ETERNAL HEALTH FUND- Bridget's Story, "Almost the Last Indian Journey"
Almost the Last Indian Journey
Hi, I'm Bridget. I've worked for and with Eternal Creation for many years both in India at the tailoring centre and now from my home in Wales.
Andy Lower and Andy Showell-Rogers have asked me to share my story, my personal experience of what it means to be in a fair trade caring community.
For me, that experience was life-changing. Our work community at the Tailoring Centre literally saved my life.
There was a feeling of trepidation amongst myself and the other staff when in January of 2016 Frances and Rory, the founders of Eternal Creation, decided to sell the brand as well as the Fair Trade dedicated tailoring company. It soon became apparent however, that those feelings were completely unfounded with the sale of the business to the duo of Andy and Andy, themselves being totally committed to the principles and practice of Fair Trade. The Andys` commitment to the further development of the business and well being of the staff, drove them to make changes which have increased both productivity and the standard of living for those working there.
What did “fair trade” really mean?
The tailoring centre’s staff had always been aware that they were working in a Fair Trade registered business, but it became clear to me that neither they, nor I, were fully aware of the implications. Due to this, I undertook the task of studying, translating and applying the 10 principles of fair trade to the tailoring centre itself. Along the way I learned that there was a lot more to being registered as a fair trade company than I could possibly have imagined. On gaining this understanding, the expectations and responsibilities of business owners, suppliers, the staff and the customers became clearer, and it was apparent that there was huge scope for improvement.
Changes needed to be made
The Andys` were approached and there followed meetings between the staff and themselves to establish the needs for further improvement of both working conditions and production. Staff were encouraged to speak, and still are; the contribution of their ideas and the development of their personal skills providing a means for them to take responsibility and `ownership` of their own place of work.
Salaries, families and BONUSES
As a direct result of these meetings, all the staff are now paid salaries rather than their pay being based on piece work; this allows them to manage their household budget more easily, as they receive a consistent wage. Every member of staff is allocated paid holidays; this is besides the usual `bank holidays` dictated by each religion, and the Indian National holidays. Where there had always been the option of a free creche for the employees children, now both Mums and Dads receive paid leave on the birth of their children. Partial School fees are paid to all employees for their children and the Andys` have also implemented the payment of an annual individual bonus to every single employee which is 10 times higher than what they had previously received.
Moving time, lots of stress
Within the first 18 months of the Andys` ownership, it became necessary to uproot the tailoring centre from its long standing physical position, and move lock, stock and barrel to a new base just a short distance away. A lot of thought and planning was required to ensure that all went as smoothly as possible with the least possible interruption to production. Staff were shown the new building and asked for their feedback. I drew up a basic plan of the building (to scale as best I could), along with scaled pieces of paper representing the furniture and fittings. Each department was invited to participate in the planning of their own area in the new layout; their contributions proved invaluable.
Moove, the sweet and long standing factory dog, who is allowed to roam freely about the building, was also factored in, with the suitable placing of her kennel a very important decision. Moving day was chaotic, but with the constant referral to our joint plan, and every single member of staff participating in the move, it went surprisingly well amidst the chatter and excitement!
New location, new fairness
The new layout ensured a fluid transition from receipt of the fabric, to cutters, to tailors, to hand stitching, quality control and dispatch to customers. The workshop is now well organised with plenty of light and excellent use of space.
The move necessitated promotions for a number of staff and gave encouragement to all who work there. There is a continuing palpable feeling of loyalty and genuine interest in the well being and success of the company for the benefit of all, along with a community atmosphere; light and upbeat with everyone taking a pride in their work and work space.
Sleep, sleep sleep: Things didn’t feel right
A couple of months following our move to the new workshop, I started to feel a little unwell. Usually a very fit and healthy individual I was not unduly worried. At first I was merely a little tired, needing a nap in the afternoons, and with tender areas on my scalp that felt like bruises. A day or so later and there were enlarged lymph nodes visible on my neck. There were visits to the local government hospital with blood samples taken, another visit to an ENT specialist, and then a taxi ride to a government teaching hospital to see a skin specialist after a rash appeared on my abdomen, arms and legs. More medication was prescribed and a follow up appointment made for the Saturday, just a few days away. In the meantime however, my health deteriorated rapidly. Two or three times I fell asleep for several hours while sitting at the table eating food! I became so ill that I stumbled while walking, found it difficult to stay awake, couldn't hear and didn't want to answer the phone or the door....I just needed to sleep. Colleagues from the workshop, friends and my landlady who had been offering and giving help up until this time, were all concerned as to how I was, but were unable to contact me or gain entry to my home.
