Covid 19 Update. A report by Nirmala, our Country Director in India

 10th Apr 2020 |  From The Heart Of... |  Fritha Mason

As we all know, many, many countries are currently in 'lockdown' ordered by governments, to decrease and halt the spread of the coronavirus. Many of our customers, supporters and investors have been in touch asking how the situation is affecting our Maker Community. 

As the Country Director for Secret Projects in India, I am pleased to provide a report in the form of a question and answer session to provide the latest and most accurate information about how India and particularly our Makers, are being affected during this unprecedented time. 

How is the Secret Projects Maker Community?

Nirmala: Those Maker Groups I have been able to contact have told me that they and their families are all safe and doing well amidst the Covid 19 crisis and that there has been no reports of anyone being infected with the virus in their neighbourhoods. I am working hard to contact the remaining groups I haven't managed to speak with and I will be giving updates regularly as I have more information about everyone's well-being. 

How is the lockdown affecting them and their communities?

Nirmala: As we work across 5 states in this vast continent, it is fair to say that the women from our Maker Groups and their families are perhaps having very different experiences depending on their geographical region. For example, those based in and around cities or large towns may have easier access to day to day staples than those based in remote areas. 

It is fair to say though, that the vast majority of our Makers live in families that rely heavily on the earnings of daily wagers and unskilled workers with this market  being affected massively, with 85% this labour pool being unable to work. This will have caused much distress and any small amount of savings (if they indeed have anything to fall back on) these families hold, will very quickly be spent. 

What support is on offer to the people of India?

Nirmala: The Indian government is providing free wheat and rice to families that fall on or below the poverty line and fresh milk is also being supplied by some individuals and companies. 

I have however heard of some heart warming stories of support among communities. People are cooking for neighbours and other members of their towns and villages and we are particularly proud to report that one of our Secret Projects colleagues Justin, who runs a small fruit and vegetable shop is providing those in need with free groceries, having raised funds to cover this within his own network. I know that there are many acts of kindness and support happening around the country. 

Are there any positive stories about Secret Projects Makers at this unprecedented time?

Nirmala: I'm happy to say that I have been very heartened by a number of such stories. 

Shankaramma, (pictured below, fourth from left) is part of our Banashankari Maker Group. Ironically, the lockdown in India coincided with the onset of the Hindu Lunar New Year calendar and the great celebration called Ugadi and Shankaramma had planned to travel to her hometown with her husband and son to be with their wider family. However, she made the decision that they should go without her, as she wanted to remain behind as she had received a good number of orders for outfits that she wanted to complete and to be on-hand for her customers as they collected their new clothes and begin their festival preparations.

Of course the government then put the country into lockdown, meaning that many of her clientele can't currently work and sadly can no longer afford to pay Shankaramma, or collect their clothing. However they all  really appreciate the fact that Shankaramma has put her customers first by deciding to remain behind and as soon as the lockdown is over and people begin earning again, they will pay her and will use her services in the future. 

Shankaramma, fourth from left wearing her gorgeous red and green sari

I am incredibly proud of the brave decision that Shankaramma has made and it shows a deep and true entrepreneurial spirit and Secret Projects are so honoured to have played a part in helping Shankaramma develop her talent for business. As her husband and son can't currently travel back home until the lockdown has been lifted, Shankarmma has told me that she is feeling lonely, but feels she made completely the right decision both for her business and her family and feels confident that she is going to be okay.   

I am also glad to report that I have been in touch with Molly who is the leader of  another of our Maker Groups, Molly's Sewing Unit. As soon as lockdown happened, Molly closed the doors to her unit, but with great insight has set up a WhatsApp group with the women and is currently holding training sessions via video to ensure the women keep up to date with their skills. Once the lockdown is lifted, Molly plans for business as usual and will resume training and production. 

Many of you may remember Shylaja (pictured below) who was the amazing entrepreneur that we featured during our Secret Project Community Benefit Society Share Offer earlier this year. Shylaja had been able to save enough money from working with Secret Projects to open up her own sewing shop on the main road in the town where she, her husband and 2 sons live. She has had to close her shop for now, but she will open again as soon as the lockdown lifts and we are hoping to be able to give Shylaja an order for Secret Products as soon as we possibly can. 

Shylaja in her sewing shop

I hope that you have found my report informative and I will of course be bringing further updates as the Covid 19 situation in India changes and I have further news from our Maker Groups.

Keep well.  


