With the donations from Friends of Kalangarai December’s virtual brunch, we were able to continue our support of the women’s innovative social enterprises (WISE). Fr. Kulandai (director of Kalangarai) reports: “Kalangarai offered training on food preparation and business management to 30 widows. As a result of the training held for four days on non-conventional business training, two women jointly opened a mushroom food stall in Nagapattinam in the beginning of March. Inspired by their example, four more women formed themselves as “Semmalar Self-help Group” and opened a Mushroom stall in the name of “Kalangarai Mushroom Corner” on 31 st March 2021 in Vailankanni. …. This Mushroom Corner which serves variety of mushroom dishes like Mushroom Samosa, Mushroom Roll, Mushroom Cutlets and Mushroom 65. They feel remarkably happy and have a sense of leading a dignified life."
On March 12 th Kalangarai laid the foundation stone for a new office building to house the Widows Livelihood Rights Association. “To break the superstitious custom
forbidding widows’ participation in such auspicious
functions, the leaders of the Widows’ Association attending this ceremony were treated as VIPs and each leader was asked to place a brick on the foundation” (Fr. Kulandai).
The United Nations observes June 23rd as International Widows Day—a day to raise awareness of widows’ experiences and to promote their human rights, livelihoods, and dignity. Similar to last year’s celebration, Fr. Kulandai reports that they will gather the women in smaller groups to celebrate the day. “It is certain that we will conduct the celebrations in all 5 zones. But the number of participants for each celebration depends on the government's announcement. If the State Government permits to have public meetings or marriage functions with 100 members then we will mobilize only 100 members for each celebration. Our target is that 1500 women would be celebrating their Day with some focused themes.” The lockdown has been extended to June 14th and they should know after the 14th what will be possible.
Micro-credit self-help groups for widows and deserted women have evolved in 100 different villages. So far, 1500 members have registered their names in these groups.
Bank accounts have been opened for each group separately with the aim of promoting saving habits and availing loans provided by the banks.
Economic efforts are extended to promote generating activities such as rearing goats and cows, running petty shops, or selling fish.
Information regarding the welfare schemes of the Government meant for widows and deserted women are gathered and passed to the target poulation. Further, assistance is provided to avail those welfare schemes.
A possibility for the evolution of a co-operative society is explored in order to ensure steady income to widows and deserted women.
Social entrepreneurs have been referred to as “change agents” and “innovators.” Simply stated, social entrepreneurs engage in a business to advance a social or environmental cause or address a social need. The widows’ first project is producing basil plants called tulsi. Tulsi is a type of basil native to India. It has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, immune-stimulating and adaptogenic (stress removal) properties. The plant gives out large amounts of oxygen which is good for the environment by absorbing harmful gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
Mr. Thulasi who is the founder of Global Green Growth Group provides the women with the basil seeds and orders for seed balls. The women put the seeds inside a ball of soil and organic fertilizer. They earn a set amount for each ball that they make. The business not only gives the women an income but produces a product that is good for the environment. Mr. Thulasi who wears several hats as an entrepreneur, social worker, and philanthropist is training the women in other businesses with the goal to promote the sustainability of the environment.
Five self-help groups are preparing to begin a second project to recycle organic waste into bio-fertilizer/liquid manure using micro-green bins. The bins coverts all of the kitchen waste to organic compost and liquid bio manure. Friends of Kalangarai donated funds to purchase 5 bins but 20 more bins are needed. Again, this is an enterprise that provides an income to the women and produces a fertilizer that is environmentally safe. For details on how this works, go to:
Kalangarai established St. Joseph’s College in 2005 after the Indian Ocean Tsunami to provide education to poor students of the local community. Many of the students are children of the widowed women who participate in the Kalangarai programs. This Community College is affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Open University, Chennai. The minimum qualification to join the college is the 10th standard.
There are four Vocational Diploma Courses in: 1) Electrician, 2) Refrigeration and Air-conditioning, 3) Desk-top Publishing, and 4) General Duty Nursing Assistant. In addition to their coursework, the students work as interns for businesses or hospitals.
Kalangarai also supports university and college students through tuition assistance.
Friends of Kalangarai is a non-profit organization in the U.S. that supports the community-based programs of Kalangarai. These programs include micro-credit self-help groups, skills training, children’s educational programs, and a community college. More than 1000 widowed and abandoned women and their families participate in these programs.