Traditionally South Indian Women are expected from a young age to help bear the burden of the family. Social factors prevent most women from even considering professional training. Their lack of basic education, the impact of the dowry system, and the demands of family life often restrict their opportunities to low-paying, hard physical labor and very difficult lives.
In 1996, Dr. Hugo Maier founded Shanthimalai Research and Development Trust, a charitable non-profit organization, to offer help for self-help to villagers in the Tiruvannamalai area, a largely rural and drought-ridden district in Tamil Nadu. What began with a day clinic, and the training of women health workers, has grown into a comprehensive support network for 40 villages. The loving guidance of Dr. Maier and his Wife Anne Maier, affectionately called APPA and AMMA (Father and Mother), continues to bless Shanthimalai and its many undertakings. The Trust has built Schools, offered training, and created jobs for thousands of local people.
Shanthimalai Handicrafts are designed and created by over 300 Women artisans who have joined together to form the Shanthimalai Handicrafts Development Society (SHDS). This cooperative program was initiated in 1989 by Shanthimalai Trust to provide village Women with training and work in traditional handicrafts. In 2001, having gained enough experience, the Women formed their own registered organization (SHDS) and bravely entered into financial independence.
Eight village handicraft centers allow women to work close to their homes in a friendly atmosphere. The women earn fair wages, with regular hours and proper medical care. According to their talents and interests, they produce high quality handicrafts in one of the following areas: leaf painting, palm leaf Weaving, embroidery, batik and block printing, bag production, and handmade dolls. Mat weaving, tailoring and cane furniture production provide sustainable livelihoods for a number of young men as well as Women. The tangible growth of self -confidence and the substantial improvement of their lives has made SHDS an inspiring example for other groups to follow. Out of gratitude for the help received, SHDS now trains more than 500 young people a year, giving them access to the professional world.