members and designers that came in to support, this project was taken further. In the beginning, sourcing raw materials was a major issue. Since the primary source of plastic was waste, cleaning and its sanitation was a difficult task. Usable plastic is to be segregated from the myriad waste products. It is then cleaned and made hygienic before using it to weave.
Khamir is a tourist attraction. Every year, a large number of visitors, from across the country and outside come to our campus. As Rajiben promoted this initiative to them, she slowly rose to become the face of the project. She interacted with tourists, and they really appreciated her work. With time, the enthusiasm around this work, grew and new designs were produced, to then make new products. With the financial support received from NABARD, these designs, techniques, and even a market was established.
She also organized trainings and had other women join the plastic weaving process to increase the project base. Rajiben eventually became a part of the team that creates designs and samples.
She played a significant role in the success of the first phase of this NABARD supported project. Khamir received the best NGO award from NABARD for its successful implementation. Rajiben went to Gandhinagar to collect the award from Gujarat’s Chief minister Shri Vijay Rupani and Deputy Chief Minister Shri Nitinbhai Patel.
One day, when Khamir presented an opportunity to visit Wales in the context of the project for 18 days, it dawned upon Rajiben that her work was niche, and not mainstream. As always, she grabbed this opportunity of growth with open arms. During the 18 days in Wales, she interacted with folks from diverse backgrounds and expanded her learning horizons. This boosted her self-confidence and enthusiasm. When she returned, her passion for her work saw great heights. It pushed her to build a name for herself, give her work a specific direction as she took upon a resolve to become an entrepreneur.
When her desire to become an entrepreneur was revealed to Khamir, Rajiben was given full support in this decision of hers to help her grow and build. Today, she has become a brand. Her designs and products are marketed under the banner. Not only does she have a monthly income of 10-15 thousand, she has also employed 13-15 women from the village under her wing. Her work has been showcased in an Art Gallery in Ahmedabad. Not only are her products sold all across the country but she also has international buyers.
On social media, Rajiben has received popularity through her Facebook Page. She created her brand with help of Karigar Clinic promoted by Shri Nilesh Priyadarshi. Apart from being a brand, she is now a big inspiration for many women in her community. She is taking the story of upcycled plastic weaving forward.
Despite the many shortcomings, rise and downfalls in Rajiben’s life, she provided the best for her children and educated them well. While her daughter is currently pursuing her higher education, her older son is employed in a company and her younger son assists Rajiben in her work. It has become her life’s purpose to have more women like her join her venture so that she can help them overcome their hardships, and support them to become independent as well as earn a respectable place in the society.
*Name used with permission
Original Story written by Jigar Vaidya, Khamir
English Translation by: Shinjini Kotia, Khamir