Gili Navon didn’t intend to start a nonprofit organization when she traveled to Majuli, a remote island in Assam. In the year 2007 she came with a photographer friend to explore rural culture.
Something about the place attracted her intensely. Though she did not speak Assamese or any local dialects, Navon bonded with the families and particularly the women of Majuli.
Gili accompanied them to the jungle to pick herbs and helped with household chores. She watched them spin raw silk and cotton into colorful garments. She also saw the struggle for sustenance in this low-caste subsistence-farming society where tourists rarely venture and river erosion caused mass relocation, ‘We came to have a real relationship. Slowly I learned the language and visited many times. They knew I cared about them,’ Navon told media.
That led her to do a four-month internship in Majuli. This was during her studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Glocal (global and local) Community Development Studies master’s degree program. ‘Coming with an Israeli education, where you continually search for ways to improve and innovate, together with my love and appreciation of the local culture and way of life, I felt I have something to contribute.’
Navon organized 24 tribal women into a weaving cooperative in 2011 to help them turn their cultural tradition into a more viable source of income from marketable items such as table runners, scarves, wallets and yoga bags. Further in 2013, Navon and fellow Glocal student Shaked Avizedek partnered with local youth and women and established Amar Majuli (Our Majuli), a grassroots not-for-profit organization.
The heart of Amar Majuli’s is to provide members and their families with independent sustainable livelihoods from handloom work and eco-tourism while gaining leadership skills. Presently, the weaving cooperative includes about 100 women, ages 18 to 60.
Since its inception the organization has worked alongside the local community without a formal budget or paid staff, developing solutions for social and economic problems.
‘In Majuli I met a completely different way of life and a kind of poverty we don’t see here. I saw a need and an opportunity for development. The people have a complete lack of financial security, especially women. If someone gets sick and they already sold their cow, there is no way to save that person’s life. They lack the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty because of discrimination, social exclusion and lack of access,’ shared Navon.
For Majuli, Navon also adapted and modified the ABCD (Assets Based for Community Development) programme.
Words- Abigail Klein Leichman
In the photo Gili Navon is wearing Green kurta and jeans