At Priyam Global, the makers we work with are a group of women that may have never crossed your mind: mothers who are, against all odds, raising a child with disabilities while living in extreme poverty in India. These women are incredible. It is hard enough to raise a child in poverty, but when you factor in the exhaustion of caring for a child with special needs without a support network, as well as the cultural stigma and isolation they experience, it’s not hard to see how these are some of the strongest women on earth.
I’m sitting on a blue metal chair in our women’s center in Chennai, India, watching them work together. The room is tiny: painted canary yellow, ceiling fans spinning, windows open to the city’s street sounds. The women are sitting close beside each other on wooden benches, bent over tiny paper coffee cups filled with glass seed beads, lava beads, cotton tassels, gold wire: bursts of color. The women are accidentally color-coordinated today—something that seems to happen often in India—all wrapped in hues of pinks, reds, purples. Having never done such detailed craft work, their brows are furrowed and they lean across each other with questions and affirmations as they help each other replicate the earring models that they are creating. They laugh and talk as they work, and they seem proud of their finished pieces, which they stack gently on a clean plate.
We have learned how to do this together. Priyam Global is a movement to affirm the value of children affected by disability. We are a registered nonprofit with the mission of improving quality of life for children with disabilities in poverty by investing in the women who raise them. When I founded Priyam in 2014, I was in the middle of earning my master’s degree in community health. I never dreamed that two years later I’d be scouring Etsy for jewelry making supplies and painstakingly creating jewelry models, but here I am. The women in our program all asked for training in income-generating skills, so the jewelry they’re making for Priyam to sell allows them to earn meaningful income while bonding as a group in a low-pressure environment.
For the final designs, I drew inspiration from India: from the colors, the details, and the vibrant styles of the women themselves. Brown paper packages arrived in our India office filled with colorful tassels, gold, and fragrant beads. The packages were opened, the colors scattered and sorted and then carefully rearranged by beautiful hands into whimsical earrings and bracelets.
My hope is that when you wear our jewelry, you feel the joy and love that went into the process of creating it.
Come follow the journey on Instagram @priyamglobal and join our growing community at www.priyamglobal.org!
Founder and designer