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Life Enrichment Education

My name is Renuka “Maisthri “(Mason)

Odisha woman joins Amrita’s computerized Rural Toilet Builder course, becomes star student in construction skills, takes up jobs alongside men and meets Minister and introduces herself as Renuka “Maisthri” (Mason)

In 2015, Renuka Nayak—a middle-aged woman from Gupatapada, Odisha—heard about a local computer course in her village. Although she was very reserved by nature and had received little formal education, she decided to participate in Amrita’s computerized Rural Toilet Building course, held at the Guptapada training center. She soon discovered that she loved the course and quickly soared to the top of the class, excelling in the skills of plumbing, plastering and masonry. She first learned through the Rural Toilet Builder (RTB) tablet course and then received hands-on training at the construction sites. Embedded in this training is the Life Skills tablet course, which helps to inspire women like Renuka to spread awareness and become champions for change.

Renuka Maisthri (Mason)

Through engaging in the coursework, Renuka was able to meet like-minded women, and together formed the Amritamayi Self Help Group (SHG) for toilet building. Renuka also attended adult literacy programs provided by Amrita. These courses allowed her to explore foundational skills like literacy and numeracy, while also providing the opportunity to develop competencies such as collaboration, creativity, problem-solving and team-work.

As her confidence soared, she began to find a new passion in explaining things to others. Renuka became a very good teacher and demonstrated excellent peer teaching skills. Peer teachers reinforce student learning by instructing others and allowing students to feel more comfortable and open. Through these strong skills, Renuka supported the other women in learning. In six short months, over 12 toilets were built by the Amritamayi SHG.

Renuka amongst other participants of the rural toilet building course.

Construction Opportunities Alongside Men

In May 2016, the self-help group started getting employment opportunities in male dominated construction sites. Typically at such sites, women work as unskilled laborers and rarely partake in more skilled labor. But Renuka and a few other women from the SHG started taking up skilled work such as piping and plastering. This slowly led to increased acceptance at the work site. When there were worker shortages, Renuka would step to the challenge, proving that she was equal to or even more skilled than some of the men around the site. Soon, she participated in the construction of a small community center for the women’s self-help group in her village; built with her hands and by the hands of other women.

Mixing cement with a smile.

In 2017, Renuka began constructing more individual toilets and a community toilet with 6 stalls.

She was a strong leader who encouraged and inspired other women.  Her work ethic was impeccable. She was known for working quickly and efficiently, as well as managing teams of women. As a result of the Rural Toilet Builder course, she has regular work as a mason and plumber. She is also a leader in her community and supports other women.

Renuka doing masonry work on a toilet building project.

A Meeting of Hearts

On Jan 13, 2019, Renuka met with the Honourable Minister Dharmendra Pradhan (Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas; Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship) at the inauguration of a new Amrita PMKVY Center.

Upon meeting him, she introduced herself saying: “Hello sir, my name is Renuka “Maistri” (Mason).” This introduction was a bold way to affirm her newly-found identity as a strong woman mason in the field of construction. She stood next to the Minister in the group photo, which also appeared on the Minister’s Facebook page.

“I feel so accomplished to have learned all these skills through the computer,” Renuka explains. “We women are quick learners. In addition to housework, we also learn these skills and can do so much. Women have more attention to detail than men, and can do very precise work if given the opportunity.”

Amrita’s computerized vocational education and training (cVET) has become a powerful empowerment tool by combining life skills, technology and vocational skills for thousands of women across India. Through cVET, we have successfully addressed ways to end open defecation through sanitation and hygiene awareness supported by technology. cVET courses strengthen personal and community development for women living in rural India. These courses have provided numerous opportunities for women to step out of their comfort zone and do something great for their community. Renuka stands as a powerful example of what one determined woman can achieve, and the impact one woman can have on an entire community.

On Jan 13, 2019, Renuka met with the Honourable Minister Dharmendra Pradhan (Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas; Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship) at the inauguration of a new Amrita PMKVY Center.
Photo with the minister, Jan 13, 2019.

About AmritaSREE 

AmritaSREE is a community-based Self-Help Group system centered around strong spiritual values, self-reliance, education and employment. It aims to help women become independent through vocational training and entrepreneurship. Over 200,000 women across India are participants in the program.

  • 14 SHGs in Odisha that participate in various activities: toilet building, tailoring, cottage industries like soap-making, mushroom cultivation, micro-lending.
  • 4 SHGs in Guptapada.

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