From worker to trainer: Rekha’s story of transformation with Swasti

Empowering factory workers is a crucial step towards achieving a fairer and more ethical business model and a more sustainable and profitable one. Investing in workers’ development improves productivity, reduces turnover rates, and creates a more just and equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

To that end, Swasti, a non-profit health organisation, was established in 2003 with a focus on achieving public health outcomes for those who are socially excluded and poor. At Swasti, the organisation has been partnering with factories since 2006 to achieve worker well-being by influencing policies and implementing interventions focused on workers’ development.

So far, it has reached over 230,000 workers directly (the majority of whom are women) across over 334 factories in India. Moreover, it also provides technical support to vendors in other Asian countries such as; Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia on worker well-being initiatives. Most of the factories we work with are in the garment sector.

Swasti regularly provides “gender empowerment” training to many factory workers; one of their beneficiaries is Rekha.

Adding wings to Dreams; the impact of training

Rekha is a native of Hunsur village in the Mysore district, where she completed her studies till 10th grade. Rekha got married in 2005. She now lives with her husband and two sons. As Rekha and her husband go to work, her children currently live with her sister which is 20 minutes away from Rekha’s home. While talking about her childhood, she recollected: “I very much enjoyed going to school, but due to the financial constraints, I discontinued my education and came to Bangalore in search of a job and ended up working in a garment factory.”

She started working at a leading apparel factory in 2006. While working at the factory, she got selected as a training instructor in 2009. She says, “The factory approached me earlier for a supervisor’s role. But I declined, as the role required me to talk rudely to other workers. After a short while, I got selected as a trainer.” 

While Rekha was working as a training instructor, she was selected for the Gender Empowerment training conducted by Swasti.

Rekha had shifted from there to another garment factory in the meantime. While working at the new factory, HR informed Rekha about the Foundational and Advanced training, a 3-day outstation training conducted by Swasti. 

After this training, she was selected as ToT (Trainer of Trainers). While recalling the training course, Rekha stated, “I was apprehensive at first as I was not well versed in a lot of topics that I had to train, but through the training, I was able to learn and become self-confident.”

Rekha continued, “Earlier, I was detached from everyone, be it with my family or coworkers. But after the training, I realised the necessity of having good communication and of building relationships. We were trained on how to communicate to our coworkers, the management or even our family members”. 

She had to train other workers on everything she learnt at the training. Rekha says that while she was training other workers, everyone was surprised at her openness. Rekha said, “My coworkers told me that I was very strict earlier and compared me to an army officer. But after the training, I was more friendly and approachable”. 

Rekha expressed that she was overjoyed with all the feedback she was receiving.

Rekha shared how they were hesitant to speak or discuss topics like reproductive health in public, but through Swasti, they were trained on all aspects of Family Planning and Reproductive Health. 

She said, “We were told (by trainers at Swasti) not to be ashamed as it was essential for us to be trained on this topic and to train other workers as well. They told us that whenever we go to a doctor, we need to be able to openly discuss reproductive and menstrual health concerns to prevent any health risks and fatalities”.

Introduction to financial literacy

Rekha mentioned that the financial management and social protection training by Swasti also helped her and other workers in their personal lives.

“Earlier, we knew of only ‘chit funds’ as a saving method. But through the training, we were told about the importance of opening a bank account and financial savings. I even opened an account, but over the last year, due to the pandemic and financial difficulties, I could not have regular savings,” Rekha said.

“We were also informed about various social protection schemes and how to access them. After the training, through the welfare officer, we also applied for scholarships for our children. I have continued to share information on social protection schemes with other workers,” said Rekha.

Rekha continued to work in the same factory for six years after the training because she wanted to give back to the factory and the community. As she considers the partnership between Swasti and the factory, the reason behind her professional and personal growth.

The training helped her sail through the pandemic

Rekha said, “Ever since the pandemic, my husband lost his full-time job, now he does a lot of odd jobs to meet the family expenses”. Rekha had to search for other job opportunities to help support her family financially during this time. 

She shared, “The training by Swasti helped me a lot while preparing for the interviews. The interview panel was also very pleased with how I have attended multiple pieces of training conducted by Swasti.  Now I have joined as a Training Teacher at one of the leading apparel factories in Bangalore.”

Rekha’s story is a story of perseverance, leadership and relentless openness to change every step of the way. She is a mother, a dreamer and a leader. 

She is not without struggles; since the lockdown, she has had to face many challenges, including financial difficulties, but that does not stop her from achieving her dream. Many workers are like Rekha. They each have a story to tell; Rekha’s is one such story, and there are many more such stories of women – who are born to inspire.

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