Tribute to Sister Isabel

Founder of Creative Handicrafts

Creative Handicrafts is a vibrant business, providing economic stability for more than 700 women. None of this would have been possible without the vision and determination of one woman -  Sister Isabel Martin.

This is a tribute to her efforts to change the lives of the women who are now members of the Creative Handicrafts cooperative.


Isabel Martin was born on 7th January 1926 in Salamanca in Spain. She was the youngest of seven children and the only daughter of her parents.

Isabel Martin with her family in Spain.

After completing her nursing career, she decided to be a religious nun and at a tender age of 18 joined the Missionaries of Christ Jesus (MCJ) in Javier, Spain. In 1955, after her religious formation in Spain, Isabel was sent to India. At that time, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire asked the MCJ pioneers in India if they would run the Cheshire Home in the then Jungles of Mahakali, Andheri, Bombay.

Sister Isabel nursing a patient

Her association with the Missionaries of Christ Jesus sisters fanned the desire that she held in her heart. She was able to serve the people and she touched the lives of many whom she met. A nurse by profession, young Isabel along with 2 other sisters dedicated herself to the care of the paraplegic residents of Cheshire Home. She lived through the hardships of those early years, in the midst of the thick jungle uninhabited by people, with scarce water and electricity and no roads nor transport.

She soon was appointed to Damanpur village in Jalpaiguri District, West Bengal where she worked as a nurse among the Adivasis. She also took care of 500 little tribal girls.

Her desire to serve the people could not find completion in helping people alone. Her tenure as novice mistress instilled in her the desire to do something for the Indian women. She wanted to become one with the women and desired to live with them. Sr. Isabel lived in a small room in Meghwadi slum and explored the area of Mahakali-Achanak Colony daily.

 

Achanak colony slum

In 1986 through the organization “Jeevan Nirvaha Niketan” Sister Isabel began to reach out first to the children who did not attend school and worked to supplement their family's income. Meeting with the mothers of these children gave us a glimpse into the reality of their situation. The women needed to be strengthened economically to support themselves and their children.

 

Sister Isabel working with women sewing toys

This led to the creation of the first Women Self Employed Cooperative (WSEC) in the 1980’s. A few women gathered together to learn the skill of sewing. They started out making small soft toys and textile items.

All this began in a slum area in Achanak Colony on Mahakali Caves Road in Andheri. At a time when most people retire, Sister Isabel found a new home and a new purpose; to make vulnerable slum women economically Independent.

 

Sister Isabel working with women at a Creative Handicrafts cooperative

And from the small group of 4 or 5 women, we began to grow. Creative Handicrafts was registered as a non-religious and independent Non Governmental organization in 1994.

Throughout it all Sister continued to be actively involved in all aspects of the work, be it with the Asli Food unit or the children of the Crèche, Preschools and Child Development Center. She kept the desire and hope alive in the women and was always by their side inspiring them to be more and achieve more.

Sister Isabel at Asli Food

Recognizing her herculean efforts in the easing of sufferings of women the Government of Spain bestowed on Sister Isabel their second highest civilian award, the “Premio Principe De Vienna de la Solidaridad – 2010”.

Sister Isabel receiving award in Spain

In 2012 Creative Handicrafts was recognized as "An Outstanding Fair Trade Organization" by World Fair Trade Organization - Asia.

Sister Isabel passed away in 2013. She is sadly missed but fondly remembered.

Sister Isabel in 2013

Thanks to her initiative all those years ago, Creative Handicrafts now runs 13 cooperatives in several different slums.

The Isabel Martin Scholarship has been awarded every year since 2014.  For a girl to receive the award, she must be the child of a woman working with Creative Handicrafts and have excelled academically at her schooling. Her higher education is paid for through this scholarship till she completes her education.