IDPs at relief camps to crochet Amigurumi dolls for global market‘1 Million Heroes’ provides ray of hope


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Buddy–the pet Dog, Mitten–the Cat, Raja–the Tiger, Oliver–the Bear and Bola–the Buddy, these are cute Amigurumi dolls internally displaced people are learning to make at relief camps.
Deprived of almost all means of earning livelihood by the violent conflict that has burnt thousands of homes in Manipur, many in the cramped relief camps like 36-year-old Laishram Geeta Leima are seeing a ray of hope in Amigurumi--the Japanese art of knitting/crocheting small dolls to sustain their families.
Behind this ray of hope is the--"1 Million Heroes", a global, multi-platform entertainment brand dedicated to inspiring and instilling confidence in a generation of children around the world.
A team of ‘1 Million Heroes’ is training the displaced persons in crocheting Amigurumi doll making for global marketing.
Khangabok Relief Camp in Thoubal district is one of five camps where '1 Million Heroes' is teaching the Amigurumi doll making craft.
The camp has 210 people. Inmates, mostly women are being given training on the craft.
36-year-old Laishram Geeta Leima, a mother of three children has pinned her hope, for now, on crocheting for earning livelihood for her family.
Laishram Geeta's village, Sugnu Awang Leikai in Kakching district was attacked by armed miscreants on May 27, and since then she has been staying at the Khangabok Relief Camp.
“Here at the relief camp, we have no means of earning livelihood. It is tough and impossible to look after three children when there is no means to earn money," said Laishram Geeta, who has now acquired the art of Amigurumi.
"I see hope in Amigurumi as an alternative and immediate means of earning livelihood. I have almost mastered this art. I am very thankful to the 1 Million Heroes team. We have been told that they would find markets for our dolls," She said.
Since August first week, ‘1 Million Heroes’ has been visiting relief camps and training interested persons to crocheting Amigurumi dolls, providing them with the know-how, detailed templates, the tools and raw materials.
The target is to train groups of individuals in five relief camps and each camp specializing in the making of 5 characters, conceived as the first line of the global Amigurumi doll brand.
The characters include Buddy–the pet Dog, Mitten–the Cat, Raja–the Tiger, Oliver–the Bear and Bola–the Buddy.
Doll artist and master trainer Utpala Longjam said that the programme is going on pretty well.
“Crochet is not very difficult if you know the basics. Most of them knew the basics. All we had to do was teach them the pattern and the right way to go about it. They’re picking it up pretty well. Once they become comfortable with the needle, the crochet and the patterns, we would be providing them with the cotton yarns for the actual product,” Utpala Longjam said.
At a time when memories of their houses set ablaze are fresh and people continue to be displaced, other than the economic aspects, doll-making helps in improving the mental health of the victims of violence by diverting the bad memories to create puffy, beautiful dolls, that give them self-confidence and hope, Utpala Longjam said.
Monish Karam, the founder of 1 Million Heroes explained how the project germinated.
“I was living in Singapore when the violence started in May. We wanted to do something for the people back home to help rebuild their lives. We were brainstorming what to do. We wanted to do something very sustainable. So, the best idea we could come up with was to do something where we can use our own skill.
"Our women are quite good in handicraft and handlooms. And that is something we wanted to take leverage of. We realized that we can create something creative. Then the idea of dolls came and eventually narrowed down to crochet dolls. These dolls are not mere dolls. We believe they are the symbol of hope and vessels of storytelling,” Monish Karam said.
While all complexity in the entire process of production is taken care of by 1 Million Heroes, including aspects like designs, market research, supply of raw materials, tools and implements, branding, marketing and even sales, the trainees only have to create the dolls and supply to I million Heroes for sales. Most proceeds will go to the doll-makers, Monish said.
Once they are able to create a doll, based on the specs provided to them, there will be multiple rounds of quality checks. After checking is done, the dolls will be sent to clients.
"Before the end of September, we’re running a kick starter campaign which will be asking people to be the generous adopters of the dolls to get pre-orders, directly from the kick-starter campaign as well as from our app. Once we are done with that, we will be allocating different orders across multiple relief camps that we were engaged with. We’re also engaging with corporates to include this project as part of their CSR initiatives,” said Monish.
When a person or a child buys or adopts a doll, what they will get besides the physical doll is an augmented reality app which will display the 3D replica image of the doll. The child will be able to engage and interact with the dolls and share life lessons, show gratitude for adopting a doll and help the displaced persons have a sustainable livelihood.
Agom Sangeeta Leima (48), another inmate from Sugnu whose village was attacked on May 28 said the doll making training has given her confidence by showing her a way to overcome financial challenges.
"I am participating in this training programme hoping to earn some income. I think learning this skill is beneficial. It could be revenue generating if we’re able to maintain production. They came to help us out and offered to train us. We are thankful to them," she said.
Fortunately, the 1 Million Heroes is not the only team that has come forward to help the internally displaced persons.
Besides several private enterprises conducting livelihood activities training at the relief camps, Manipur State Rural Livelihoods Mission (MSRLM) of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj Department of the Government of Manipur has also organized different livelihoods activities/ training programmes for making agarbatti, floor disinfectant like phenyl, detergent, liquid dishwasher, scrunchies and paper bag and cocoon reeling.
A total 184 inmates of relief camps in Imphal East district have benefited and earned wages through these programmes.
Contributing towards the rehabilitation of the inmates of the relief camps, Commissioner of Trade, Commerce & Industries, Government of Manipur, PK Jha has assured that the Manipur Handloom and Handicraft Corporation will buy all the products made in the relief camps and give money immediately.