By Shanta Kalyanasundaram
Shalini Rajkumar hails from Chennai, in Tamil Nadu. She too is a mother who faces the challenge of taking care of a son with Hemophilia. Several years ago, Shalini decided that she needed to become financially independent in order to supplement the very small family income. Her son is a beneficiary of an annual sponsorship through Save One Life. However, Shalini wanted to improve and secure good quality of life for her family.
Shalini is a member of The Hemophilia Society Chennai Chapter Women’s Group. This Group exudes the positive energy of very strong and determined women. When one walks into the meeting room, the energy is almost palpable! Each woman’s ‘story’ leaves one feeling humble in the presence of so much individual suffering. At the same time, there is a profound sense of exhilaration at the mutual support they receive from each other. There is the distinct sense of strong individuals bolstered by the collective strength of the group. This Chapter has a sense of purpose; so does Shalini.
She knew how to make silk thread jewelry. So, she did her homework, brought a few pieces to her Women’s Group at her local Hemophilia Chapter and was amazed at how quickly she sold them.
Next, she ventured further and approached the owners of local costume jewelry stores to see if they would be interested in unusual Indian jewelry. She has now set aside a small corner of a room in her house where she can work. The income that her skills bring in is getting better.
Shalini is up to date with what her younger more fashion-conscious customers like. The tendency to move away from traditional Indian gold jewelry is catching on among the younger generation. The colors of the silk threads she uses are ethnic and vibrant, much like Indian fabrics.
Julie is brave, outspoken and determined to face life head on. However, Julie was not always like this. She has faced spousal abandonment, poverty, fear and above all, the social isolation of being a mother of a son with Hemophilia. Julie is a member of the Hemophilia Society, Thirunelveli Chapter. The Women’s Group at this chapter is welcoming, inclusive and active. They took Julie under their wing and gave her encouragement and the sanctuary of companionship and sisterly love.
It took a while before Julie felt that she had finally come ‘home.’ Everything negative in her life somehow no longer caused anxiety and panic. Every woman there faced similar tribulations like poverty and the social stigma of bearing a child or children with severe Hemophilia. Some even faced abandonment and the fear that accompanies it.
Julie had leadership qualities that she was unaware of, until she joined the Women’s Group. She had creative skills that had lain dormant for years under the relentless heartbreak of seeing her child suffer bleeding episode after bleeding episode. Now, with the collective strength of her new-found sisters to catch her if she stumbled, Julie embarked on gathering some of the women together to show them how to make bead necklaces.
Initially, they took a small loan of Rs.6, 000 (about $100) from the Chapter and bought the necessary supplies to start a small business enterprise. At first, they made enough to buy more supplies and then they put their heads together to create new designs, together with matching earrings.
It was interesting and heartwarming to hear that this group of women raised Rs.11, 000 through the second sale of their jewelry. They used Rs.7, 000 to buy a manual treadle sewing machine for one of the mothers in the group who was going through dire times. Camaraderie, empathy and support are evident among the women in this Chapter. They have much to offer because they have the essential ingredients for success – friendship, empathy and a strong built- in support system.
Julie started something small, but the potential for growth seems evident in the enthusiasm of the women in the group. After all the suffering these women have been through, every tiny step forward, is huge in the scheme of things.