Meet a few gift makers.

JOTI, ARTISAN, FREESET KOLKATA

"I started my journey at Freeset when I was 18-years old. Freeset not only taught me to become a skilled seamstress but how to manage my money and save. With one of my first savings, I bought a water filter. It was the first water filter I've ever had in my own home. Now I'm 30-years old with a husband and a daughter, and I’ve been promoted as one of the lead sewing trainers at Freeset. Working at Freeset has allowed me to see a different future for not only me but my daughter too. Now I am saving money so my daughter can go to college."

MANUFA, ARTISAN, FREESET SHERPUR

RACHEL, SEAMSTRESS. KI-PEPEO

Rachel, a mother of two, trained as a seamstress about seven years ago. However, she was not able to find sustainable income and ended up taking other part time jobs as a day laborer in construction zones and on a coffee plantation. Throughout these years, Rachel remained very passionate about tailoring and hoped one day to be fulfill her dream of becoming a seamstress.

In 2017, Rachel was given the opportunity to work at Ki-pepeo. She claims that her life took a fast turn in a positive direction, finally pursuing what she wanted to do in life. Rachel began earning a salary that allowed her to fully take care of her two children as well as support her husband who was jobless at the time.

After working for six months with Ki-pepeo, Rachel was able to get her first bank loan at the age of 36. She took the loan and purchased a motorcycle for her husband. (In Rwanda, motorcycles are used as taxis by most people and it’s a good business.) A few months after starting his business with the motorbike, Rachel requested a small internal loan from Ki-pepeo so her family could relocate to a better housing facility (it was a rainy season and the house they were staying in wasn't suitable). Ki-pepeo made the loan available and Rachel paid it off within six months. Currently, Rachel’s husband’s motorcycle business brings income to the family and she is confident about what the future holds.

Rachel is considered by Ki-pepeo as one of their greatest assets – she’s very determined, hard-working and dedicated to what she does every day.

“There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.”

W.E.B. DUBOIS

HECTOR ESPAÑA, HEAD CARPENTER, ITZA WOOD

Hector is from San Andres, Petén, Guatemala, and loves working with the tropical hardwoods native to the area. He’s the head carpenter at the Itza Wood workshop and one of the most handy guys out there, self-teaching welding, mechanics, electrical skills and carpentry. At a young age he realized he had a special knack for woodworking and sought out ways to expand his skills and knowledge. He moved to the other side of the country to a town known for it's woodworkers and apprenticed at a shop for two years before returning to his jungle village. Hector returned because he knew he had a lot to give back to his community. He is most excited about teaching others woodworking and helping create more jobs for his community.

ISABELLA, SEAMSTRESS, KI-PEPEO

Isabella is 27 years old and comes from Musanze, Western Rwanda. The first-born of seven children, Isabella was not able to complete her secondary education. She needed to work in order to support her single mother to raise her six younger siblings. To make money and support her family, Isabella ended up in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where she became a house maid. To her, it was the best offer as she had – doing all the house work for a family and taking care of the 3 children while getting free accommodation and food. This meant her entire salary could be saved and she could send the money back to her mother so that her six siblings could attend school.

After six years of working as housemaid, Isabella asked her boss to sign her up for a tailoring school where she trained for six months before joining Ki-pepeo full time. Isabella says that her life has fully been transformed. Previously, she depended on other people to care for her shelter and food and had no idea what else she could do with just a primary school education.

Isabella now has enough income to live independently and continues to help support her mother and siblings. Her employment at Ki-pepeo has allowed her to get medical insurance for herself and her immediate family. For her mother, this is the first time in her life that she has been able to visit the doctor look after her health.

BALIKA, FREESET SHERPUR EMPLOYEE

Balika grew up in rural Murshidabad in a village not far from Freeset Sherpur. Her father was a farm laborer and her mother looked after the family. Balika’s family arranged for her to get married when she was just 13 years old. Her husband was a farm laborer twice her age. Because his work was seasonal, his income was sporadic. As a young bride, Balika didn’t know what to expect from her husband, so she endured it when she found out that he was an alcoholic. He did not treat her well, and often beat her. She gave birth to a son when she was 15, and a daughter three years later. With her husband’s irregular income, preference for alcohol, and lack of care for his family, Balika and her children often went hungry, sharing just one meal a day.

Two years ago, Balika’s husband climbed a tree near their house to pick coconuts in a drunken stupor. He fell out of the tree and died from his injuries. When Balika told us of that day she said, “There was no peace when my husband was alive, but after his death, our future seemed even more desperate.” A glimmer of hope unexpectedly appeared a few days later as Balika talked with Kundola, a friend from her village who worked for Freeset in Kolkata. Kundola shared that there might be an opportunity for a fresh start for Balika at Freeset Sherpur, a Freeset business in rural Murshidabad, just down the road. A week later, Balika started at Freeset Sherpur. She was thrilled to start her new job. Freeset Sherpur offered her a training stipend and a consistent income above the national minimum. Her children would no longer have to go hungry!

When she first started at Freeset Sherpur, Balika wasn’t confident that she’d have what it takes to learn to weave. She thought she might end up spinning or finishing instead. Even the Freeset Sherpur team thought she might have a hard time weaving because she was small-framed and not very tall. During training, Balika set her sights on becoming a weaver. She put all of her energy and concentration into learning and practicing her weaving skills. Now Balika is one of Freeset Fabric’s best weavers! She enjoys coming to work to weave and she loves the community-oriented atmosphere at Freeset Sherpur. Between working, chai breaks, and getting lunch with the other women, Balika describes Freeset Sherpur as a family.

When asked about her hopes for the future, Balika doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Her biggest dream is for Freeset to grow so that more women from surrounding villages can be given the same opportunity that she had. She wants these women to see their lives, families, and communities flourish. “Now that I work for Freeset Sherpur, there is a better future for me and my family. I was lonely and sad before, but life looks very different now. Thank you!”

Photos via: Freeset Story Photos via Freeset; Ki-Pepeo Story Photos via Lauri Jones Pastrone; Itza Wood Story Photo via Nicolo Pastrone