On December 24, 2004, Orly and Danny experienced the devastation caused by the Tsunami on the Bay of Bengal coast in Tamil Nadu, near Pondicherry, India. They arrived 2 months before to try to join Auroville community, with their 3 children. Orly is a social worker and papier-mache artist. Danny was an auditor for large telecommunication corporates. The Tsunami devastation, combined with Orly’s and Danny’s professional experience, gave birth to the Wellpaper as a Tsunami rehabilitation program.
Our vision of the project is Women empowerment and ecological awareness. The WELL project has grown to be a global model of social enterprise development. Even when many doubted the success of the project initially, no obstacles on the way diverted us from the vision. The primary goal of WELL is to empower local village women with skills to build, manage and maintain self-sustaining units.
THE WELL IN WELLPAPER
WELL stands for Women Empowered through Local Livelihood.
Women are the target group of the WELL project. The idea of WELL is to develop alternative sustainable incomes generation for women and to address the social problem of gender inequality. The women are selected based on their diverse socio-economic backgrounds and desire to run their own business. Few of the selected women have 10 standard education but most of them are illiterate.
Empowerment in the major work of the WELL project and it is emphasized in two ways: from the training and from the follow-ups of the training. WELL offers long training of 6 months in contrasts to many skill training projects that are done in short periods of time (2-4 weeks). The training in WELL does not only include skills training on how to create the products but also, and most importantly, focuses on how to develop independent social enterprises. The women receive education on how to develop their own enterprises. They receive classes on costing calculation, work organization, how to choose materials, and more. In addition WELL provides classes for personal development related to health, hygiene, English classes, child care, yoga and more. After the completion of the training period women are ready for independent work. They receive a small loan to start their own production unit and have complete decision-making power. However, the WELL team works closely with this group and offer consulting, marketing and help with personal problems. Furthermore, they teach the women about quality control which is very important for them because they generate income in accordance to their performance in producing quality products.
Local has three main interpretations. First, women in the rural Indian environment have many duties to carry at home (cleaning, religious tasks etc.). Despite their close ties to family lives, they are forced to immigrate to far places to find work, which leaves them away from their home for many years. WELL is trying to address this problem by creating local livelihood that is closer to their homes.
Second, for WELL it is very important to respect to local culture and traditions. In order to do that WELL created an atmosphere of equality between the WELL team members and the beneficiaries. It is important for the team to be able to listen to what the women want.
Third, WELL uses local materials and sources as much as it can. It takes the local skills and tradition of weaving and uses local waste to create the products. The main waste material used in the production process is the national newspaper: The Hindu. When The Hindu prints its newspaper they lose close to 5 percent of every batch due to machine alignment. This production waste amounts to more than 1000 kg per month.
Livelihood captures the essence of WELL’s development of alternative ways of livelihood by taking the local skills of women and material waste to develop income generation where there is no large competition (no main stream production).
THE WELL WOMEN
The WELL women are the power behind this lovely project. They are organized within independent profit sharing groups which earn income according to their quality of performance and group progress. They are involved in designing and coordinating training programs and products. These women govern through the four independent production units namely Sri Mother, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ester and Jeyam. Today, after years of experience, the WELL Women are teaching social enterprise development and recycling skills for many other social organizations in distance locations.
Wellpaper team is the service provider organ for the WELL women. The services includes training, guidance and support in product development, marketing, administration, networking, fund raising, team management, volunteer coordination and personal development. The team consists of friends from different backgrounds and nationalities.
Wellpaper is making wealth out of waste. The products are entirely made from waste materials such as newspapers, plastic bottles, styrofoam, waste metal wires, used CD/DVDs, rice sacks, packages of animal’s food, mango seeds and more are in development. Furthermore, we are in constant search for ecological friendly materials. The products’ are coated with nontoxic water based varnish by “Dolphin ink”, which do not contain any heavy metals or petroleum products. The glue we used is called “Maida glue” which is made of wheat flour. We recycle only “The Hindu” newspaper due to safety and strength of the newspaper. The Hindu use more dense paper than other local publishers and more importantly their unique hot printing technique avoid the ink to leak.