An Organization of a Different Stripe
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An Organization of a Different Stripe

A Tale of How India's Dhonk Women's Cooperative Is Helping Humans and Tigers Alike

At the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed the planet. By the 1970s, scientists estimate that only about 3,000 remained living in the wild. Seventy percent of that population is in India.

Conservation efforts are vigorous, and—according to National Geographic—becoming successful. Indian officials have reported a 58% rise in the population of wild tigers in their country over the past seven years, thanks to stepped up anti-poaching efforts and better security at tiger parks.

One such park is Ranthambore National Park. Located in the deciduous forests of northern India, Ranthambore is a renowned sanctuary and conservation center for the endangered tiger, and one of only a few places where it is still possible to see the animal in its natural habitat.

But many human residents of this rural region need assistance, too. Some local tribes turn to poaching simply to survive, so, to protect tigers and humans alike, it is not enough simply to enforce the laws against poaching. An alternative and sustainable means of income is needed.

The Dhonk Women's Cooperative was created in answer to this need. Dhonk was established in Sawai Madhopur, a community of Mogya (a tribe of traditional hunters and gatherers) located about 80 miles from Jaipur—and less than a mile from Ranthambore. It is the brainchild of Divya Shrivastava Khandal, a former corporate dietician who relocated to the area with her husband Dharmendra Khandal, a conservation biologist with the nonprofit conservation organization Tiger Watch.

Divya created Dhonk to help break the cycle of poaching by offering free vocational training to young Mogya boys and an alternative livelihood for the adults, as well as to preserve traditional artistry. She named it for the dhonk tree, which provides shelter for the park's wildlife.

At the end of last year, Grand Circle Foundation assisted Dhonk in its endeavors with a gift of $4,500 for the purchase of four new electric sewing machines, an inverter (a reliable power source), three backup batteries, water tanks for the kitchen and bathrooms, and two desktop computers. "These women work on piece rate basis, hence with the inclusion of electric machines their efficiency will increase, and these are less cumbersome compared to the pedal machines," says Divya.

Included is a machine that stitches kashida embroidery. According to Divya, "We constantly try and introduce new crafts to bring variety in our product, and we were fortunate to find an artist in kashida embroidery. He was hired to mentor some of our Mogya interns towards learning this beautiful craft form."

Our other donations are equally appreciated by Divya and the women of Dhonk. Power outages are common in the region during the summer and monsoon seasons, so the inverter will enable them to continue their work when the main power source is out. Separate water tanks for the kitchen and bathrooms mean that the women no longer have to carry earthen pitchers to a neighboring school for clean drinking water. And the new computers allow the women to track inventory more efficiently and put the organization closer to Divya's dream of opening an online store.

That will benefit not only the Mogya people, but also the tigers of Ranthambore, as Dhonk commits 10% of its earnings to Tiger Watch.

"We are grateful for the Foundation's kind support of our place," says Divya. "This will not just provide ease in our everyday functioning, but grow our efficiency and also our productivity. It has made an amazing change in the lives of these 35 families."

We are proud to have been able to contribute to this worthy organization.

Featured in our Summer 2015 E-Newsletter.