STEP celebrates women’s courage and success
In a Calcutta theatre on Saturday 1st March, Krishna could not control her emotions as she tearfully thanked the audience. “Krishna is more than a beneficiary to us. We’ve been working with her for a long time and have always supported her, so she has now become a friend”, said a member of STEP, Entrepreneurs du Monde’s partner in Calcutta.
Krishna is one of STEP’s 16 award winners for International Women’s Day. STEP wanted to celebrate the successes achieved, in spite of their difficulties, by the women they support.
Two STEP social workers hosted the ceremony before an audience of sixty people. After describing each prize-winner’s journey and emphasising her determination, they called the winners up one by one to give them a trophy.
When Krishna’s turn arrived, the presenter recounted the difficult beginnings of this tenacious businesswoman. After her husband abandoned her, leaving her with no resources to bring up their son, Krishna learnt to be a seamstress on-the-job. She soon began to harbour an ambition to open her own dressmaking workshop. On the day that she managed to buy her first machine, with her savings and a microloan from STEP, she began to regard the future with optimism. Krishna quickly made a reputation for herself, leading to increased production and income, and she decided to invest in two more sewing machines. After 7 microloans, supported by personalised advice and training, her business was going well, but in 2011 her 22-year old son discovered he had leukaemia. Krishna spent her savings on medical costs but to no avail: the cancer claimed her son’s life in 2013. This ordeal plunged her into deep sadness, but with the STEP team supporting her along the way she managed to come through the experience. Last January, at the age of 50, she opened a beauty salon in parallel with her original business. Now both of her businesses are growing well and she has taken on an employee.
Supporting and encouraging women, and developing their skills
As the STEP director explains: “We want to encourage women who have had to fight to make progress, those who have set up income generating activities at the same time as raising and educating their families. The goal of these awards is to reward their determination and recognise their success. We want to inspire other beneficiaries and give them courage!”
11 women were given awards for keeping their businesses going during difficult periods; 5 others were rewarded for starting a business after receiving training from the vocational training centres set up and managed by STEP. These training sessions are run by former beneficiaries, allowing a real sharing of experience.
One of them is Susmita. When collecting her award she spoke about the help she had received:
“I dreamt of becoming a beautician, but I had no skills in this field. One day, a member of the association came to visit me and told me about the training centres. With STEP’s help I’ve been able to achieve my dream. I’ve been trained, and now I’m working as a beautician”.
Women who have a family member with a disability were also provided for on the day, with an awareness-raising workshop about disability. The whole event was a joyful experience, filled with emotion and ringing with applause from the beneficiaries and members of the association who were gathered for the occasion.