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Medhavi Gandhi was just 22 when she and two friends co-founded the Happy Hands Foundation, a Delhi-based non-profit dedicated to the revival and upkeep of the country’s indigenous art and craft, in 2009. The social entrepreneur credits a two-month internship with Unesco for catapulting her into the crafts sector.

As a volunteer for the international agency’s Award of Excellence for Handicrafts (formerly known as the Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts) project in 2008, Gandhi documented the challenges faced by traditional artisans. She says it was the hands-on nature of the apprenticeship that prompted the Happy Hands Foundation’s cluster development, livelihoods training and marketing initiatives. The NGO also organizes artist residencies, public workshops and bazaars.

At 26, the MBA graduate, who set up the foundation with Mansi Joshi and Suneera Tandon (of Mint), hopes to come full circle by conducting a month-long fellowship designed to sensitize urban teenagers to rural craft communities. The first edition of the Happy Hands Foundation’s Youth Arts, Community and Transformation (ACT) Fellowship is centred on the coir crafts of Orissa.

The three-step training programme is open to 17- to 20-year-olds who have cleared their class XII examinations. Participants will begin with a week-long orientation in New Delhi, followed by two weeks of rural outreach in Satasankha village, near Puri, and a final week of documentation and assessment back in the Capital.

According to Gandhi, the coir toys of Orissa are among the more neglected craft forms, with hackneyed designs of animals and birds that haven’t changed with the times. Since there is ample scope for product development, the participants will first learn to make coir artefacts from scratch.

Meeta and Sunny Narang of the Delhi-based Bindass Unlimited collective, responsible for many of the rejigged traditional handicrafts at stores like Either Or in Pune and People Tree in Delhi, will conduct craft sessions and skills-set training. Gandhi will also impart lessons on community building, breaking barriers and overcoming rural stereotypes.

In Satasankha, programme manager, education, Deepti Singh will encourage the volunteers to conduct a needs-based assessment of the craft cluster. Participants can then choose to collaborate with local artists on new designs or teach them to use digital cameras, computers, Internet, social media and online marketing. “They (the volunteers) will be tying up a lot of loose ends for the cluster so that it learns to become independent," explains Gandhi. They will also be expected to document the whole project and mobilize other communities in and around the village to participate in their activities, Gandhi adds.

At the end of the trip, a small exhibition based on their continuous documentation and progress will be organized for friends and family. Sunny will also help the participants decide on whether they want to continue working with the cluster, and in what capacity, after the fellowship. In case the participants are willing to commit to the cause, the Happy Hands Foundation will help them build a business model to market coir products and even raise funds.

At present, the fellowship is only open to 8-10 participants, but Gandhi says funds raised from applications and new sponsorships may allow them to expand.

The Youth Arts, Community and Transformation (ACT) Fellowship by the Happy Hands Foundation is from 10 June-10 July. The deadline for applications is 12 May. Click here for more information and to download the application form. For queries, call Deepti Singh, programme manager, education, on 8826994964 or email her at deepti@happyhands.in.

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