Do cobblers still exist? As R. Senthamarai discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic when she met with an impoverished community of cobblers in the village of Vilvarani of Kalasapakkam Taluk, Tiruvannamalai District, Tamil Nadu, India who had been out of work, the answer is yes. As the Founder and Director of The Social Improvement Voluntary Association, a nonprofit based in Tamil Nadu, Senthamarai works to uplift the lives of community members that no one else is helping, especially women and children, so meeting the cobblers sparked an idea that would benefit two communities.
Senthamarai comes from a poor family and was, fortunately, able to own some land as an adult. Having seen poverty early one, Senthamarai wanted to serve and uplift people. So with the assistance of her husband, she registered their nonprofit organization with the government in 1988. Since then, they have been blessed to serve many disadvantaged people with special attention to women and children. It’s been more than 30 years now and they continue to help as many people as possible through different programs.
While assisting people distressed by the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2022, she came across a community of cobblers in the village of Vilvarani. “Their living conditions were horrible. The children were starving and pregnant women did not have access to nutritious food. Their lack of education and healthcare facilities did not help either.” Therefore, Senthamarai decided to help them to become independent.
“Our project aims to train the cobblers in making ropes and footwear by recycling tires. As you may know, the buying power of the lower middle-class section in India diminished monumentally. They were looking for cheaper alternatives. With the implementation of the project, the cobblers started getting opportunities to sell shoes to people at a much lower price. This enabled them to have an additional source of income.” explained Senthamarai. Since the cost of the raw materials is so low, the profit margin for sale per shoe was high. For example, during the Full Moon, Tiruvannamalai is flooded by over 300,000 people and that presents a huge market opportunity for their cobblers.
So far, Senthamarai has trained 20 cobbler community members. “I am also happy to share that some nonprofit organizations in our vicinity have joined the movement and are modeling our program as well.”
Talking about a few challenges she faced, Senthamarai shares, “Unfortunately, we were affected by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting our activities. Due to the strict protocols, we conduct training on a one-to-one basis which takes up a lot of time but we are learning to adapt. Thankfully, our instructors are really generous and accepted this way of training.”
A highlight of Senthamarai’s journey in helping cobblers has been seeing one of her beneficiaries open a shop in Tiruvannamalai (about 20 kilometers away from her residence) during the Full Moon Day. “Seeing her thriving, I felt our objective of empowering the cobblers, specifically women, was accomplished. We are proud of this achievement. ”Senthamarai said, “I truly believe that everyone is capable of developing on their own. The only thing they need is proper guidance and encouragement. Illiteracy and poverty should not be impediments to achieving your dreams.”
Compassion could often be a lonely and long path. “We were happy to find another institution that was willing to listen and help those who no one else was helping. This Pollination Project grant is an indication that the cobblers matter and that someone is there for them.”
Do you know someone like R. Senthamarai who is working to make a change and needs microgrants to keep them going?
Let them know The Pollination Project is here for them. We help both individual and small organizations. Learn more about our changemakers here.