Focus on Design

Celia Jackmauh

Celia Jackmauh is a teacher and graphic designer in Vermont. She and her husband first visited Shanthimalai, at the foot of the sacred Mountain Arunachala, in 1987. They fell in love with the people, the place, and the tremendously rich spirit that is India. For the last twenty years, she has volunteered her time to help with handcraft sales, marketing, and product development for Aruna Designs in the USA.

As I walk in, light streams through a large window into the small, clean room. Ten young women seated on straw mats look up at me. Abruptly, all talking and laughing stops as ten pairs of eyes gaze at me, shy but curious. The women hold their sewing in their laps. A small child, playing nearby, also looks up with huge, serious brown eyes. A giant mound of brightly colored fabric scraps sits in the center of the room.

Widows Masking

I am in South India, visiting Premalaya, the center of all the activities of the Shanthimalai Handicrafts Development Society (SHDS). The women are making "Scrappies", a new line of soft sculptures. Using scraps from other tailoring projects, these are adorable little creatures: mice, elephants and horses. A mix of Indian cotton prints, each one is a precious riot of joyful color.

I have not often visited this space upstairs above the marketing and exporting area. The women know I am a buyer from America, but I'm not sure they have a clear idea of the journey their little creations will take across the ocean to be sold by Aruna Designs in the USA. I make a mental note to send them some photos of the stores that sell their handiwork. I want them to know that their work brings joy to so many people, an ocean away!

"Scrappies" are rapidly becoming one of Aruna Designs' best sellers. All kinds of stores buy them, from Common Crow, a high-end natural food market in Rockport, MA, to One World Goods in Rochester, NY, to Debanvilles General Store & Cafe, a small country store in Northern Vermont where the Scrappies appear on shelves next to local crafts and hunting supplies.

Laughing

Although I do not speak Tamil and they do not speak English, I ask the women how they are. They look at each other and giggle nervously, smiling shyly. It is no surprise that they are shy. All are widows or destitute women in need. Due to centuries of repressive tradition, poor widows in India are shunned, and often exploited. Several of the women here were thrown out on the street with their young children after their husbands died, and left to fend for themselves.

The handcraft project is a lifeline for these women, and a refuge. They are able to learn new skills, earn a living wage, and work in a warm and welcoming place.

For many, this is the first time they have felt a fellowship with other women. It is also the first time they have been treated with respect and given a chance to earn their own income.

The women talk with each other about their struggles, laugh and cry together, comfort one another. In this way, their work is deeply healing.

Stuffing

Hand printed scraps of traditional Indian Block Print cotton fabrics are used for the bodies. Stuffed with polyester fiberfill, they can be machine washed and dried. Eyes and hearts are lovingly hand embroidered on each small Scrappie.

Purchases of Aruna Designs "Scrappies" and our other Fair Trade handcrafts help provide the women with steady work. Profits from the handcraft sales also cover all of the organizational overhead for Aruna Partnership, ensuring that 100% of your charitable donations will go directly to the programs of your choice. When you give to Aruna Partnership, every penny goes to people in need.

For more information about the handcrafts, please email: handcrafts@arunapartnership.org.