The following letter was written by NAYAs Co-Founder and CEO, Eirin Fossberg about the early stages of starting NAYA.
My first encounter with India
In November 2017, I traveled to India for the first time with an organization that was involved in aid work. I had the opportunity to visit a slum in the city of Dehradun in Northern India and get to know the people who lived there. The organization I traveled with provided training in various types of handicrafts. The engagement among the women in this area was significant. I was able to participate in these "hobby gatherings," where we sat together on the floor, talked, and made decorations by cutting and sewing stars in felt. For these women, this was an arena where they could be creative and do something out of the ordinary. Although few of them could speak and understand English, we were fortunate to have translators with us. Hearing their stories was both overwhelming and powerful for me.
I think these moments made me realize how lucky I am and how much I have. I'm not just talking about the material things I have, but all the opportunities I have. I have the opportunity to express myself through writing, seek employment, earn a salary, get an education, and do exactly what I want to do. And I took it for granted. My encounter with these people made me feel many different emotions at once. I felt a mixture of gratitude, compassion, joy, injustice, and love. I felt a longing to do something. These feelings became the starting point for a journey I am still on.
The start of a new journey
I think witnessing injustice triggers something in us humans. It certainly triggered something in me. Already on the first day I was in the slum, I decided to go back. Four months later, I was in India again with a friend. We were going to try to start a project.
The plan was simple. We were going back to India to teach women how to knit woolen socks, bring them to Norway, sell them here, and voila: the women in the slum could earn their own money. It turned out that this was not as easy in practice. When we returned to India, we were told that the Indian heat makes the yarn sticky and that Dehradun is not a suitable place for knitting woolen socks.
This led us to look at the project in a different light. We asked ourselves, "why focus on woolen socks?" Because we thought it was easy. We learned that the simplest solution is not always the best, and we started thinking bigger. We began to dream of creating a creative workplace for women and making their opportunities visible. We wanted to create a sanctuary where collaboration flourishes and provide for fair wages and good working conditions. We realized that this return to India was not the whole project, but rather a beginning of NAYA.