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Couple help create jobs in rural India

By Tania McCauley

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Ana Wilkinson has been running sewing courses for women in India.
Ana Wilkinson has been running sewing courses for women in India.

Former Hawke's Bay couple Ana and Daniel Wilkinson have spent the past few years creating job opportunities for rural Indian villagers.

It includes the Holi Boli clothing line, several examples of which are on show at the Photographers Gallery Hawke's Bay, Napier, until Saturday.

Holi Boli, which draws its name from the Hindu Festival of Colour, features the work of some of the graduates of Ana's sewing courses. Others have gone on to work from home, or found jobs in the nearby town - city sized by New Zealand standards - of Sambalpur.

The Wilkinsons and their three children aged 5 to 12 are based in rural Bhalupali in the Odisha region, a 12-hour train ride from Calcutta.

Ana has been fascinated with India since she was small and, in 2002, began supporting an orphanage in Odisha. In 2006, she and Daniel decided to visit - and, as she says, it may sound like a cliche, but they did fall in love with the place.

"We just couldn't stop thinking about it and felt we wanted to be there and make a difference, share the skills we have helping people."

Daniel, a former Fonterra factory manager, and Ana, who trained in fashion design, moved to Odisha in 2010 and set up CIC (Continuous Improvement Consultants). A philanthropic organisation focusing on providing training and resources to individuals, groups and businesses, much of its training is subsidised by donations, and any profits are returned to the community.

Their first venture was an early childhood centre, now managed by a qualified Kiwi early childhood teacher who also runs teacher training courses. Ana has been running her courses for more than three years, teaching women to use non-electric treadle sewing machines - power cuts are a regular daily feature where they live - and selling the resulting clothing in Calcutta and via the internet. The fabric is sourced locally, with the couple occasionally making the arduous return trip to the region's capital, Bhubaneshwar, to buy cloth; an exercise beginning in the early hours of the morning and ending at about midnight.

Last August, they were joined by another New Zealand couple who run carpentry apprenticeships; the trainees making items such as educational wooden toys.

"A lot of people in villages do not get an education and many of them are illiterate. Holi Boli grew from teaching these women marketable skills and gave them the opportunity to create their own employment."

The Wilkinson children attend a local school and, like their parents, have become tri-lingual, learning Hindi and the local dialect, Oriya. "I love that my children get to see the contrasts between the two countries and they have an appreciation for having electricity and clean running water."

For more information visit holiboliindia.blogspot.com

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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