As I sat in an auto rickshaw barreling down a rural Indian road, stuffed in with five other people, heavy rain pounding the windshield, spray from the wheels wetting my pants, and the blue tarps, serving as rain covers, flapping noisily, my co-worker Souraj leaned over and laughingly declared that this would be a trip I would not forget. Twenty minutes later we arrived at our destination. We hurried through the rain up the stairs to a dry room where we were greeted by roughly twenty five Indian women dressed in beautiful Saris smiling and welcoming our contingent.
I had arrived in one of Anudip’s DREAM (Developing Rural Entrepreneurs Through Adoption and Mentoring) centers for women in Harindanga. One of my partners, Lauren, and I had come to this center along with a few co-workers in order to interview the women about the center, what it does and why. This particular center focused on teaching tailoring. The women were learning how to make traditional Indian clothes in order to open shops in their respective local villages. The group assembled before us had just started, and were still learning to make very basic articles of clothing, petticoats and simple drawstring pants.
We sat down with the women and began our interview. In an attempt to draw out the best answers we made the interview “popcorn style”. We asked the questions to the entire group and anyone who wanted to answer need only raise their hand or reach for the microphone. As we inquired about their lives, the women passed the microphone around and told us about their lives and family. Some were local, but many came from long distances to receive training at the center. Many were shy, but all were clearly passionate about learning a new skill.
In my experience with interviews during my fellowship, the ‘why’ question always elicits the most interesting answer. The question seems to be open ended enough to garner interesting answers I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, yet focused enough to keep the answers relevant. It was no different today. When we asked why the women wanted to learn tailoring, one woman gingerly reached for the microphone and explained her motivations in very simple logic. If the family needs five rupees, but the husband only brings home three rupees, where will the other two come from? The other women echoed her sentiment in subsequent responses. Learning tailoring through Anudip’s DREAM program gave them an opportunity to earn the other two rupees.
Driving away from the center, we somehow managed to fit a personal record of eight people in an auto rickshaw. It was, as Souraj said, an experience I would never forget. The ride, however, was nothing compared to the blunt wisdom given to me by a prudent and empowered Bengali woman.