Imphal: ‘1 million Heros’, a global, multi-platform entertainment brand, dedicated to inspiring and instilling confidence in a generation of children around the world has come up with an idea for sustainable livelihood for the internally displaced persons in Manipur, languishing in make-shift relief camps as an impact of the ongoing violence in the State that has so far killed over 175 lives, injured at least 1,108 and 4,786 houses set on fire. ‘1 million Heros’ team is training the displaced persons in crocheting amigurumi doll-making for global marketing.
Khangabok Relief Camp in Thoubal district which houses 210 people is one of the five relief camps across Manipur where amigurumi doll-making training is being imparted to inmates, mostly women.
36-year-old Laishram Geeta Leima, the mother of 3, is one of the trainees pinning her hope on crocheting for the short-term livelihood of her family in these times of trouble. She had to flee for safety when her village in Sugnu Awang Leikai in the Kakching district was attacked by armed miscreants on 27 May. Geeta sees a ray of hope in the art of crochet being easy to master, satisfying and productive as well.
“As we’re here at this relief camp, we have no means of livelihood. The problem is compounded by having to look after my kids. During these dark times, the “1-Million Hero” team came to train us to crochet amigurumi dolls as a livelihood alternative for us. I’ve almost mastered it. We’re very happy we’ve acquired these new skills. We’re told they are chalking out ways to get us revenue out of these dolls,” said Geeta Leima.
Since August’s first week, the ‘1 million heroes’ have been visiting relief camps and training interested persons to crochet amigurumi dolls, providing them with the know-how, detailed templates, tools and raw materials. The target is to train groups of individuals in 5 relief camps each camp specializing in each of the 5 characters, conceived as the first line of the global amigurumi doll brand. The characters include Buddy- the pet Dog, Mitten- the Cat, Raja- the Tiger, Oliver- the Bear and Bola- the Buddy.
Describing the training program, Doll Artist and master trainer, Utpala Longjam said that the program is going pretty well. “Crochet is not very difficult if you know the basics. Most of them know the basics. All we had to do was teach them the pattern and the right way to go about it. They’re picking it up pretty well. Once they become comfortable with the needle, the crochet and the patterns, we will be providing them with the cotton yarn for the actual product,” Utpala Longjam said.
At a time when memories of their houses set ablaze are fresh and people continue to be displaced, other than the economic aspects dollmaking also helps in improving the mental health of the victims of violence by diverting the bad memories to create puffy, beautiful dolls, which give them self-confidence and hope.
Monish Karam, the founder of 1 Million Heroes explains how this project germinated.
“I was living in Singapore when the violence started in May. We wanted to do something for the people back home to help rebuild their lives. We were brainstorming about what to do. We wanted to do something very sustainable. So, the best idea we could come up with was to do something where we could use our skills and that is technology. Our women are quite good at handicrafts and handlooms. And that is something we wanted to take leverage of. We realized that we could create something creative. Then the idea of dolls came and eventually narrowed down to crochet dolls. And these dolls are not mere dolls. We believe they are the symbol of hope and vessels of storytelling,” Monish Karam said.
While all complexity in the entire process of production is taken care of by 1 Million Heroes, including aspects like designing, market research, supply of raw materials, tools and implements, branding, marketing and even sales, the trainees only have to create the dolls and supply them to 1 million Heroes for sales. Most proceeds will go to dollmakers.
“Once they can create a doll, based on the specs provided to them, there will be multiple rounds of quality checks. Once the checks are done, we’ll be sending them to our pre-ordered clients. So how do we get initial pre-orders/sales? First, before the end of September, we’re running a kick-starter campaign which will be asking people to be generous adopters of the dolls to get pre-orders directly from the kick-starter campaign as well as from our app. Once we are done with that, we will be allocating different orders across multiple relief camps that we were engaged with. We’re also engaging with corporations to include this project as part of their CSR initiatives.”
When a person or a child buys or adopts a doll, what they will get besides the physical doll is an augmented reality app that will display a 3D replica image of the doll. The child can engage and interact with the dolls and share life lessons, show gratitude for adopting a doll and help displaced persons have a sustainable livelihood.
Agom Sangeeta Leima (48), another resident from Sugnu whose village was attacked on 28th May, said the doll-making training has boosted her confidence by showing her a way to overcome financial challenges. “I’m participating in this training program hoping to earn some income. I think learning this skill is beneficial. It could be revenue-generating if we’re able to maintain production. They came to help us out and offered to train us. We readily accepted.”
Fortunately, 1 Million Heroes is not the only team that has come forward to help internally displaced persons.
Besides several private enterprises conducting livelihood activities training at the relief camps, Manipur State Rural Livelihoods Mission (MSRLM) of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj Department of the Government of Manipur has also organized different livelihoods activities training programmes, such as agarbatti-making, floor disinfectant like phenyl, detergent-making, liquid dish wash making, cocoon reeling, scrunchies making and paper bag, targeting the internally displaced persons sheltered in relief camps to generate easy cash with short term livelihoods activities. A total of 184 inmates of relief camps in Imphal East district alone benefited by way of wages through these programmes.
Contributing towards the rehabilitation of the inmates of the relief camps, Commissioner of Trade, Commerce & Industries, Government of Manipur, Shri PK Jha assured that the Manipur Handloom and Handicraft Corporation will buy all the products made in the relief camps and give money immediately.
After due deduction of investment in raw materials that are provided to the inmates free of cost, the sale proceeds will also go to the inmates who are the actual creators of the products.