Kantha Embroidery, West Bengal

In India, many thousands of women, along with their children, are thrown out of their homes each year or deserted by their families. They are thrown out by in-laws when their husbands have died; deserted by their husbands who have decided to take a new wife; or left destitute because of illness which prevents them from adding their share to the family economy.

Lokhi Mullick was such a woman. Ten years ago, she migrated to the village of Taldi, West Bengal as a refugee with her husband and two small children from Bangladesh. The family lived in a plastic tent on a small parcel of non-agricultural land donated by the Indian government. Within a few months Lohki's husband eloped with another woman to the Andaman Islands. Destitute and unable to provide in any way for her needs she contacted the Christian Women's Social Center, a nonprofit in West Bengal. The nonprofit provided food, shelter, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to be trained in sewing. Lokhi took what was given. She worked hard for herself and her children, and the day came when she was able to save enough money to build a small home on her parcel of land.

Lokhi was one of many helped by the Christian Women Social Center. Founded over 20 years ago by a woman with a blazing vision and passion to serve—Anima Mondal—this Indian nonprofit has worked to bring medical care to the indigent; education to the starved; and strength to the oppressed. And they have done so on a budget that stretches the imagination, even in an economy like India where the dollar can be maximally leveraged. In 2006, for example, on a budget of twelve thousand dollars a year, they were running three medical clinics serving upwards of 45,000 people; a school for the poor with 178 children; a home for 40 children; and five women's social groups that provided counseling for tens of thousands of women to prevent forced prostitution, AIDS, and disease from inadequate hygiene.

Anima was a tireless servant to humanity; she ran her organization with efficiency and gusto, yet the organization had one glaring flaw. No provision had been made for self-sufficiency. All of the projects—for which Anima collected not even a penny in salary—were supported from a single, foreign benefactor. If the economics of that benefactor shifted, or the priorities, all of these projects and the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who had come to depend on them for the most basic support, would shatter.

This is what happened. When Link Hands met Anima, she was frantic with grief. The relief organization that had underwritten finances for 20 years had decided to pull out. The money would be exhausted in six months.

How does a woman—a remarkable leader capable of initiating projects that bring hope and support to hundreds of thousands—stretch beyond what she has known and raise $12,000 per year?

Link Hands took on the question. We committed to short-term funding to keep the projects alive and intensive planning to guide them to sustainability.

Many possible ideas were discussed. One of them was to train the women's collectives in sewing and kantha embroidery, for work of this type is in strong demand in India. The women jumped at the chance. And so each women's social group was outfitted with sewing machines; teachers; and a place in which to work.

This was one year ago.

Lokhi Mullick (left) offers advice to a
West Bengal seamstress.

In that short time, women in each of the groups have begun earning money sewing in their villages. The most skilled are now working for SASHA, an international non-profit outlet based in India, that sells and markets fair-trade goods all over the world.

These women now have work. And their work is igniting possibility for other women, because a small portion of proceeds from the sewing and embroidery is being returned to the women's centers, so that the work of those circles may continue to grow.

This is the vision of Link Hands. Multiply solutions by unleashing leadership in a collaborative framework.

The sewing projects have come full circle. Women who yearned to have a marketable skill one year ago are now the ones whose work is paying for the training of women today. And the woman who was thrown out on the street ten years ago, with two mouths to feed and no possible hope—Lokhi—is heading the way under the support and guidance of Anima Mondal. For Lokhi is the team leader of the women's circle in the village of Taldi. She is one of the most talented artists of all who have been trained. The kantha design that you see as the logo for this website was stitched by Lokhi and several of her team: a circle of people, linking hands.