The Army Hospital (Research and Referral), is not restricted to just being a hospital. Inside the premises there are living quarters, a primary school, a shopping complex, cafeterias, sprawling gardens and a Family Welfare Centre. Over the years, the Family Welfare Centre (FWC) has turned into a hub of learning and enterprise and has earned a lot of goodwill from the defence fraternity.
"Gone are the days when the members (families of soldiers) of our FWC were content with learning to do embroidery, knitting and stitching. Today, they want to take that extra step and want to be financially independent. Unfortunately, due to the frequent transfers and official commitments of the soldiers, they are neither able to pick up a job nor are they able to devote time on doing something from home," says Mrs Rashmi Sharma, Chairperson FWC, AH(R&R).
Until now it has been a norm to conduct monthly FWC meetings with a set agenda of some in-house entertainment and a lecture. Breaking away from this protocol, FWC AH(R&R) now conducts workshops and talks to enhance skills and knowledge of the members, e.g. fun activities like organizing a Garba dance program during Navratras, workshops on clay modelling, art and craft, workshops on recognizing their talents and promoting them; of course, apart from solving their household and relationship problems. The children of all grades receive subject tuitions as well as classes on dance and music by experts.
With the ban on polythene bags, the idea of making paper bags by FWC members and distributing them in the AH(R&R) Shopping Complex was proposed. With this idea of supporting the environment, workshops on making newspaper bags were conducted. Mrs Sonali Jha Chatterjee, Secretary, FWC, volunteered to conduct these workshops and the Assistant Secretary, Mrs Anuradha Rao plunged in whole heartedly to help in the endeavour. As the word spread, a lot of ladies joined in. In a few days, a huge stock of paper bags was ready. Soon FWC was supplying paper bags to all the shops in the complex."Initially, the idea was to pick up pace with the polythene ban movement. But soon, with the demand increasing, we realised that we could convert the whole venture into a start-up. This is an era of start-ups. The FWC thought of facilitating the ladies by starting a venture for them which was not very time consuming and could build a sense of entrepreneurship among them," said Rashmi Sharma.
The sincerity and neatness with which these ladies were making the bags was impressive. This made Sonali volunteer for conducting further workshops on making bags out of handmade paper. "With tasty, sumptuous snacks during the workshop and provision of transport, ladies could concentrate on learning better with no worries of getting home on time," says Anuradha. Soon one thing led to another, and we had ladies volunteering to teach paper quilling which led to creating beautiful designs for the bags. Today, the FWC is taking requests for supplying bags from various other defence organizations as well as individuals.
Inspired by the enthusiasm, Rashmi Sharma floated the idea of hosting an in-house AH(R&R) Diwali Mela which was a perfect arena for the ladies to showcase their talent. The Diwali Mela was conducted on October 27 and 28, 2018. Several members of the FWC set up stalls selling delicious food like golgappas, paprichaat, dhokla, dosa, vada, idli, and pao bhaji and as expected, they had a bumper sale!
"It is a joy to see our members come forward with skills which they would like to share with all the others. I have seen a sense of camaraderie building up and a sense of sisterhood evolving. This is what spurs me to spend a lot of time with them," asserts Sonali.
The constant upheavals in the life of soldiers place a huge demand on the members of FWC who need to keep pace both economically and mentally, providing a stable environment to their families. The Family Welfare Centre tries to empower them and inspires them to think for themselves. It gives them freedom to pursue new initiatives, to dream new dreams big and small, and to take those dreams to their logical conclusion. It is not merely a housewives' club but is an entirely new way of life!