A new Maker Group and production of face masks for our Secret Face Masks for India Appeal has begun

A new Maker Group and production of face masks for our Secret Face Masks for India Appeal has begun

Partly situated in West Bengal on the Bangladesh border, the group is based in the Sundarbans, an outstandingly beautiful and remote region of . . . mangrove forest. Being such an isolated part of the world, the area is a key target for gangs of human traffickers and income generating opportunities, especially for women are scarce. A little more about the women... We met the NGO supporting the women when on a Customer Trip to West Bengal before lockdown gripped the world and were immediately impressed with their work and mission and how their values aligned so closely with Secret Projects. They work with groups of marginalized women who are at risk of being trafficked and help them to enhance their sewing skills by providing tailoring and stitching training and then go on to earn income by using these skills. We were very keen to work together, but obviously the global pandemic meant that plans had to be placed on hold. We launched our Sponsor Secret Face Masks for India appeal in May '21 to not only help slow down the spread of the virus in the country, but to provide our Makers with a chance to earn money to support themselves and their families and children by producing the masks. We decided that we wanted to distribute the masks in and around Bengaluru, where many of our Makers live as well as in the regions of Andhra Pradesh and the Sundarbans. How we are working together We contacted the NGO and had a very productive meeting via Zoom and agreed that the group would make 1000 sponsored face masks for Secret Projects and distribute them to communities most in need in the area. Lissy, our Quality Controller and Maker provided virtual training about how to make Secret Face Masks to our specifications and the production process has now begun! The group has started by making a small number of masks that have been returned to Lissy for a quality control check before full production begins. She has been very impressed with the standard and is currently feeding back to the group about a few small adjustments that need making and following this the stitching of the 1000 face masks will commence. We look forward to sharing further details about the making of the masks and their distribution soon. We are excited to be working with this new group of Makers at what is an incredibly difficult time for India and look forward to growing and developing our relationship to empower women through training and the making and selling of clothing and homeware. If you would like to sponsor a pack/s of Secret Face Masks, please click here for more information. Photo: The women from the Sundarbans Maker Group with team members of the NGO that supports them.
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We are over the moon to be part of 'Beyond Beautiful' -  a collection of artisanal products curated by the World Fair Trade Organization

We are over the moon to be part of 'Beyond Beautiful' - a collection of artisanal products curated by the World Fair Trade Organization

As provisional members of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), we are absolutely delighted to have been chosen to be featured in one of their . . . latest programmes, 'Beyond Beautiful' Beyond Beautiful... ‘Beyond Beautiful’ is a curated collection of artisanal products from verified Fair Trade Enterprises around the world. How does it help our mission to empower women in India? It promotes the work and stories of global craftspeople providing a new sourcing opportunity for retailers and importers wishing to expand their fair trade offer. So, in a nutshell, being part of Beyond Beautiful showcases Secret Products to new markets and buyers keen to purchase from ethical producers and Fair Trade product lines. A great opportunity for us! It is one of our major goals to increase our profile amongst retailers, importers and wholesalers, giving the opportunity for Secret Products to be sold more widely all over the world. Being part of Beyond Beautiful is a wonderful step for us towards achieving this goal and we are proud and excited to have been chosen by WFTO as one of their featured producers. If you have any contacts within the retail/wholesale world who are keen to expand their range of fair trade products, please pass on their details to our CEO, Fritha Mason: Photo: Kantha Blankets made for Secret Projects as featured in Beyond Beautiful
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The first AGM of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society - a review

The first AGM of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society - a review

The first ever AGM of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society (SPCBS) was held on Wednesday 30th June 2021 via Zoom. We were delighted to have 25 . . . Shareholders attending the meeting in person, with a further 23 Shareholders represented via proxy. Opened and chaired by Secret Projects CEO, Fritha Mason, presentations were given by:   Banke Ajayi, Financial Director of SPCBS Fritha Mason, CEO of SPCBS Sumathi Thyagarajan, Acting Director of Social Power India (SPI) Shin Rumani, Marketing Manager of SPI Margaret Ring, Communications Manager of SPCBS   The main theme of the meeting naturally revolved around the affects that COVID-19 has had on the business and Banke Ajayi was able to provide a positive report about how the Society has fared financially over the last year. She stated that we had survived the global pandemic, which is a good base from which to grow over the next few years. As this was our first AGM, the team were excited to present and engage with Shareholders and were delighted with how the meeting progressed and the positive comments received from people. We would like to express gratitude to our Shareholders for their continued support and positive involvement in Secret Projects Community Benefit Society and we look forward to our second year as a Community Benefit Society and empowering women in India through the training and the making and selling of clothing and homeware.  
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