A sustainable space for widows in rural Andhra Pradesh, India

Employee of the Month

Shelter currently employs 12 widows in the Sanitary Napkin Project. Get to know each of our employees by reading their stories as they are released! These stories were told May-June 2015 to Shelter founder Hanna Blaney. Each woman gave permission for these elements of her story to be retold on this website alongside her preferred picture.

November 2015

Age: 30, Village: Padakandla
Production, since June 2014

Kalavathi lived happily with her husband and two children until his death years ago due to sunstroke. After his death, she struggled to take care of her mother-in-law and two young children. As she had previously been a housewife with a 7th grade education, she had no work experience and no degree to fall back on. She tried working in agriculture, but without anyone to teach her, she instead learned to tailor. During this time, she struggled to feed and pay for her children’s education. Additionally, her son has a congenital condition, and she was 40,000 rs in debt from his operation and needs 1000 rs each month to pay for his medication. 

While the villagers gave Kalavathi grief for being a widow, luckily, her mother and mother-in-law offered Kalavathi emotional support during this difficult time. Since working for Shelter, her life has drastically improved and she is always seen with a bright smile on her face, despite her previous hardship. She can now afford to pay for her children’s education, with her son, age 9, and daughter, age 12, now both enrolled in English medium school. In the last year of employment, she has paid back her 40,000 rs debt for her son’s operation and is now able to afford her son’s medication. Because Shelter has given Kalavathi a new life, she would like to see Shelter expand to employ more widows. She has hopes of increasing production and improving sales in order to make this allowance.

October 2015

Age: 32, Village: Godiganur
Production, Since June 2014

Ranekka married at age 14 and had three sons with her husband, now ages 17, 15, and 13. Her marriage tragically ended seven years ago when her husband committed suicide. In an attempt to give his family a better life, her husband took out a loan to buy an autorickshaw. The loan defaulted and the pressure from debtors became too much. Unable to sustain the harassment, he poisoned himself, leaving Ranekka with three small children.

After his death, the debtors took back the autorickshaw and her house, leaving her with no source of income. In order to provide for her family, Ranekka started working in the fields and was able to send her children to government school. As a widow, she was not allowed to socialize with neighbors and became socially isolated. These were very difficult years for her.

Prior to working for Shelter, a tree fell on Ranekka, injuring her and making it difficult for her to go to work. Through this injury, she was introduced to Esther, the head of BIRDS Community Health Workers Program (BIRDS is Shelter’s partner). Esther saw that she could no longer do manual labor and had her interview for a position at Shelter.

Ranekka has now been working at Shelter for over a year. Her monthly salary from Shelter has allowed her to keep her children in school and she has started paying back the loan her house. She enjoys the work and has regained respect from her neighbors who now go to her for sanitary napkins. Working at Shelter has also allowed her to connect with other women with similar backgrounds. She no longer feels socially isolated. When I met Ranekka, I never saw her without a smile. Her positive attitude and spirit of encouragement earned her October’s Employee of the Month. Talking with her for this story, she expressed her happiness and gratitude for Shelter, “We are all happy.”