In more lucid moments I was concerned about my two dogs, but I did manage to let them out in the morning, and back in overnight; on one occasion I know I was unable to find the strength to get up and feed them....then one day after staggering to let them out and collapsing exhausted in the living room, I forgot to lock the door...There was a lot of chatter and people around, and I had no idea what was happening. I remember some of the people who were present, but not nearly as many as were actually there.
Rushed to hospital
Somehow I arrived at the government teaching hospital I had recently visited, where I was made to lie in an immense amount of pain, on a bare metal trolley. My skirt caught and ripped on one of the loose metal rivets that secured the top to the wheel base. Barely able to remain conscious despite the pain, I still managed to challenge the nurse on the size of the urinary catheter she intended to use, insisting on a smaller one. At this time I became aware that my good Australian friend was present, along with a couple of my work colleagues....I just wanted to be left to sleep...but instead I found myself outside and facing the almost impossible task of getting into the very back of a 6 seater taxi with only four doors. I could hear voices pleading, cajoling and sometimes firmly insisting that I get in, and then having to drag and haul my swollen painful body around and behind the seats in front, until at last, I was lying in some kind of heap. Occasionally, when the pain became too much, I remember crying out and asking that we stop; they didn't listen....! I thought I was going to die….
Finally the taxi stopped, and again I was required to get out. By now the pain in my muscles and skin was so excruciating that I was unable to tolerate help. My feet and legs were so swollen and heavy that I could hardly move them. I was aware of people around me offering support and encouragement in voices frantic with concern; I am told it took around half an hour to extricate myself from the vehicle....Somehow, somewhere, I was inside a building (I had no idea where), being asked to sign some documents. I could hardly see and had such poor control of my swollen hands and fingers that the signature was tiny and illegible - I remember thinking, "if this is a legal document there's no way that's acceptable". I could hear my friend speaking with people I presumed were doctors, and then coming to ask me for the pass code off my phone, so that she could contact my family. I was exhausted...
No you are not going to die, you are strong
One of the guys from work, choked and near to tears offered his support and encouragement. I told him that I thought I was going to die very soon; he leant over the bed rail and kissed my hair "no you are not, you are strong". My mind was alert inside my head, although I was not too aware of my surroundings or what was happening. I was not scared...I was ready, willing and accepting...I could feel my `mind`, or `soul`, or whatever it is that gives us life on Earth, gradually shedding my body, leaving it behind; it was a very pleasant and welcoming feeling.
I could hear beeps and voices as though I was listening from underwater, and struggled to open my eyes; when I did, my vision was blurred. Someone spoke my name, but I couldn`t focus on the face, nor could I move. Maybe I remained in this state for a couple of days, I`m not too sure. Eventually I became more aware, realising that I was alive and in hospital. My Australian friend came to visit and told me that I was in the Intensive Care Unit of the Fortis Hospital Chandigarh. She looked exhausted and was obviously relieved to see me awake. Having stayed at a nearby hotel since escorting me here, she had quizzed the doctors, contacted my family, relayed my progress daily to the worried staff at the workshop, visited every day and most likely undertook countless other things that I remain unaware of, and will feel eternally grateful for. As she was due to board a flight to Australia in the next day or two, she also contacted another mutual friend from Dharamsala to come and be with me until my two sisters arrived from the UK... That took some time to sink in... My sisters were coming here all the way from the Uk not knowing whether I would be alive when they got here...I could not imagine how they must be feeling...
I learned that my lovely landlady of the past several years was also here in Chandigarh, having undertaken that horrendous journey with me just a few short days ago. She and her daughter had been, and still were, working hard behind the scenes, talking with doctors, advertising for, meeting with and thanking the volunteer blood donors, liasing with the hospital administrators...and still making the time to visit me and sometimes help me to eat. They stayed throughout my time at the hospital. Some of their family members also came to visit and I was tremendously touched by their continued support, love and encouragement.
