Last October, I had the good fortune of spending a day at the Saheli Women Center, a non-profit whose aim is to provide opportunities and economic empowerment to women in the rural village of Bhikamkor in Rajasthan, India.
Bhikamkor is quite remote and feels like taking a step back in time.
For most of their lives, the Saheli Women only ever knew poverty. Most were not allowed to get an education, unlike their brothers, many were child brides (as young as 10!), and none had any say about any aspect of their lives from whom they married to where they lived or even something as simple as leaving the house. But during the last five years these beautiful women have been lifted out of poverty by learning to make clothing—thanks to the help of an amazing woman named Madhu Vaishnav, the Saheli Women founder, who gave them the chance to learn a skill, earn a good living, and feel empowered. Any women who wants to join is accepted.
One of the many things that struck me that day was the joy and laughter in the room.
The Saheli Center is not a factory, nor does it feel like one. It was the family home of the founder's parents in-law.
Madhu Vaishna at the entrance of the Saheli Women Center
The sewing machines all face each other, which I have never seen in India, to allow the women to chat while working. Throughout the day, many of their children stopped in to visit providing many smiles and breaks. And in a country that still has a lot of work to do in regards to women's rights and safety, the center provides a safe space where the women can let their guard down, relax and be themselves.
After school, the women's children often come visit
The opportunity to be part of the Saheli center has allowed some of the women to escape domestic violence, 100% of them to give their girls a good education, and many are even out-earning the men in their lives now. Despite being relatively new to sewing, they are making extremely high quality, upscale clothing. Their work has even been featured in VOGUE magazine!
Stitching a silk dress for our upcoming line
More ways the Saheli Center creates prosperity for women:
*Pays for all daughters of Saheli Women to go to school including tuition, exam fees, uniforms, backpacks, notebooks, and other supplies.
*All women have health insurance.
*To combat malnutrition, the Saheli women receive space and seeds to grow vegetables in the backyard of the Saheli Community Center.
*Creation of the Saheli Health Clinic, the village’s first and only female health center, which provides access to high-quality gender-specific health services twice a month.
*Saheli Commuity Center Library where the children of the Saheli Women can come to read, color and play while their mothers work nearby.
*The women set their own hours allowing for a home life balance.
You can hear each woman's life story, and the circumstances that brought her to the center, on “Stories of the Saheli Women" on Spotify. You can also learn more about The Saheli Women and their mission on their website: