From the October 2016 issue of The Rotarian
Shamlu Dudeja, a member of the Rotary Club of Calcutta, India, helped elevate a humble embroidery stitch from relative obscurity to a celebrated decorative art and made life better for hundreds of women in the process. In the 1980s, Dudeja ran across some women at a craft market using the 600-year-old kantha stitch to make wall hangings. Women traditionally used kantha to sew together old saris to make blankets. But it reminded Dudeja of the stitch she used as a child to decorate her mother’s sleeves, and she persuaded the women to use it to embellish saris. As demand for the revived stitch grew, she founded the nonprofit SHE (Self Help Enterprise) to train and pay women in rural Bengal, who previously had little opportunity for employment, for their kantha stitchery. “From the kantha, we have seen how even a little work gives them dignity,” says Dudeja, 78, a Rotarian for more than 20 years. “It’s not just about the money. It is empowering them.” Today, more than 800 women are part of the organization, which sells clothing and housewares to a global market. SHE also holds regular eye and health camps in rural Bengal and pays for schoolbooks and tuition for children. Dudeja says she’s happy that reviving the stitch has brought new opportunities to so many women. Some had never left their village and are now showing off their craft in Paris. “That’s a great sense of achievement for them,” she says.
Shamlu Dudeja helped elevate a humble embroidery stitch from relative obscurity to a celebrated decorative art and made life better for hundreds of women in the process