Building Her Future: Mrs. Chawda's Story

Galalben Keshubhai Chawda, pictured in red, is 38 years old and lives in Thakkerbapa Nagar, Ahmedabad, India. She has worked incredibly hard to become a successful construction worker and has skills in masonry, plastering, tiling, flooring and stone cutting. Here is her story, in her own words.

"I have been associated with the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) for over 8 years now. I used to work in masonry before; finding work on different building sites. Two MHT surveyors happened to come by our area one day, and talked to me about the benefits of getting involved with KARMIKA (a construction school). They explained how it may help me improve my financial as well as mental/physical state.

Prior to my involvement with MHT, I experienced little respect at home. I had to face the prospect of coming home from a hard day of masonry work and find all the housework waiting for me. It took every ounce of energy I had and was very unrewarding. The training I finally received was completely life changing in every respect. As I went out looking for jobs, it was quite hard for me to get people to accept the fact that I am a female construction worker. They doubted my abilities, and the only way for me to change this was to demonstrate my talent. And I did. As I started to prove myself, I managed to find regular work for two years. In that time, I completed a number of different jobs including the installation of over 50 underground water tanks and 20 toilets.

After the first two years of work, I had saved enough money to be able to renovate my own home. I built all of it myself, from bricklaying to tiling to flooring to decorating. Where outside contractors would take Rs. 80,000-90,000 to do this work, I did it for Rs. 55,000. If it wasn’t for MHT, I would never have imagined this and would’ve spent the rest of my life in the same ‘jupar patti’ (slum settlement).

During this time, I thought it would be beneficial for me to get further training through KARMIKA to widen my skill set. Therefore I decided to undertake plumbing training. I was already building the toilets, and water tanks and connection charges are an additional Rs. 500–700. I figured, why not do the water fitting myself and earn the extra income? Before I got involved with KARMIKA, I used to work on average 25 days a month for nine-hour shifts and still couldn’t make ends meets. Today, even a five-day job per month earns me enough money to run the household.

I have trained over 300 women in over 8 training centers so far, and I take some of these new recruits to help me in jobs as well. Most of the training, both practical and theoretical, I give to these women comes from my own experiences out there in the industry. I could not even read or write before I came to MHT, and since the training given to me, I am able to make several annotated diagrams on-the-job of the work needed to be done. I make a written account of every job I have done to date. This helps me greatly when I am explaining something to my trainees. It makes me smile when I think that even though I have merely studied till the 5th grade, I can read/write, analyze fairly difficult construction work and do math almost flawlessly now.

I am so happy to say that all my old issues of discrimination, almost slavery type work, humiliation due to lack of skills and unfairness in the market have all disappeared. The sky is the limit, I feel, and through hard, honest work I am working towards achieving my goals."

Capital: New Delhi
Population of 1.2 billion
77 million lack access to safe water
769 million lack access to improved sanitation
59% of the total population lives on less than US$2 per day