Imphal: Despite being in distress, the inmates of a relief camp at Khangabok in Manipur’s Thoubal district, which houses 210 displaced people, are making crochet dolls to bring smiles on the faces of thousands of children.
‘1 Million Heroes’, a global, multi-platform entertainment brand dedicated to inspire and instill confidence in children around the world has come up with an idea for sustainable livelihood for the internally displaced persons in Manipur, who are languishing in make-shift relief camps in the aftermath of the ethnic violence in the state.
The four-month long ethnic hostilities between the tribal Kukis and the non-tribal Meiteis have so far killed over 175 lives, and displaced around 70,000 men, women and children from both the communities.
Aiming the global market, a team from 1 Million Heroes is training the displaced persons in crocheting amigurumi doll-making at the Khangabok relief camp in Thoubal district.It is one of the five relief camps across Manipur where such doll-making training is being imparted to the inmates, mostly women.
Laishram Geeta Leima (36), a mother of three children, is one of the trainees who’s pinning her hope on crocheting for short-term livelihood in these times of crisis.
She had to flee for safety after her village in Sugnu Awang Leikai in Kakching district was attacked by armed attackers on May 27.
Geeta sees a ray of hope in the art of crochet that is easy to master, satisfying and productive as well.
“As we’re staying in the relief camp, we’ve no means of livelihood. I have to look after my kids. During these dark times, the team from 1 Million Heroes came to train us in making crochet dolls as a livelihood alternative. I’ve almost mastered it. We’re very happy to acquire this new skill. We’re told that they are chalking out ways to get us revenues out of these dolls,” said Geeta Leima.
The 1 Million Heroes team has been visiting different relief camps and training the interested persons in doll-making, providing them with the know-hows and the required tools and raw materials.
The target is to train groups of individuals in five relief camps with each camp specialising in each of the five characters conceived as the first line of the global amigurumi doll brand.
The characters include – ‘Buddy’ the pet dog, ‘Mitten’ the cat, ‘Raja’ the tiger, ‘Oliver’ the bear, and ‘Bola’ the buddy
Describing the training programme, doll artist and trainer Utpala Longjam said the initiative is going on pretty well.
“Crochet is not very difficult if you know the basics. And most of these people knew the basics. All we had to do was teach them the pattern and the right way to go about it. They’re picking it up pretty well. Once they become comfortable with the needle, the crochet and the patterns, we would be providing them with the cotton yarns for the actual product,” Longjam said.
Monish Karam, the founder of 1 Million Heroes, said,“I was living in Singapore when the violence started in Manipur in May. We wanted to do something for the people back home to help rebuild their lives. We were brainstorming as to what to do. We wanted to do something sustainable. So, the best idea we could come up with is to do something where we can use our own skill, and that is technology.
“Our women are quite good with handicraft and handlooms. And that is something we wanted to take leverage of. We realised that we can make something creative. Then the idea of dolls came and eventually we narrowed down to crochet dolls. And these dolls are not mere dolls. We believe they are the symbol of hope and vessels of storytelling.”
As all complexities in the entire process of production is taken care of by 1 Million Heroes, including designs, market research, supply of raw materials, tools etc., the trainees only have to create the dolls and supply them to 1 Million Heroes for sales.
Most of the proceeds will go to the dollmakers. The organisation willsend the finished products to its pre-ordered clients after quality check.
“Before the end of September, we will run a kick-starter campaign which will be asking people to be generous adopters of the dolls to get pre-orders directly from the campaign as well as from our app. Once we are done with that, we will allocate different orders across multiple relief camps that we are engaged with. We’re also engaging with corporates to include this project as part of their CSR initiatives,” Karam said.
When a person or a child buys or adopts a doll, they will also get an augmented reality app which will display the 3D replica image of the doll.
Agom Sangeeta Leima (48), another resident from Sugnu whose village was attacked on May 28, said the doll-making training has boosted her confidence by showing her a way to overcome financial challenges.
“I am participating in this training programme hoping to earn some income. I think learning this skill is beneficial. It could be revenue generating if we’re able to maintain production. They came to help us out and offered to train us. And we readily accepted,” she said.
Several other private enterprises are also conducting livelihood training programmes at different relief camps.These training programmes include making ‘agarbatti’, floor disinfectant like phenyl, detergent, liquid dishwash, cocoon reeling, scrunchies and paper bag etc.
Manipur government’s Commissioner of Trade, Commerce and Industries, P.K. Jha, has assured that the Manipur Handloom and Handicraft Corporation will buy all the products made at the relief camps.
After deducting investment on raw materials that are being provided to the inmates free of cost, the sales proceeds will go to the inmates.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])