Handmade soft toys add attraction to Mahila Samithiya exhibition | Sunday Observer

Handmade soft toys add attraction to Mahila Samithiya exhibition

A few ladies from the Mahila Samithiya are gearing up for the upcoming exhibition scheduled for next Tuesday (November 28) at the Lionel Wendt. This annual exhibition which is nothing short of success will be in keeping with their traditions. However, this time they have something new to showcase.

A few months back, a bevy of ladies attended their first lesson on handmade soft toys with handloom material, at the Mahila Samithi Head Office in Malabe. What started as a small-scale project has now blossomed into a successful endeavour. The brains behind the project is none other than, well renowned Pushpa Pathmaperuma.

Pathmaperuma is a known figure in the entrepreneurial world. She started her collection of hand-made dolls as a small business and reached beyond the oceans in no time.

“These are my own creations. I have not gone anywhere or to anyone to learn how to make these handmade dolls. I just knew how to make them. When I see one I am able to create it in my mind and then execute it,” she said, explaining how she started the business.

What had begun as a small time hobby, developed into a business, then expanded beyond the horizons which gained her export awards locally as well as internationally.

But, this story is not about her. She insisted that it should not be about her, but about her precious students.

“I have now retired from business, though of course, I still make them at my leisure, because it is more a part of my life than a business, and I would never give up until I am physically unable.”

Pathmaperuma was in the hunt for a project in which she could share her knowledge, material, and above all her legacy, and continue to make a contribution to society.

“This is the best way I can give back to society as a gratitude for the ability and gift I acquired.”

It all began when she ran into her High School friend, now President of Mahila Samithi – Thilanka Perera. The latter knew exactly how she could put this knowledge to good use and so they started their new venture, sharing knowledge and educating a selected group of women, free of charge, from both in and out of Colombo, travelling from as far as Ratnapura. Shriyani, Prema, Gaulin and Vinitha will display their masterpieces at the upcoming exhibition. The excitement beaming through their faces was not something difficult to notice. For most of them, it’s the first time they are engaging in such an endeavour.

Shriyani Wickremathilake travels all the way from Ratnapura to attend the class. She says, it’s a worthy exercise to take up every Monday.

“I come to Colombo the previous day and stay at a relative’s house so that I can attend the class on Monday, and go back home after completion,” she said.

She has been attending the class for about 5 months, and has mastered the art during the short period. After the demise of her husband and with her two daughters grown up, Shriyani had some spare time. So, she says, the project helps her to overcome her loneliness.

“I was able to pick up fast, and can now make any design of dolls. It brings so much meaning to my life. Rather than making it a business, I want to go back to my hometown and teach others about it, so that they could make use of their talent and contribute to their families and to society,” she said.

Prema Wijerathne from Kotte used to work at the craft centre at the Mahila Samithi and when she learnt about the class, thought of giving it a try.

“It’s only a few months since I started this project. I take about two days to finish a project”.

Prema says, the financial gain she sees for the preset is as gifts for various occasions, which in a way is financial gain. “I hope to have my own business one day,” she says.

According to Pathmaperuma venturing out into a business, individually or collectively can be a difficult task.

“At present, it is difficult for them to do everything by themselves, i.e. from purchasing raw material to finding a good market. So we plan to get help from the many handloom exporters to find a better market. If they could get orders through garment factories, a steady buyer could be found for them,” says Pathmaperuma.

It is therefore through local exhibitions that the Mahila Samithiya looks to encourage these women to promote their work.

Besides the handmade soft toys beeralu, batik kaftans, bags made out of pun are also included in the collection.

While social empowerment and prominence to women and their contribution to the economy is discussed at length, in the higher realms of governance, the efforts of Tilanka Perera and Pushpa Pathmaperuma is commendable. What we can do to help them is, visit the exhibition at the Lionel Wendt this Tuesday and appreciate their hard work.

Pix : Wimal Karunathilake