The art of ingenuity

Mothers plan for their futures using traditional art form

December 02, 2020 | Behind the Scenes


In the fight against global poverty, one of the tenets of healthy development is respecting the capabilities of the people you serve and building on their strengths. 

In southern India, there’s an art form called kolam that uses dyed rice flour to create beautiful designs on the ground outside of homes, often as a sign of hospitality. It’s basically like sidewalk chalk without sidewalks.  

Moms whose children are sponsored through Unbound have turned kolam into a poverty-fighting tool. 

In communities challenged by poverty, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything that’s broken or missing. It’s also all too common for well-intentioned outsiders to make assumptions about what’s needed.  

Part of creating effective change is to gain an understanding of what assets are available in the community and build from there. This process is aided by a tool called Community Resource Mapping (CRM). The process, like virtually everything in international development, works best when it’s led by the people most affected by the problem.

Mothers in India do community planning using traditional art of kolam. 

Mapping their futures

Women whose children are sponsored through Unbound’s Trichy program led their own CRM process. While many of them lacked education and some could not read, they built on other skills to create a community map using kolam. 

They mapped houses, water access, medical and educational resources, businesses and other neighborhood features. They analyzed goods coming into and out of the community, drawing import and export charts alongside the map.  

From their analysis, they generated a list of potential business opportunities. They said, “Why bring it here if we can make it here?” 

As a result of the mapping effort, 70 women were able to start and sustain their own businesses such as weaving floor mats, making hygiene products and rearing livestock. The effort is an example of what can be accomplished when families facing obstacles of poverty lead their own development.