Training rural women to become beauticians? It had seemed like a crazy idea when it was first mooted at FERRY some years ago. Who needs a beautician in those areas? Would villagers have time, money or inclination to spend on beauty care? The idea won’t work.
FERRY, Foundation for Economic Rehabilitation of Rural Youths, is a Calcutta-based non-political and non-profit voluntary organisation that provides free vocational training to rural youths at its three project sites–Rampurhaat, Baidyapur and Khanyan. I am one of its members.
It was not easy to convince everyone on the need for beauticians’ training courses in rural Bengal. Computers, mobile-phone repairing, welding, power tiller maintenance and all such new-age courses offered by FERRY were understandable and welcome from the word go. It’s understandable that villagers do not always have to engage themselves in tailoring, knitting, embroidery and carpentry. That’s not possible. That said, wouldn’t a beauticians’ training course be too far-fetched?
Since 2012 we’ve conducted a six-month Beauticians’ Training course at each of our centres. Almost 60 women have acquired the training. Drop-out rate was minimal and attendance was almost 100 per cent (despite the fact that some of the trainees come from far-flung areas). About 10 of them have started their own beauty parlours. Some have found employment at other parlours and most are working independently from home. Only a few of them have not joined the trade. It is still too early to say our trainees are all successful. Like any other business, this takes time. But they’ve begun well.
So who are their customers? Village girls and women, many of whom are possibly threading eyebrows for the first time. Brides, whose makeup can no longer be left to the mercy of pasher barir pishi or mashi (aunties next-door). And, of course, the “party-goers”. One of our alumni explained how some women prefer their make-ups be professionally done even when they were going to parties– sundry anushthhans such as annaprashan (baby’s rice ceremony).
On Feb 18, senior members, Agamani Gupta and Jayasri Bandyopadhyay, and I conducted the final examinations at our Khanyan project site. It was heartening to know that some of the trainees have begun work even before the end of the course. “I made Rs 1,000, yesterday,” gushed one. She has started a parlour in her house. “I want to start a spa. Could you help me get some training on that.”
“We need to learn more hairstyles,” others suggested. “Step-cut and layers are a must. Can we have extra classes.”
Do you get a lot of customers here? Also for those steps and those layers? I asked, immediately realising it was a stupid question. One of them paused her threading to look at me, the tip of the thread in between her teeth. “They all want to try new styles these days.”
Here are some pictures of women making things happen in the “unhappening” rural India:
Exam in progress–
A “halka-saaj” look, this–