28 April 2014

Kusum Dahania - From Reserved Homemaker to Master Trainer at ACT

Kusun Dahania is a 28 years old homemaker turned ACT entrepreneur. She went to school until 8th grade. She lives in Bandhawari village with her husband, Yash, who works as a technician at a hospital. He has studied until tenth grade. 

Kusum has three children: one girl, 11, and two boys, 9 and 7. The children go to the government school in the Village. There are also two private schools in the village, however, since the government school charges no fee, Kusum sends her children there. She would like to send her children to the private school if she could afford it. The government school also provides free textbooks, uniforms and lunch up to eighth grade.


Kusum’s house is made of concrete, bricks and mud and built around a large neem tree which is a medicinal tree. There are 15 persons living together in the same compound but each family lives separately in different rooms. It is like a school. Imagine their house as a school with many classrooms. Each classroom is a family room. The kitchen, bathroom and water supply are shared by all. The expenses for each family are also separated. Firewood and cow dung cakes are used as fuel for cooking. Sometimes they also use gas but only for boiling tea and milk as gas is quite expensive for them. 
Kusum’s monthly household expense is about Rs. 5,000. This includes her husband’s travel cost, medical expenses and repayment of a house loan taken from a Self Help Group (SHG). The loan of 10,000 rupees for 10 months means a monthly installment of Rs. 1000. The third component is for food. They mainly eat rice, lotti and chapatti. They also farm bajra, wheat and some crop for consumption.

Kusum had an arranged marriage which is common especially in small villages like Bandhwari. They accept such customs as they respect their family and believe that their parents are the most knowledgeable in these matters. Also, rural women do not have much opportunity to go outside of their house and to meet new partners as they largely spend their time housekeeping. Therefore, women such as Kusum have their fathers select a partner for them in an arranged marriage. 


ACT came to Bandhwari witth the women livelihood project in January 2012. By learning the skill of paper craft using newspapers and selling the products, these women have been able to reap many benefits.

The first benefit is the income they get from selling the products. Before embarking on the project, Kusum had no personal income. The expenses of her home were solely borne by her husband. As she has her own source of income now, she feels more respected in her family. Now, 80% of the total expenses are paid for by her husband and 20% by her.

The more important thing is the resultant confidence she has acquired because she is contributing to her family’s expenses. Now, she can express her opinions and ideas more confidently to her husband. She is happier and when asked questions, she replies confidently. The project has changed her person in many ways.

She is really happy now because she has the confidence to do whatever she wants. She is able to buy what she likes and needs. Of course, the rest of her money also goes to cover emergencies and unexpected expenses such as the doctor fees when her children are ill. Her status in the family has been considerably raised.

Secondly, she is helping the community as well. A part of revenue from selling the products goes to her own community. For example, the money is used to buy books for the rural community library, which are utilized by the village children. Sometimes the money is used for cleaning the village. Thus, she contributes to her community and the education of her community’s children as well.

The revenue from the products is used to pay labor charges, cost of raw material, transportation, marketing charge and a component for community development programs. The percentage of each component can differ from product to product.

The third point is the exposure. She goes to exhibitions, seminars and participates in marketing activities. Before, she had no opportunities to go outside of the village because she was only doing housekeeping. She interacted only with family and neighbors. Now, she has exhibitions in the city which allows her to meet and talk to new people. This has had the impact of building her confidence to talk to strangers.

 “I was afraid of talking to new people before, but now I can talk to anybody. I like talking with people and I enjoy it,” she says with a big smile.


There is one unique value proposition in Kusum's products. That is the material she uses for the paper crafts – newspapers. We read newspapers every day. But what happens once we finish reading the newspapers? We throw them away. While some countries like Japan have a recycling system, this is a better alternative than simply recycling the newspapers as it goes a step further to reuse them into products that people can actually use.

The women in the village are not only reusing the papers but they are also going to corporate hosues, teaching their skills to other people. Kusum has been invited by Panasonic to share her skills.

She has also imparted her skills to school kids on previous occasions. In turn, she is also indirectly educating the children about global warming and how they can reduce it. Through the skills she got from ACT, she is involved in solving the problems of the wider society. She is also enjoying her trips out of the village and receiving new knowledge. It can be see that ACT has had a positive impact on her life.        

As a result of receiving new skills and chances to go outside of the village, she now has dreams. One of her dreams is to start her own business so that the products are now known to be made by her and there may be a greater impact on her family and children. She can help her friends as well through her enterprise. She still has problems and some steps she needs to carry out. One is marketing. She knows how to make the products but the next step is how to sell her products more effectively and how to make it sustainable.

Other learnings include:

  • How to procure newspaper routinely
  • How to set up an exhibition
  • How to enter into a contract with other companies, et cetera.

To market her products effectively, Kusum needs to study English so as to talk and negotiate with outsiders. In addition, she aspires to set up specialized healthcare facilities in the village. One is a maternity hospital in the village as the hospital is 20 to 30km away from village. This is in response to the unhygienic and often unsafe home deliveries many women still go through. The second and third are an X-ray service and blood tests, the latter so that women can be screened for anemia.

The lives of these rural women are laden with challenges. To view these problems in a positive light, these are opportunities for not just ACT alone to seize but for the villagers so that they can take charge of their own community’s development.

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