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What do you want to be when you grow up? (By Allie Shier)

Posted by RangSutra Crafts on
What do you want to be when you grow up? (By Allie Shier)

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question that I have been asked countless times. It is a question that has evoked a range of emotions over the years, ranging from excitement about a vision for the future, to anxiety from having too many options, to the disinterest that comes from being asked the same question over and over again. My responses, too, have shifted as I learned about potential career paths and opportunities that awaited me. I was raised to believe that I could do anything. I could be an artist. I could be a professor. I could be an entrepreneur. Anything was possible if I worked hard enough.

It was not until later that I truly came to understand that this question is one that many girls just like me, with ambitions and capabilities, are not afforded the opportunity – the right – to answer. Many girls have their life’s path deeply etched into the walls of their homes, where rigid gender roles threaten to confine them. RangSutra Crafts works to change this narrative while honouring rich cultural traditions. RangSutra empowers artisans in remote villages across India by providing them with a steady income, a social network, and the chance to become leaders.

As an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Development Management Fellow with RangSutra, I have seen first-hand how this social enterprise connects women to the global economy through craft. I have watched designers create beautiful embroideries, meticulously analyzing each stitch. I have heard stories from artisans about how working with RangSutra has enriched their world. RangSutra has humbled me and enlightened me about the powerful ways in which what we wear can influence our lives, the lives of others, and our environment. I have seen how all of this ultimately enables girls to be asked and to answer the question:

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“I want to be a leader in my village!” – Ashiya, Ajeri Village, Rajasthan

On September 7, RangSutra and partner organization UMBVS invited 25 women to participate in a Craft Managers Training Workshop in Bap, Rajasthan. Here, these women were given the space to have important conversations about RangSutra’s work, girls’ education, and financial management. They were given the tools to channel their drive to lead into managerial positions in their communities.

It was inspiring to see these women leave their villages for the first time to participate in the workshop. They expressed a desire to learn more than just how to stitch and sew. “We are not just here to learn ralli (a Rajasthani method of patchwork). We are here to connect with each other and to have important conversations,” Karima, from Mangan Khan Ki Dhani village, expressed to the group. The artisans spoke about saving their money, sending their daughters to school, and providing a future for their children. For these women, ralli represents more than just a sewn quilt; through craft, their lives are now woven together, interconnected through their drive for independence and autonomy.

After this inspirational workshop, I was taken to the URMUL Setu campus in Lunkaransar, Rajasthan, to meet the next generation of female leaders. URMUL is an NGO with seven platforms that empower rural Indians, including health care, education, and livelihood development. URMUL supports RangSutra’s activities at the rural level. At their campus, 2000 girls have learned a variety of subjects and skills.

What I expected to be a quick visit ended up being an experience that will stay with me forever. When we opened up the classroom doors, we were greeted by 100 smiling girls. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my own privilege as I looked into the eyes of the girls seated before me, all first-generation girl students in their families. We introduced ourselves and received a warm introduction in return, filled with poetry and song. When the time came to ask the girls some questions, I had to ask:

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“A teacher!”, one girl exclaimed.
“A police officer!”, another girl stood up.
“A dancer!”, a girl in the back of the room bellowed.

Before I knew it, girls all around the room were standing up one after another, proudly sharing their dreams for the future. “I want to be in the army!” “I want to be a singer!” “I want to be a social worker!” The question stirred waves of hope in the sea of students before me; students with dreams and ambitions, and a place to learn from and inspire each other.

One student stood up to describe the school to the visitors. She had abandoned her dupatta and kurta for short hair and blue jeans. She proudly explained, “at school, there are no distinctions between caste or creed, girl or boy. We are all equal until we turn 18.” This made me wonder: what happens when these girls turn 18 and they return to their villages? Does the empowerment that they experienced at school get washed away? Would this brave girl have to grow out her hair and trade her button-down shirt for a saree? I thought about this as the girls sang and danced before we said our final goodbyes. They sang a beautiful melody, with powerful lyrics that I later learned described all of the amazing things that girls are capable of doing.


My experiences in the field have given me inspiration for my own work and hope for the future. I feel comforted knowing that RangSutra continues to support these girls long after they finish their studies so that they can continue to grow into autonomous agents.

I will never stop asking girls what they want to be when they grow up, or what they want to be now, in the present. Companies like RangSutra and URMUL grant women and girls the right to answer this question freely and with the possibility of fulfilling their dreams. I cannot wait to discover the important contributions these girls will make in their communities, in India, and in the world.

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