There’s something about grandmothers that make us all feel warm and fuzzy in our hearts. Kochi-based social entrepreneur Lakshmi Menon feels this way about grandmothers too. But, unlike the rest of us, she decided to take this emotion and turn it into something valuable. Inspired by her own grandmother, Lakshmi, the founder of Pure Living, created ‘Ammoomathiri’ (Wicksdom).
“It started as an activity to keep my then 88-year-old grandmother occupied. She regularly makes wicks for our lamps in the prayer room. I suggested that she make a few extra ones to distribute among her other children and relatives. The excitement she had in gifting the wicks made me realise how much she yearns to prove that she is still worthy of doing something for others. I also started supplying these wicks to temples. It gave her immense joy to know that the wicks were being used in faraway temples she is unable to visit,” says Lakshmi.
Her Wicksdom Project has ensured that grandmothers have an activity that keeps them occupied throughout the day. Lakshmi has enlisted the help of women in old age homes for this project. A pack of 30 wicks is sold for Rs. 5. Out of this, the grandmother making the wicks gets Rs. 3. The rest of the money goes towards the packing and distribution of wicks. The cotton yarn required for this project is provided for free by the Good Karma Foundation, a trust run by Lakshmi’s family. There are as many as 25 grandmothers involved in this project. The wicks they make are supplied to temples, churches, and homes across the country.
This initiative has been noticed by people across the country. The highlight was when Lakshmi was hosted by Amitabh Bachchan on a Diwali special show ‘Aaj Hi Raat Hai Zindagi’, which featured on Star Plus and was produced by BBC India.
A designer by profession, Lakshmi designs jewellery, handicrafts and also interiors. She is also a wedding designer, who makes use of eco-friendly products to design some spectacular stage settings.
Balancing work and helping society goes hand in hand for this entrepreneur.
“I love to design lives. Use design to make the lives of people (who have lost hope) beautiful and meaningful,” she says.
Her social interventions don’t stop with Wicksdom.
Another campaign, where design meets her spirit of sustainable living is Entrée, an initiative that focuses on planting more trees for a greener living. She’s ensuring more trees in the world through With Love pens or vithu pens. These handcrafted pens made from waste paper are unique because they have an Agasthya tree seed in them. So after their use is done, they can be planted in soil and the seed will sprout after a while.
These pens are a tad expensive at Rs. 12, compared to plastic pens which are available at Rs. 5. However, Lakshmi’s aim is to completely do away will plastic pens.
“Women from the neighbourhood and some people with physical disabilities make these pens. Since the last four years, Wipro has been using these pens in all their offices in India. Wikipedia uses them for events. Sometimes, people order these pens as return gifts for weddings. I didn’t have the plan or bandwidth to scale it so much. But there has been tremendous response to the pens,” she says.
Lakshmi also plans to create an art installation from pen trash collected from schools in Kerala, in order to visually represent how much plastic waste is produced.
The latest social initiative Lakshmi has undertaken is Orange Alert. Under this campaign, Lakshmi led a group of individuals to draw orange colour triangles on roads, around 50 feet before potholes and craters are present.
Recently, they painted these triangles on interior roads near Kanjiramattom and Maradu.
“We just started this campaign and it is bringing in a lot of attention. Someone from Thiruvananthapuram got in touch with me and wants to replicate the idea there,” she says.
Though Lakshmi dons many hats, she still thinks she has so much more to do. But, it is the feeling that she is contributing towards making the world a better place that keeps her going.