Life for 52-year-old Lincy Leslin plunged into turmoil when her husband was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2016.
Their family, which included two children under 13, were already struggling to make ends meet when he had to stop working as a laborer because of his illness.
Soon the Catholic family from Malappuram — a region in India’s southern state of Kerala — saw their savings dwindle. To save the family from starvation, Leslin had to find work.
“I began working as a domestic worker with a salary no more than 4,000 rupees (US $70) a month,” Leslin told LiCAS.news.
“I couldn’t send my kids to school as there was no money left in the house to fund their education,” she said. “All my earnings could pay for was the medicine for my husband and two meals a day. That was all.”
Things went from bad to worse for the family when in March the Indian government imposed a country-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The lockdown — which lasted for more than two months — hit the country’s working class hard with millions of daily wage workers being made jobless overnight.
Leslin was one of those who lost her job.
“It was shocking. I told the family that I worked for that I have no source of income. After listening to my ordeal, they were generous enough to give me one-month additional salary, but they refused anymore. Believe me I was on the brink of collapse that day,” Leslin said.
For months she and her family were in a precarious situation until Calicut Diocese Social Service Society (CDSSS) offered some help in October.
“They asked me whether I know any skill so that I could be provided with some assistance,” she said. “I told them that a long time ago I had acquired training in cutting and tailoring.”
The society had just launched the ‘Jeevan’ (Life) sewing and tailoring project which is aimed to support poor people with a family member suffering from cancer.
Father Alfred V.C., the project’s director said: “The sewing machines enable them to earn their livelihood and gradually provide some useful income to the family.”
The society provided Leslin with sewing machines and some cutting and tailoring materials to make face masks that the Church could distribute.
“When I saw the sewing machine, it was a ray of hope for me. The very first work of making face masks earned me more money than what I used to earn for a month,” Leslin said.
Since then Leslin has been busy sewing from home.
“Sometimes, I wonder what life would have been if the church members hadn’t approached me,” Leslin said.
“My income is increasing and I’m planning to send my kids back to school and now buying medicines for my husband is no longer a burden,” she said.
Nirmala Devi, whose husband is suffering from lung cancer, said she was given a sewing machine and related training for a month under the program.
“I honed my skills during that period,” said Devi who hails from Kerala’s Wayanad region.
Devi said the church program also gave her an order to make over 500 face masks which allowed her to quickly earn some money.
“Prior to sewing I used to work as a helper in a private school. The tailoring business is helping my family in a better way now,” Devi said.
Another lady in the same region, Sita Kumari said her husband died from cancer in May, just a few months after their 19-year-old son lost his job as a mechanic due to the lockdown.
“We had no income to survive. We were in a bad position and then I learnt of the Jeevan program and I applied for training in tailoring,” Kumari said.
“I was given the sewing machine and orders followed. Thank God, my income is enough to feed the family every month,” she said. “It is God’s help that has saved us during these trying circumstances.”