Handwork and Heartwork

handmade art paper

The artisans and craftspeople of native places know that their art and craft carries the knowledge of those that have gone before; the honed skills of producing something beautiful, meaningful, and useful with your hands; and the knowledge that a created object is more than its form and shape.

Located in the heart of Uttarakhand is a small organization driven by vision and committed to bringing people together. It began with the understanding that all enterprises are human enterprises. Economies are made by people, partnerships, and shared goals, with tasks undertaken with joy in the work.

This enterprise is different than what you would expect of a typical program working toward livelihoods for people with disability. You don’t see a room full of people with disability, congregated and segregated, churning out candles and newspaper bags or grinding spices and flowers for Holi colors. You don’t see signs of charity—donation placards reminding us of the benevolent people who donate. Nor do you see classrooms where adults are treated as children.

Rather, the hum of the printer and everyday noises of an office fill the air. There are creative spaces for people to work in small groups, just like in any other enterprise. A few people work together in harmony to create handmade paper products by the deadline. Only once you get close and interact with people do you notice that some happen to have disabilities.

The man who started this small enterprise doesn’t call it a disability project, nor does he highlight that aspect of it. He chose not to do anything special, instead following normative ways for inclusion and employment for people who tend to be marginalized. He used the rich resource of a community steeped in the tradition and skill of working with the hands to create artifacts of the community.

handwork and heartwork - Uttarakhand forestEveryone contributes based on their interests and skills. Mr. Rishab has risen to the demands of the job. After a year of employment, Mr. Rishab uses his skilled precision to place eyelets on paper products. He uses his management and motivational skills to help run the office and keep people on task, and posts the daily quote for his co-workers and partners. He takes pride in standing with generations of people who have done such meticulous handwork, producing and sharing products with the community. The enterprise now includes handcrafted furniture and other products from the land.

Woman holding frame for making paper sheets from waste paper pulp. Selective focus. Decorative and applied art. Recycling concept, ecology.

A quick study of Social Role Valorization highlights the importance of the ordinary. In this space, the ordinary is actually extraordinary. The state of Uttarakhand is full of the richness of native handicrafts, produced by the hands of people over decades, with a market for the beautiful products from the hands of local people. The paper is made by people with and without disability. They have a stake in their work, and profits are shared among those who produce, not the service itself or salaries of professionals. The work is divided among all employees and everyone does their part depending on their interest and inclination.

This enterprise is grounded in a commitment to be a business that uplifts everyone. It is not a place where daytime hours are simply filled with busy-ness. The principle of “small is beautiful” guides the organization, and a small, integrated group of people work together to contribute to the national market in fine-quality local handwork—market integration and people integration in the truest sense. There are many lessons to be learned, not the least of which is that the work of the hands has value, is not trivial, and has great importance in the cultural memory and real value to the economy.