TNT IMPACT: Shillong’s women rag pickers, ‘Merry Maidens’ finally gain the spotlight they deserve!


By Daphilabet Buhphang | Shillong, December 24, 2017

"Success is not always about greatness. It is about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come"– – Dwayne Johnson

Christmas is all the more wonderful this year with the success story of Shillong's 28 Merry Maidens. In the beginning, they were just rag pickers who perhaps never dreamt of making an impact through their work . But fortunately, 28 ragpickers or Merry Maidens have now secured a future not only for themselves but for generations that follow.

While elsewhere the name Merry Maidens is associated with the sad tale of 19 girls turned into stone for dancing on the Sabbath during the Neolithic era, in Meghalaya the name Merry Maidens has altogether a different narrative to it which starts from rags and heads towards riches. The Merry maidens of Shillong are not the high and mighty and no, they don't belong to the world of glamour or music. They are a group of twenty eight women rag pickers from the landfill area of the city who were selected, trained and allowed to secure a future not just for themselves but for generations to come. And their area of operations is anybody's guess- Marten in Shillong.

The 28 Merry Maidens were selected to be trained under Swaach Bharat Mission with Bethany Society providing technical support with Asian Development Bank taking care of funds and Shillong Municipal Board providing supervision. The Merry Maidens were trained to convert organic wastes into manure. However, it was not an easy task as these merry maidens had to work at a landfill site called Marten where they have no choice but tolerate the unpleasant odour of the place. After having converted waste into manure, the Merry Maidens started selling it for 7 rupees per kg which later rose to 15 rupees per kg.

Perhaps they knew they were going to get some money but there was no way they could have thought they would be able to make Rs 2,25,000.

This to them was the fruit of success after having thought that the proverb 'as you sow, so shall you reap,' would not apply to them. They were worried that all the hard work, time, energy and commitment they have given would be forgotten. Some of these Merry Maidens have also been sent to other places for further training. The Merry Maidens are an inspiration to other woman ragpickers who desire more from life. It may be mentioned that TNT- The Northeast Today had covered the story of their hard work in the month of July this year and it is heart warming to see that these women are since then being recognized for their efforts.

In an exclusive interview with TNT, Senior Programme Coordinator of Bethany Society, Ricky Renthlei said, "I am happy because at first they (Merry Maidens) were confused and doubted about success but then, we found a market for them where they could earn a livelihood for themselves and could even try selling manures individually."

He also added, "We don't care whether credit is given to us or not as long as the Merry maidens get the benefit they deserve. Development comes if you let credit go to the right people. For about two months, manure was sold at 7 rupees per kg," Renthlei said. He also urged localities to not throw waste because money can be made out of it, employment can be generated and can further help in waste management.

Turning garbage into gold are these women converting organic waste to sellable composites at the dumping site under the Swaach Bharat Mission, technical support from Bethany society, funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and supervision of the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB).The Merry Maidens segregate the organic wastes and turn it into composites through the usage of garbage to gold granules micro-organisms that helps in the fermentation process, hastens the process of composite and turns the foul odor bearable when mixed with the organic waste which is kept inside a pit.

Renthlei also credited Principal Secretary, K. N. Kumar and Deputy Sectretary, P. S. Kharkongor of the Raj Bhavan for their help and cooperation throughout the process. Ever since the Merry Maidens started selling manures, Raj Bhavan of Meghalaya has been buying it from them. This is what happens when all forces come together for the well-being and benefit of people who deserve it the most. The responsible forces made 2017 a fruitful year for the Merry Maidens who rightly deserve all the success.

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