It’s been a very productive year for DigiKala, an initiative of DEF and Microsoft India under the former’s Digital Cluster Development Programme (DCDP), in Barpali and Nuapatna villages of Odisha. From digital literacy, community mobilisation and enabling access to government schemes to creating self-help groups and shifting traditional weavers to computer-aided design software, a lot has been put in to motion and achieved in this last one year. Both the centres, at Barpali and Nuapatna, have reached their one-year target of training 500 students in digital literacy at each of the centres.
In fact, by the end of 2016, the figures will have touched the 800-mark for the DigiKala centre in Barpali alone.
This is had quite a positive impact on the youth in the region, who have been able to find better jobs in their respective villages or neighbouring towns. Many others, who are still young to start working, have been able to broaden their perspective. They know that they are no longer restricted to unskilled work, but have the ability to do more and better.
Meanwhile, local staff at both the centres has been extremely active in their community mobilisation efforts to raise awareness about government schemes. The staff has also helped many weavers enrol for a Weaver ID card, the absence of which meant inability to access various government schemes and benefits. This activity particularly helped DigiKala gain trust from community members, who now frequently visit the centres seeking help, information or other resources. Self Help Groups (SHG) have also been formed in both the clusters and initial meetings have successfully concluded. Formation of SHGs allows weavers to have a common pool of money and ideas, which they can access for production and fall back on in case of a financial crisis. At the same time, it also ensures more work is constantly coming in for all members, who now have access to the latest designs and design software, besides trainings, at DigiKala centres.
It’s overwhelming to see that Barpali and Nuapatna clusters are finally catching up to the benefits of digital design as it allows innovative patterns and out-of-the-box concepts to be woven on textiles. The compatibility of computer aided designs on graphs with the tradition of handmade designs in mind has been a tricky issue. However, finally, the issue has been resolved and the community is showing more interest in computer aided designs.
Most recently, tie-and-dye classes have taken off to a successful start at both the centres. These classes are an important addition as they impart a new skill to young weavers, who had until now seemed disinterested in the occupation. It is interesting to note, that tie-and-dye is a skill that is exclusive to people of only a certain caste in the region. However, now with these classes open for all, many more youngsters are able to master the skill and, consequently, break the barriers of caste to some extent.
And this learning process is not just for the beneficiaries from the community but for the staff as well. In October, ground teams from Barpali and Nuapatna visited Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh for a training session where they got a chance to learn from the experience of Chanderiyaan, DEF’s first cluster programme that was initiated in 2009.
At the moment, the task of connecting weaver households with broadband connectivity is underway and it should be completed by the second week of January 2017. Community spaces and public institutions have also been identified where the Internet can serve as a tool for empowerment and easy access to information on topics such as health, policies, rights and education, among others. And once all the measures are in — besides the ongoing community mobilisation efforts, promotion of digital designs, digital literacy and networking — the ground will finally be set for connecting the weavers with the global market through an e-Commerce portal, which will be launched soon.