A tale of two sisters and a new found identity

5 min read
Zardosi workers as WASH expert

Working skillfully in zardozi adda (embroidery unit) are two sisters Nida and Shahida, in Yaseenganj, Lucknow - a hub of zardozi artisans where almost every other household is engaged in the craft. The golden threads and sparkling motifs when placed skillfully can brighten up anybody’s day with the ensemble which comes after toiling hard, day and night. Long hours of sitting at one place and concentrating on the design roughly printed on the cloth, following every line, every dot is what these skilled artisans have perfected and so have Nida and Shahida who have inherited the craft from their father. They still do not remember the age they started working in the adda. They cheerfully state that “jabse hosh sambhala hai yahi kar rahe” translating to we have been doing it since the day we were capable of holding the needle and could sit upright. Nida and Shahida along with their father are engaged in the craft. Hailing from a conservative household they have lived a sheltered life at times with restrictions, even though their father is immensely supportive and believes otherwise. It was his constant persuasion that gave Nida the courage to move out of the four walls and join us.

After being home schooled and attending Madarsa, they went for formal schooling. Nida completed her class X, after which she was engaged and was not allowed to study further while Shahida is presently a student of class X. Both of them are WASH volunteers for the community. During their induction it was found that Shahida was comfortable and would participate actively but Nida, an introvert didn’t even speak a single word which made us think twice about her empanelment in the team. Surprisingly nobody in the neighborhood knew about Nida they didn’t even recognize her which made us realize that it might take a lot of efforts for us to prepare her for sessions and that too on topics that are still not acceptable in the community. Her life was limited to her room and the adda after she left her schooling which had left her distraught. 

wash sisters

To our relief came the fact that Nida was an avid listener and keen observer. She started taking up her hygiene sessions after her father Zubair motivated her to venture out of the house. He initiated change and then it was time for Nida to come out of her cocoon. Once she started taking up sessions she was elated and now she jubilantly adds that these sessions were just not a piece of information that she had to pass on, rather these became a milestone in her life as she regained her lost confidence. These sessions gave her an identity and when the artisans enquired on different topics she would answer brilliantly– a thing she had been dreading all her life. With a sudden boost in morale and confidence Nida has gradually transformed into a leader - and is the first one to respond when it comes to solving any issue on field. She leads the cluster from the front when organizing a meeting, event or venturing out for other hardware interventions. She has strengthened the team of volunteers in Old Lucknow and covers one of the most important clusters that we are working in. 

Nida’s story is not a regular one, we never knew that motivation will work wonders for her personality. She has, with time, shed her inhibitions. She is prepared. Prepared to answer questions, break all the shackles that the community has created for its women, its girls. The intermixing of varied age groups in WASH sessions has given her the courage to speak out for her rights. She wishes to continue her education and hopefully she would enroll for further studies in future. 

The younger sibling Shahida works even harder. An 18-year-old who has lived through various taunts because of her skin colour found this

wash sisters

opportunity lucrative enough to support herself and prove her mettle. The day she got a go-ahead from her father she took it as her moment of self- reliance. She happens to be the only girl coming from the artisan community to take regular hygiene sessions with the males in their Adda at Kareemganj. This might not sound very challenging to us but for a girl coming from an extremely conservative household where the purdah system still exists and women are not even allowed to speak to men outside their families, this was a phenomenal moment. She has ventured out all on her own and spoken to artisans from other communities, in places where she didn’t know a single person. These sessions gave her an opportunity to come out and talk to people. She adds that she herself has learned a lot, it was more of learning by doing for her and now she has eventually started enjoying the process. Shahida accepts that at a point of time she herself didn’t know about menstrual hygiene management but now she can take sessions on it. She goes on to add that they have been a close-knit family where more emphasis was laid on carrying forward the traditions rather than changing with time. Her father has been her constant support through these times and has helped her in standing up for herself, whether it was earning from a young age or to being involved as a WASH volunteer and trainer. Her story inspires us to stand against all odds. All through her life she has been humiliated for her skin color but despite all odds she overwhelms everyone with her wit and wisdom. Shahida is now looked up by many women in her community. She had always been an extrovert but these sessions gave her an exposure she subconsciously craved. The opportunity to work with men gave her a head start and now with a winsome smile she adds “ab mujhe mardon se dar nahi lagta”.

WASH empowers women and this is what we capture from their inspirational story -a tale of chasing a new dawn full of confidence and independence.