The Kumbaya Story
It has been over twenty-six years since the day women from Neemkheda village came to our house and saw patchwork cushions made out of old clothes. From the colourful pieces sewn together they picked out the shirts and kurtas we used to wear. The next day, building an earthen dam in the scorching sun with head loads of clay, they said they wanted to learn how to stitch on the sewing machine.
And so we started Kumbaya with three borrowed sewing machines, a box full of scrap and a book on quilting techniques left behind by a friend.
Looking back, these years have been about creating the business of manufacturing from scratch, in the middle of nowhere. For women whose hands would be burnt from carrying hot iron tagaris or mudpans, whose bare feet would be cracked walking on earth baked by the piercing rays of the sun under the Tropic of Cancer. The idea of Kumbaya was born here, from them, on this dry landscape. Born from the rippling strength of their tattooed arms, the flamboyant prints on their swinging clothes, the glint of silver on their ankles; from laughing women dead serious about stitching.
The unique significance of Kumbaya is that these are made by women from one of the most remote, backward and poor regions of India, because of a new skill and employment opportunity introduced in a predominantly agrarian region where there have been no traditional marketable crafts.
Kumbaya is deeply committed to persons of disability, whose inability to contribute manual labour in an agricultural area like ours leads to their marginalization and abandonment. In poor households their situation becomes acute as their families are equally helpless.
The most rewarding impact of Kumbaya has been including them as skilled producers and high earners. We specially design products that enable them to produce and earn more.
Kumbaya has four centres in different villages where employment is available and guaranteed, for almost 300 days in a year to over 100 producers. Apart from the producers who work regularly with us, hundreds of those trained stitch from home.
At a humble estimate, even if 30% of the women trained by Kumbaya are using their skills to make custom made garments for the local area, earning even a meager sum Rs. 1000 per month, incomes of over Rs. 35 lakhs are created in a year.