White Lotus Charitable Trust and Garden of Peace (GOP) school in Tamil Nadu have entered a partnership to develop village based traditional oil extraction as a social business . GOP has been operating a traditional bullock drawn unit for some years and together we have added two, slow grinding machines for processing highest quality cold pressed , organic oils at the school and which will complement our intention to develop employment through social business and toward financial empowerment of local rural women. This project promotes healthy food practices and introduces this sustainable development model in rural areas. Currently, five people are employed in this project. We spoke to one of these women, Maheshwari, and this is her story.
MAHESHWARI is a 34-year-old spirited woman who is known for her energetic nature . She belongs to the Most Backward Community and was married to a mason at a very early age. Due to unfortunate circumstances, her husband died two years ago. Due to his poor health they were forced to borrow a lot of money for treatment and managing household expenses . After a few months of treatment and frustrated with his constant sickness and inability to repay the mounting debt, he took the extreme step of committing suicide. This tragic incident turned life upside down for Maheshwari and she went into a state of utter hopelessness. She says that GOP was a God- sent blessing at the bleakest point in her life, telling us, “When I started working on the oil project, I spent more time at the farm than my work demanded. I didn’t feel like going back home because of my husband ‘s haunting memories. Seeing and interacting with my colleagues and the school kids made me feel better and I could forget my situation, at least temporarily.”
Maheshwari continued to stay along with her brother-in-law’s family even after her husband’s death. Working on this oil project is her primary source of income and ensures she doesn’t have to depend on her in-laws for their daily expenses . She is happy to contribute to the overall household expenditure , which brings respect toward herself and her sons from the rest of the family and that means a lot to her. Both her sons studied at Garden of Peace until their 5th grade and which is how she first became familiar with the school . She believes that, ” dignity and respect are more important than money.” She is also proud that she can provide for her sons even though she is illiterate. “This job has given me the confidence to face tough situations and whatever the future may bring.”
Maheshwari told us that many from her village were rendered jobless during the covid pandemic . She is deeply grateful this job has been a steady source of income for her,and without which her family would have suffered a lot. She explained her future plans as “I have only one regret in my life; that I didn’t pursue my education and though I feel odd to study at this age, I would still like to pursue my interest . Sir (Dr. Manivannan ) has also encouraged me to do so and has asked a few teachers to help me. Currently a teacher is managing accounts for the oil project and I want to be proficient enough to take over that work soon.”
This story of Maheshwari, from being a single mom to a financially independent woman, is an example of women’s empowerment and embodies GOP’s philosophy of how small changes can make a big difference in an individual’s life.
Author: Brinda Ponni