6 June 2007

Lebanon Handloom

In an earlier posting, I talked about my visit to
Lebanon, the compound of the Arcot Lutheran Church, which is a 10 acre oasis right in the middle of Tiruvannamalai. Of the 10 acres, 3 are used for; housing 40 dalit families who live at 'Lebanon', a teachers' training facility, an accommodation block for teachers undergoing training, a Handloom industry, a beautiful old-fashioned colonial style house, and also a 7 acre agricultural farm.

During my visit, I spent some enjoyable time in the Handloom section, watching the ladies (just a couple of gents) on their spinning wheels and handlooms making handicrafts which will be later sold in a small shop at the Compound.

To begin with the first place of business in creating bags, towels, place settings etc., is to select the necessary yarn (which is sent in from Chennai), from the Handloom's storeroom.

Once the yarn is selected then it goes through a process of spinning. For this traditional spinning wheels are used.

Most of the ladies working at the handloom section, have been trained at the Lebanon Compound. They are fortunate in that their needs are taken care of; they are given free rent, electricity and water and also a monthly wage for their work. The ladies don't have far to go from work to home, as their little houses are located in the large 10 acre compound in the heart of Tiruvannamalai.

For many of the ladies, the life they are now living is very different from the indigent, poverty stricken and in some cases abusive life situations they found themselves before coming to Lebanon. How happy that their lives have turned around and they are now living and working in such a serene, peaceful, good natured environment. A true oasis!

The ladies are from different faiths as it is not necessary to be Christian to be invited to live at Lebanon. Most of the ladies either have young children or have already raised their kids, and who are now living in the world.

It was explained to me that usually the ladies who come to Lebanon with young children, are trained in either agricultural or handloom work while their kids are educated at one of the numerous churches sponsored by Arcot Lutheran Church here in Tiruvannamalai. It is hoped that in future, when the child leaves school and starts earning a wage, at that time they will be encouraged to try and organise living arrangements for their Mother outside Lebanon and in that way free a place for a person in more desperate circumstances.

From my conversations with the ladies in Handloom, it seems most of them have been living at Lebanon for around 20 years.

Most of the items being made at the Compound are household items such as towels, place settings and bags.

The lady in the below photograph has two small daughters who she is bringing up herself without a husband. I talked with most of the ladies, and they were very cheerful and content. The atmosphere throughout the Handloom facility was quiet and peaceful, however I did notice that all the workers were very focussed in what they were doing. They work hard and well! Good Work!

The lady below is preparing her loom for the new cotton towels she will be weaving. The material will be woven in one large piece and once finished cut into individually sized items. Face towels are woven in a 40 yard length and then cut into 96 towels.

Below is a good close up of a handloom that is being used to make bags. As is the case with the towels, the cloth is woven in one long piece, then cut and stitched into bags.

The gentleman below, holding the cloth before it is stitched into a bag, is in charge of the Handloom section and is also the father of Rev. Joshua Peter, who is pastor of Arcot Lutheran Church at Tamari Nagar, Tiruvannamalai and also the co-ordinator of Quo Vadis.

Below is the only other man working in the Handloom section. He is married to one of the ladies also working in Handloom. Other than a gardener and his wife, the gent below is the only other married man living with his wife on Lebanon Compound.

The man in the photograph who used to be a weaver in a village started work at Lebanon about 5 years ago. He is married to one of the lady weaving instructors. The gent is currently making a 50 yard piece of cotton that will be cut and sewn into tablecloths.

Face towels which are woven in 40 yard lengths and make 96 towels take about 7-8 weeks to make. Kitchen towels, woven in 34 yard lengths take a shorter time of approximately 5 weeks. Once the material is woven and has been made into individual items, it is displayed in the showcases at the small shop inside the Handloom Section, at Lebanon Compound.

Next time I visit, must make sure to stop by the shop and make lots of purchases! Being that I've met and talked with all the people involved in the process, it makes having and using the items even nicer.

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