I am at ALEAP head quarters in Hyderabad for a training in Digital Literacy. The audience numbering about 40 are ladies who have enrolled for Jute bag making courses at the institute. The course in Jute Bag making runs for 3 months. Most of the ladies have traveled far to reach the training center. Their enthusiasm and energy is infectious.
As we begin the session, the women share their journeys, of stepping out of their comfort zones,of learning to travel on their own,of learning to make jute bags, of selling and of earning enough to spend for their children and for themselves. The pride in small yet significant achievements they have made during training played out in their eyes. They were still not ready to speak up. When asked to count the languages they know a list including Hindi, Telugu, a little of Tamil comes out. Its ok not to know English, I assured them and the audience heaved a collective sigh of relief. The atmosphere is cordial, the ice is broken and the stage is set for more interaction and learning.
Vani, one of the attendees is thrilled that as a social worker she could invite attention to the dilapidated condition of a local hospital. “They respond”, she says confidently, “when I write mails to them or call and show them the photographs of the situation as it is. Even a road in my area has been repaired.”” They actually listen,” she tried to convince the rest of the audience who have never ever thought it possible to raise a public grievance.
Vani had successfully used social media to alert the local administration about public utilities that is in disrepair in her area. She urged others to do the same. The audience seemed to take her advice with a pinch of salt. Some looked at her with suspicion at her attempt to hog the limelight. There was also some quiet introspection at work.
Then a young girl, Jyothi stood up. ” I have come here to learn Jute Bag making, now I want to give jobs to 100 people. I am saying it in front of all of you, so loud and clear, so that you can question me, if I don’t do it.” The audience responded with a spontaneous applause. The confidence and courage that Vani and Jyothi showed touched others.There were more smiles, giggles and laughter. Some leaned forward, others sat upright, the audience was now ready to stand up and share experiences and views without fear.
In the post lunch session, another group of 30 students joined. These graduates and post graduates were young businessmen and women, students of entrepreneurship, now asked more informed questions. The classroom could not have been more heterogeneous but the interest and encouragement of one another made learning enjoyable. A model of communication that involved both parties under the trainer’s guidance originated,perhaps, out of need. It was a delightful experience.The youngsters eagerly demonstrated the use of digital devices for self-development, while others lapped on to each of the idea that floated.A lady in the crowd asked,” My daughter always uploads her photographs on Instagram. I don’t like it much. I am afraid this will harm her.” The answer for this question came from the participants who tried to dispel the mothers’ concerns. They however, cautioned her that misuse of digital devices is rampant in the society. Stringent laws need to be in place to monitor activities in the digital world.
When the training ends, there is scramble for selfies and group photographs. The enthusiasm and energy is palpable even at 6 pm. I head back to the hotel thoroughly impressed by ALEAP. There’s much to the credit of this organisation that was set up in 1993 under the leadership of Ramadevi to disseminate information regarding the start up procedures for any business. ALEAP aims to support women to be economically independent and guide them in converting their idea into business. Today, ALEAP is winning accolades across the world. To its credit, ALEAP has developed India’s only industrial estate exclusively for women in Hyderabad. ALEAP has been a torch-bearer for women empowerment in Andhra Pradesh. Will there ever be such initiatives in other parts of the country?