MESH at the time of Corona Virus - 3

News from MESH in India 28.4.2020

Photo of children wearing masks in Little Flower Leprosy Colony.
Photo Credit: Sakhi

We send greetings to all.

Just now our artisans share a common hope, that Fair Trade customers will continue to order from them after the end of the lockdown so they can continue to thrive.

Jone Pryadarshini Mahila Mandal (JPMM) in Bethany Leprosy Colony, have been able to go back to work in small groups of three, wearing masks and practicing social distancing. They are working on products for international customers. In other grups some artisans are working from home but in most groups artisans remain at home finding the time passes very slowly compared to usual busy life before lockdown.

Prowess, a women’s self-help group in the hill station of Kodai Kanal has also been working and practicing social distancing. They have been making masks for the local administration which has meant that seven of the women had regular work. But Shanti, who manages the women wrote a desperate plea for payment of bills for goods already sent to MESH as she had not been able to pay salaries for March and the women were struggling financially. With no warning of the lockdown we in MESH had not been able to clear bills for the end of the financial year (31st March) and it has been so frustrating that no one from MESH could get permission to go to the office and effect payments even though we knew that with other family members unable to work, our fair trade payments could mean the difference between families going hungry or not. We have now found a way to do that and as I type, Shanti is in the bank releasing that payment which will bring relief to her women. But they are anxious for the future as their men folk are mostly employed in the tourist industry in some way and even after the end of the lockdown this coming holiday season will be a disaster for the town. Prowess will need orders very desperately in the coming months for the families to withstand this shock.

Dr. Madhumita Puri runs Trash to Cash/Society for Child Development which cares for people with disabilities and provides work recycling and upcycling. She lives just across the Delhi border in the next state and now she has been denied permission to cross the border and visit her centre where there are some residents and where she has been a regular visitor to encourage them all with her infectious laugh. They have been experimenting on new products for the festival season. We shall need the support of the corporate world in the way they choose their festival gift purchasing this year especially. If gifts are going to be given to clients and staff how much better it will be if they are from marginalised groups where those who have suffered the most economically from this lockdown are employed.

Most of our groups do not have much working capital and managing to pay their workers during this lockdown is going to be an enormous strain on their limited resources which is why we have encouraged groups to consider making masks. That will provide work for groups who do not have orders at the present time and who can work from home and can take the strain off the group to pay other workers if some are making masks paid for by MESH. We will distribute the masks freely amongst people for whom buying a mask is just another cost they cannot afford.

Little Flower is hard at work and we have now authorised tailors in the Bharat Mata Kusht Ashram (Leprosy colony), Nav Prabuthi Trust (a wonderful centre for people with autism) and Khadim Handicrafts to make masks which we will pay for and ensure are distributed for free. Each of us needs at least two re-usable masks so that we can wash one and wear, one and the population is huge, we would like to expand this activity, anyone wishing to contribute can let us know here.

One aspect of fair trade is that profits are to be shared across the supply chain and there is a bond of solidarity between fair trade organisations. El-Puente, a fair trade organisation in Germany that buys from MESH offered to share funds with partners in other countries to try and meet immediate needs of artisans. We are to use their support to provide mask making work for up to 11 artisans in Trash to Cash/SCD for one month.

In a day or two we will hear to what extent the lockdown will be eased after May 3rd it will shape the way MESH and all our partner producer groups conduct their activities in the coming months.

Thank you for your support and for telling our stories.

28th April 2020