Rajeshwari Lakhani has been a volunteer with Ishanya Foundation for over 15 years. Ishanya Foundation is the CSR arm of Deepak Fertilizers. They conduct several vocational and skill development programs for the youth from economically challenged backgrounds.
Ishanya Foundation had an income generation program, and Rajeshwari had enough experience in sewing and tailoring, so was in charge of teaching the ladies from the low-income groups to make various products such as bags, torans, clothes, baby clothes, swaddle blankets, etc. They were taught to use the entire cloth, and make sure there was no wastage. Even small pieces were used to make useful products such as quilts, or stuffing for toys. It was exciting to use one’s creativity to maximize the use of the cloth, while ensuring that the ladies learnt ways to earn some money to add to the income of their households.
This was the beginning of her volunteering - a journey which delighted her, gave her immense satisfaction, and changed her life forever.
When the Kalyani Nagar Swachh volunteer group approached her to help them stitch bags to eradicate the use of plastic bags completely, she said she was overwhelmed and happily agreed to do so.
Together they conducted drives to collect old bedsheets, curtains, synthetic sarees and dupattas, and got a fantastic response. Rajeshwari then approached ladies from the NGO Sahasee and ladies from the nearby slums who had sewing machines and knew basic stitching. She gave them instructions for making bags, with dimensions and a sample bag. The stress was on the finishing and accurate dimensions, and double stitching which rendered the bags sturdier and able to hold more weight.
Gradually they got a hang of it and started with big orders. Rajeshwari said they must have stitched more than 50,000 bags. The distribution was started in Kalyani Nagar by Shirin Nalwalla and Vaishali Nadkarny. Later Rajeshwari got donations from neighbouring Viman Nagar with the help of Mita Banerjee and Anagha. They helped in selling them too.
While in Kalyani Nagar the order for bags was slow, she managed to convert most shops and vendors to adopt the no plastic bag rule. Many of them approach her personally or through the Swachh group. She says she wants people to understand what the reuse, recycle and reduce mantra is all about, and practice it in their lives..
As mentor to youth who are being trained for various vocational skill development programs at Ishanya Foundation, I have helped several youngsters find their feet, grow in confidence and get good jobs.
In her own residential complex she has helped several children develop a love for volunteering – she takes them to orphanages, senior citizens homes, schools for the visually and hearing challenged, in order to sensitize them to the lives of the less fortunate, and find ways to help the institutions in many different ways.
Quite a few children have grown up and moved on but the lessons taught by Rajeshwari Lakhani have stayed with them forever.
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