Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Jodhpur, Rajasthan is home to the safe haven known as the Fatima Center, a place prided on instilling a newfound hope and dignity for women who have escaped abusive relationships. This center was established by Sambhali Trust, an NGO that is dedicated to helping and supporting those who have experienced discrimination, sexual abuse, and violence in and around Jodhpur, Rajasthan. In Fatima, the women receive special vocational training in sewing, and at the end of an eight month program, are gifted their very own sewing machines! These sewing machines enable the women to gain financial autonomy and a newfound, powerful independence. Naomi, through Project Tasveer, has decided to fund sewing machines for these women. However before embarking on the project, she wanted to truly understand their experiences. Therefore, in December 2019, Naomi Deokule, along with her mother, Komal Deokule, and older sister, Simran Deokule, volunteered at the center for a life changing week.
Each day was always divided into two parts: During the first half of the day, women aged 15 and up would come to learn sewing and embroidery, in addition to acquiring the knowledge of English, math, self defense, dance, and education on other empowering skills. The second half of the day consisted of children usually younger than 12 who would come to learn English and math as well as play educational games. On the first day, Naomi had the opportunity to observe the sewing and even start making her own piece — it was amazing to learn firsthand from the experienced and talented teachers and students.
The most influential part of the entire trip was undoubtedly when Naomi and her family took a moment to sit down with some of the girls, listen to their stories, and understand the hardships they faced throughout their lives which ultimately led them to the Sambhali Fatima Center. A majority of the women enrolled in the program were prevented from going to school by their families and forced to get married at incredibly young ages: Jodhpur is infamous for child marriage, pitiable sex ratios, and most of all, discrimination against women. In fact Rajasthan has a reputation for being one of the worst states for females (Times of India). Many of the girls greatly struggled to convince their parents to allow them to attend Fatima-- most parents were not even aware that their daughters would also receive an education at the center; they thought the center only taught the skills of sewing and embroidery. If the parents were made aware that the girls would receive any form of education they would immediately pull them out of the program without hesitation.
Thankfully, the teachers of Fatima allow the girls to truly open up and be free. While at home, they are often required to cover their whole faces, stay silent, and do chores. The Fatima center acts as an escape from the oppressive environment the girls experience at home. Most importantly, the teachers emphasize that whenever the women and kids have problems at home, they should share it with their teachers. They are dedicated to the wellbeing of each and every single girl inside and outside of the center. One story that deeply touched Naomi was that of Ambika (her name has been altered to protect her privacy) who grew up in a home with three older sisters (all of whom were married at a young age), as well as an older brother. One of her sisters, who was married at the age of 13, had three kids by the time she was 17. In addition to the pressure of marrying young, Ambika's husband had already been chosen for her by her parents since she was four. However, witnessing her sister's plight, she was able to convince her parents to let her attend the sewing program at Fatima Center, postponing her marriage ceremony for a year. Initially, she had been going to the local school until 7th grade. Unfortunately, her brother forced her to stop going because she is a girl. Ironically, it is frowned upon for females to be intelligent. She explained that if she went to school, her brother would beat her. It came to a point where it was not worth attending school behind her family’s back because the risk of getting caught was too high. It saddened Naomi that this was the case for most of the girls at Fatima, many of whom are Naomi's age.
Despite their difficult experiences, the girls were incredibly lively and enthusiastic at Fatima. They were constantly cracking jokes and messing around, simply having fun as if no one was watching. Being Gujurati, Naomi and her family found it fitting to teach the girls garba. In return, the girls performed a Rajasthani folk dance for them. Everyone bonded over their common interest in Bollywood films and music. On top of this, Naomi got the chance to witness the girls self defense class and even joined in.
In the afternoon, they would help out by teaching the children the alphabet, and basic math and English. They also relaxed with the kids by playing fun games like Carrom. Overall, Naomi was incredibly inspired by how positive the women and kids were, regardless of poverty and the unjust circumstances that they were born into.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the trip was when Naomi and her mother (a physical therapist) hosted a health workshop for the girls. The girls were asked what medical problems they had and most of them complained of irregular periods, horrible cramps, back pain, and headaches.
Naomi and her mother designed their workshop in a manner that would address those concerns. They demonstrated the ways in which the girls should do their demanding household work and chores in order to prevent back injury-- this included showing them the correct way to pick up heavy items, the proper way to move an ill person from the bed to a chair, and exercises to strengthen their core. They also spoke about women’s health concerns regarding periods, pregnancy, and contraception, as well as how to protect themselves from strangers. The girls greatly benefitted from having their questions answered with great care and consideration.
On the final day of their trip, Naomi was able to visit Sambhali’s boutique and graduate center, where some of the women who have completed the sewing program are employed. She spent time looking through the beautiful hand made products they had created and put up for sale. Through this experience, Naomi was able to see first hand how a sewing machine truly changed these women’s lives.
Naomi has returned to the US with a heavy heart, but determined to do anything she can to help these women and children. She hopes to take the profits made from selling her graphic tees, graphic hoodies, and professional prints, and purchase sewing machines to donate to the Fatima Center. To find out more, visit www.projecttasveer.org