Before she started working with the Arpan cooperative fifteen years ago, Hirabai felt her life was over. “I have given birth to children and now there is no other purpose in my life,” she recalls thinking. Then her husband, who had loaded delivery trucks and vans for a living, died, and she was left to raise her two children on her own. Before this, she had stitched blouses in her home, but as a widow she needed more income.
Working has been a particular challenge for Hirabai. She was not able to go to school and therefore never learned to read or write. It has limited her in many ways, keeping her from supervisory positions at Arpan and requiring help for reading signs, the names of shops, or the measurement sheets for a garment. However, her intelligence has taken her far. “The women I work with say that I have a brain like a computer and I can remember anything once it has been explained to me. For example, when they tell me the measurements of a particular piece, I can remember all the numbers without writing them down somewhere.”
In spite of her educational limitations, Hirabai was able to raise her children well, keeping the small house that she had purchased with her husband, and assuring that they received an education. Now in their twenties, her two boys work in offices and her daughter works in a store. Hirabai was also able to save money and even purchased a computer for her children. They look for ways to make her life easier, too: “My kids have fed in all the phone numbers in my cell phone with corresponding photographs. So when the phone rings I know who is calling.” All these years after starting work, Hirabai no longer feels her life is over. “I feel empowered and capable of doing more than I ever thought I could.”