When Dutchwoman Laurien Meuter visited Mumbai in 2005, she realised that she wanted to do something for India, which would make a difference to the locals. But as a non-Indian, it was impossible to start an NGO in India without Indians.
She heard of NGO Hamara Foundation, in 2010, “One of their projects was to support girls of the Pardeshi community who live on Foras Road near the red light district) in south-central Mumbai. We collaborated, and my dream was to draw this 700-strong community out of poverty (according to UNICEF norms) in 10 years and make them self-supporting,” says Meuter.
The Pardeshi community is a warrior class from Rajasthan who migrated to Maharashtra decades ago. Nearly 115 Pardeshi families live on the pavement over a 150-metre stretch. Near this pavement slum is the red light district. To enable the community to break out of the poverty cycle by 2020, Meuter started the Tiny Miracles Foundation in May 2010 and began raising funds in The Netherlands (funds raised are spent entirely on the community; not even one per cent goes for overhead costs).
To create a self-supporting community, Meuter invited her cousin — Dutch designer Pepe Heykoop, who had grown popular, and was keen to showcase his work. “He was interested in handmade production. So, he started designing for parents of the Pardeshis,” adds Meuter, who studied Economics and works part-time on sustainability projects for a multinational bank.
Designs with a difference
Products on sale include leather lampshades, paper vases, which has a skin to cover any empty bottle to turn it into a vase, a matka vase, a traditional matka covered in scrap leather and turned into a vase, bamboo diamond lamps made from bamboo sticks and copper lampshades made from bamboo slices held together with copper wires stripped from electricity cables.
Most products are made from recycled materials. Pepe visits India thrice a year, for a few weeks (Meuter does at least five trips in a year) and trains Pardeshis on new designs at his Mumbai Central workshop. “Designs are mostly launched at large shows like Salone del Mobile in Milan and IMM (the international furnishing show) in Cologne,” adds Meuter.
Keep it simple
The designs are simple since the community is illiterate and cannot count; sourcing materials in India is tough too. “Not everything in Europe is found here, ” she say. Their products are available in Europe, USA, Australia, Singapore, Japan and China, and are looking for partners in India to sell these products. Mumbaikars can buy these products at Heykoop’s Mumbai Central workshop.
The matka vase
Meuter shares an anecdote about this vase (above): “We asked a few community members to bring us their used matkas, and told them that they would get a new one for it. We used these matkas to create the design for the Matka Vase. Before we knew it, there were huge lines of people queuing up with their matkas, to exchange them!”