Truth be told, Mr Thiruchelvam did not ever dream of any involvement with Salaam Wanita. It was his curiosity when passing by a booth selling Eco-baskets made by Salaam Wanita women that changed things, 6 years ago.
'Uncle, look closely at this basket,' one of the three women gently coaxed Mr Thiru. He obliged. He was more than pleasantly surprised to be holding a lovely craft in his hands. But sadly, the people around weren't paying attention to it at all. It struck the business acumen chord in him. 'These people need help. ' he thought. And he acted upon it.
Today, Mr Thiru does what he knows best - with his good pr skills, marketing experience plus a worthy cause to support, he is unrelenting in his efforts to help the disadvantaged women of the Eco-basket project of Salaam Wanita in marketing these wonderful products.
It's been 4 years now that Mr Thiru is a full-time volunteer attending to Salaam Wanita booths at various exhibitions. He helps to transport Eco-baskets to the venues, man the booths and use his people skills to sell the Eco-baskets. One of his biggest challenges is to sell all the Eco-baskets assigned to him.
Launched in 2002, the Salaam Wanita project , a component of the eHomemakers community network, empowers disadvantaged women - single parents, disabled persons with chronic illnesses or caregivers to disabled dependants to acquire the skill of weaving baskets and earn an income. The income earned helps to lift the financial burdens they face. Since joining Salaam Wanita, these women have discovered their inner strengths.
'My greatest reward is the personal satisfaction that I derive in helping these housebound, disadvantaged women earn a living.' Mr Thiru knows he has to apply his skills to market these crafts in the current competitive business environment.
'Back in 2004, it would have been difficult to imagine that this shy woman would be able to coordinate a group of women to make high quality, creative baskets' - weaver's profile (photo credit: brochure of Salaam Wanita).
After a period of training by a team of 6 skilled weavers, each weaver works from their homes. Most of the weavers live in the Federal Territory and they receive great incentives for products sold .
I caught up with Mr Thiru at a coffee morning among the French women community at the Alliance Francaise, Jalan Gurney. Salaam Wanita was invited to sell their products and Mr Thiru was the only volunteer that morning. Business was brisk as the ladies were charmed by the lovely crafts. There and then, he also got an order for special coasters to be made.
In his soft- spoken manner, Mr. Thiru engaged with the clients. I certainly did not miss noticing his skills of selling. It was an honest -to -goodness approach, extolling the efforts of the disadvantaged women who make the crafts. Though he was alone, he was unflappable, handling each client well.
The excellent sales that morning made me happy. To know that the craft has given the disadvantaged women a skill to empower themselves. That they can be agents of change themselves. I went home with 4 pieces of craft without burning a hole in my pocket for the reasonably priced items.
Gosh! the feedback was instant and most encouraging.' Two good things from this project,' enthused a lady.' We don't throw away recyclable stuff (magazine paper, in this case) and it's about women helping women.'
Mr Thiru is no stranger to volunteer work. While he was in school, he was eveready to help at fund raisers and fun fairs. With Salaam Wanita , he's one of the few male volunteers.
'When people ask me which ones are nice. I say , they all are!' I have to agree with him. Each item - pencil holder, baguette basket, tray, waste paper basket, wine bottle holder etc holds a certain fascination. No two products are ever the same ! The baskets are made from donated specially selected glossy magazine paper of 85/105 grm.
'There's no lack of venues to sell our products. What we badly lack are volunteers,' he laments of the major setback. He would love to train volunteers so that much more can be achieved.
However, Mr Thiru is grateful that corporations are chipping in to buy the Eco - baskets and they are happy customers. A certain corporation ordered 500 boxes from Salaam Wanita, 4 months ago. The good news is that there is interest from retailers in the UK and Australia and it is in the stage of testing samples.
Besides helping out full-time with the busy schedules of Eco- baskets, Mr Thiru is also active as a Chairman of the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress, Sri Petaling. He is dedicated to promoting social activities among the members and to institute Tamil classes for children by recruiting retiree teachers.
Here's a man of boundless energy. He's 57 years old but age does not stop him from giving his uttermost to market this pro-poor project of Salaam Wanita. At times , he has to deliver the raw materials to the weavers and collect the finished products to ease the hardships of the weavers. On top of it all, there's always appointments to keep this business alive and vibrant. He has certainly found his niche to help the disadvantaged women hold their heads high.
Salaam Wanita is all the richer with a great volunteer in Mr Thiru. To think it was ignited by a simple act of pausing and taking time to listen about a product so wonderful.
In his own beautiful way, Mr Thiru weaves hope into lives. Truly inspirational.
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Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur
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