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Empowering specially abled women with entrepreneurship

In a world where the intersection of gender and disability often remains overlooked, Ambarika Tejeswani Nayak’s remarkable journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of entrepreneurship. At 31 years old, and with a 60 percent polio-induced disability, Ambarika from Koraput has emerged not just as an entrepreneur, but as a beacon of inspiration for those navigating the intricate landscape of gender and disability bias. Together with a dedicated team of women, she has embarked on a journey that transcends societal norms, illuminating the extraordinary potential within those who dare to break barriers and carve their own paths.

Ambarika’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2018 when she decided to learn stitching through YouTube tutorials. Armed with newfound skills, she started making cushions, and her journey towards financial independence began. What sets her story apart is her commitment to not walking this path alone. Soon, a few other physically challenged girls joined her, and together they transformed her cushion-making hobby into a thriving business.

“We may be physically challenged, but we have the dedication to be independent and earn a livelihood,” asserts Ambarika, her eyes filled with unwavering determination.

As they honed their craft, the team faced several challenges. With mobility aids like crutches, even the simplest tasks became daunting. Marketing materials for their products became an uphill battle, but their resilience never wavered. They sought out bulk orders and began supplying their products to major institutions and hospitals.

Despite being educated, Ambarika found it difficult to secure support and job opportunities at her hometown in Koraput. The lack of guidance regarding government facilities for disabled individuals further exacerbated her challenges.

“After completing my matriculation, I pursued ITI. I wanted to study further, but our family’s financial condition wasn’t favorable. Moreover, someone had to be with me throughout the day, making it impossible for me to pursue a traditional job. I didn’t want to burden anyone else,” Ambarika shared.

With an unwavering spirit, she made her way to Bhubaneswar, where she pursued a formal course in stitching. Their journey took a significant turn when they approached the Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS), which helped them secure stalls at various exhibitions, opening doors to a wider customer base.

Their entrepreneurial endeavors expanded beyond cushions; the team started producing phenyl and securing bulk orders from various institutions. The girls worked tirelessly, but they faced scepticism from those who questioned their ability to meet bulk orders on time.

Narmada Singh, a 30-year-old from Kandhamal who also walks with crutches due to polio, joined Ambarika’s mission to create their own business. “When Ambarika shared her idea of setting up our business and starting with cushion making, I liked the idea and joined immediately,” Narmada shared.

Their determination shone bright, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, they were earning over Rs 40,000 per month. However, the pandemic dealt them a blow, disrupting their thriving business. Despite these setbacks, they remain optimistic about the future, hoping to revive their business as the market recovers.

Throughout their journey, these extraordinary women faced not only physical challenges but also harassment and a lack of support from their families. However, their unwavering spirit and resilience continue to drive them forward.

Ambarika and Narmada, two remarkable women who have rewritten the script of entrepreneurship in the face of disability and gender stereotypes, continue to defy expectations. Not content with their own incredible achievements, their thriving enterprise has now become a source of employment and empowerment for three more inspiring young women with disabilities.

Ambarika and Narmada, two remarkable women who have rewritten the script of entrepreneurship in the face of disability and gender stereotypes, continue to defy expectations. Not content with their own incredible achievements, their thriving enterprise, named ‘Tejas Products’ has now become a Self Help Group by PWD women, creating opportunities and empowerment for more inspiring young women with disabilities.

Their business has become a beacon of hope and empowerment, offering a chance at financial independence and self-realization for those who once felt constrained by societal limitations.

“We started this with an initial investment of Rs 5,000 each, and the business has grown to the point where we are financially independent. We now plan to expand our business and include more women like us, helping them earn a livelihood,” Ambarika shared, echoing their commitment to uplifting others.

Ambarika Tejeswani Nayak and her team of entrepreneurial warriors are living proof that where there is determination, perseverance, and mutual support, even the most daunting challenges can be overcome. They not only craft cushions and phenyl but also a brighter, more inclusive future for themselves and women like them, inspiring us all to defy the odds and chase our dreams. Their story is a powerful reminder that gender and disability should never define one’s potential.

Note: The author is a Laadli Media Fellow. The opinions and views expressed
are those of the author. Laadli and UNFPA do not necessarily endorse the views.

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