Walking in, the first thing you see is the children — beaming little faces, singing songs in a colorfully painted room, cooled from the 110-degree Fahrenheit heat by ceiling fans powered by solar cells on the roof. Despite the heat, it is remarkably comfortable inside the Amazon Cares Community Center, where women are learning life-changing skills.
The place is rural India, about 90 minutes outside Delhi, in Haryana. It is an undeveloped village, where livestock roam the rocky streets, and it’s not uncommon to find people surviving on as little as $100 per month.
It is here that a unique program is helping some of India’s most vulnerable build new lives for themselves.
“Women are not encouraged to be independent or have a say here. Women are not encouraged to make decisions in the family,” said Geeta Malhotra with Rural Education and Development India (READ). She says the women in this part of India are traditionally not empowered to help themselves or provide for their families.
Enter, the “shoe bags.” READ India teamed up with Amazon to provide these women — not only a valuable new skill at no cost — but a way to begin earning their own money almost immediately. The 14 community centers across India (more are on the way) provide a variety of training programs for local residents. But for the women, it’s the sewing that’s already making a sizeable difference. While children are cared for in another room, or taught computer skills in a lab upstairs, the women learn how to sew. Soon, they are creating Amazon India’s black satin shoe bags which wind up in thousands of customers’ homes across the country.
“Stitching and sewing is a livelihood program for women who are not educated,” said Malhotra, who helped lead the project and says its impact in this part of the world can’t be overstated.
Rather than simply teach the women to sew, Malhotra and Amazon’s local operations team partnered to have the women provide Amazon with the shiny black bags which were originally being purchased in bulk from a manufacturing vendor. The custom bags are used to hold new shoe orders shipped across Amazon in India. The people at READ call it a “win-win” because the women are learning a trade and earning money for the first time in their lives, while Amazon is building meaningful connections with the community. In fact, Amazon didn’t just establish the community center, but associates at the nearby fulfillment center donated and installed the solar cells on its roof.
On average, the women deliver thousands of shoe bags each month. Many use their new skills for additional jobs as well.
“Amazon Cares Community Centers have really transformed the lives of the communities wherever these centers have been established," Malhotra said. "Especially the children and the women because they are not able to go out of the village. So the center is a blessing for them.”
A single mother of three named Meena earns a steady income sewing the shoe bags, in addition to outside projects she’s picked up with her new skill of sewing. The 35-year-old has a source of independence for the first time in her adult life. She puts it simply.
“This center, has changed my life.”