My Australian friend came one last time to say goodbye and wish me well. I was filled with so many emotions; so exceedingly grateful for her help, her compassion and her practical input. My other good friend from Dharamsala arrived, offering more invaluable love and support, and again, relaying progress to my co-workers at the tailoring centre. The staff were considerably worried, and desperately wished to come and visit. With a seven hour bus ride to reach the hospital, and only 1 visitor allowed in at a time over the 1hr visiting period, this was not practical, so it was that messages were regularly exchanged.
My sisters arrived at the hospital four or maybe five days after my admission. I had been waiting with excitement, and there were many tears... On the day of their arrival they informed me that they were taking me home on a flight booked for the 16th May; that was only just over two weeks away! I wondered how on Earth I was going to be able to travel, that was quite some challenge...
I had also been thinking about the inevitable hefty hospital bill, which nobody had been willing to discuss with me. I needed to be able to calculate how long I could stay at the hospital before my funds ran out, or indeed, whether they already had!
I learned that everyone who had travelled with me on that horrendous journey to the hospital had given money, or left their cards and details to make further payments for my care. I learned that the Andys` and my family members had also wired money, but most poignantly of all, every single member of the Eternal Creation Tailoring Centre had pledged their imminent, eagerly anticipated, and very first bonus payment for my further care....it was the last straw...I felt so humbled, so grateful, so loved, and so completely overwhelmed, that I broke into sobs. We had walked a very long road together and they were prepared to walk it until the end - I looked down at my bloated body, with it`s four grossly swollen limbs, discoloured mottled legs and feet, my blistered, swollen arms and hands, unable to move myself in the bed, and whispered to myself - Challenge Accepted!!
My sisters recorded a very emotional and heartfelt video message and sent it to my co-workers...
The doctors informed me that they were treating me for Sepsis and would neither confirm nor deny my feet were gangrenous; it looked scarily like it to me!!
The very next day I demanded to stand out of bed. No-one was willing to help, until a doctor was persuaded to give his consent - I lasted less than one very painful minute, but I was back on the road.
The day after, I managed to stand and walk with assistance around my bed to get back in on the other side, then the next day I walked for 5 whole mins with a nurse either side...I had to walk bare foot as nothing would fit on my feet, but I was thrilled!
The following day, and each day thereafter, my sisters were enlisted to help me on my walks. To start with, one would follow on behind with a wheelchair in case I became too exhausted, and the other would take one hand while a nurse took the other. As time progressed, my feet and legs remained discoloured, grew blisters and scabs, and there was still no feeling in my toes, but the swelling subsided until I could wear flip flops. Eventually I managed to slowly walk the corridors unaided and even managed the stairs!
My temperature became stable, I was managing to eat more, blood counts were satisfactory, and although my muscles were still incredibly weak, I could now move myself around in the bed...The doctors, astonished with the progress of recovery, agreed to write the letter of authority required for my flight home. We were ecstatic!
A few days later I was discharged and went to stay with my sisters in a nearby hotel to rest up and `normalise` prior to the flight home. The morning after my discharge we were joined at the breakfast table by my friend from Dharamsala, and several of my co-workers who had travelled there together throughout the early hours of the morning. I couldn`t have been happier. Hugs and smiles and chatter; the love and relief was palpable.
The fantastic doctors, who had played such a blinder to initially simply keep me alive, identified the quick recovery as a direct result of personal grit and determination, and maybe they were right. What I can say is that the grit and determination were born from the inpouring of faith, love, and selfless compassion shown to me by my friends, family and my magnificent Fair Trade co-workers.
India, and more specifically Dharamsala, has held a fascination for me from the very first visit. On arrival I was surprised to see so many people living in a similar situation to the one I had lived in with my own family forty years previously. It was easy to identify with typical home lives and to be able to provide positive input to both individuals and the community. Believing in the concepts of Fair Trade, I have always felt proud to say I work for Eternal Creation. Over the past two years, under the ownership of Andy Lower and Andy Showell-Rogers, phenomenal changes have occurred at the dedicated tailoring centre; these changes have served to bring the whole team together as a community for the benefit of all who work there. A real community that was inspirational in my recovery, and that I am so proud and thankful to be a part of.
It occurred to me more than once, how lucky I was to have survived this illness, and how, if instead of me, one of my co-workers had been stricken in the same way, they would probably have died - and that`s a really painful truth.
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