The Partition of Bengal and the Bangladesh war in 1971 saw a continuous stream of people coming into Kolkata with the hope of finding food and work, as there was little or none in the villages. They settled in the outer fringes of the city and lived in temporary shelters around the wetlands. Several organizations, public as well as private, came forward to offer food to the starving multitude and Khichri kitchens were opened in various parts of city.
New organizations were also formed where famine victims were fed and nursed to health as well as given hope to overcome their miseries and fatigue and later imparted vocational training with the ultimate aim of rehabilitation.
Panchannagram, a small locality on the outer fringes of Kolkata, also home to a large number of refugees from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh was devastated by floods back in 1978.
Home to around 212 families the land was totally submerged in water. Mother Teresa rushed in with her relief measures. She soon realized that a short-term relief was not the solution, something extra needed to be done for the development of the entire area. And she began organizing the local people especially women to provide them skill trainings and try and make them self-reliant.
The women suffered most whether it was unemployment, mass migration or floods. She provided them with tailoring machines and organized looms. A kitchen for the children was also started. A workshop was conducted with the local women to train them in tailoring and weaving activities. And thus formed the women's organisation at Panchannagram, known as Panchannagram Anunnata Mahila Samity and it began functioning with a mere Rs. 417 corpus. It later registered itself as a Society in 1983 comprising of a group of local women, promoted and assisted by Sasha since the beginning.
It was a social worker, Ms. Anita Sen who introduced them to Ms. Suhhashini Kohli of Sasha in 1983. Ms. Kohli obviously was impressed. They started work with Sasha in 1983. Sasha also helped them by assisting the group to rent a room as their work place. Orders started coming in at regular intervals. The group gained in strength and confidence. They registered themselves as a Society and called it the Panchannagram Mahila Samity. By then it had 80 members.
The association with Sasha has not only provided them with gainful employment through regular orders; marketing the products, it has provided a wide range of support for their development and cause. The group is an important part of Sasha's network and activities. Sasha provided raw material, skill, design, finance and marketing support and facilitated their operational and financial management till the Samity was able to stand on it's own and manage itself.
Sasha has helped them develop contemporary designs and imparted skill upgradation trainings through workshops. The organization has also participated in Trade Fairs and Exhibition in different parts of the country through Sasha. Presently, the Samity has 55 women regularly in their folds. There is eagerness amongst the women in the community to join the Samity. The Samity now has it's own premises-three rooms and a porch in the locality, built with Sasha's support. Women gather in the common work shed to discuss orders and work together. It also is a platform for women coming together to share a part of their lives.
The specialty here is traditional and contemporary Kantha embroidery on Bed-covers, Cushion covers and wall hangings.