Awesome Projects

Freedom Incense Project
Freedom Incense Holders
and Freedom Project Bags.


Freedom Incense Pounds Generated

The 1st shipment of incense received generated over £10,000 which will enable a significant number children of workers to go good English medium schools and provide food and education for others.


Freedom Bags Pounds Generated

It`s early days in the bag project but the 1st shipments of bags received has generated over £500 which is going towards English lessons for the workers in Calcutta that make these bags.

The idea is to give a little from each item sold directly back to the workers who make that product in India.

For example 10p from the sale of a packet of Incense sold in London can go directly to incense packers in Bangalore.

See how even 10p makes a meaningful difference to low paid manual workers and offers a real hope of freedom.

In villages and workshops all over India people work producing hand crafted products for export to western countries. Although pay varies depending on area and skills, about 150 rupees a day (about £2) is standard. Handicraft exports create much needed employment in rural areas but while-ever supply of labour outstrips supply pay rates will be low. It is possible to live on this level of pay in India (many exist on less) but life is fundamentally hard.

How much they were paid

I asked how much they were paid.. 150 - 200 Rupees a day - more than twice the Indian minimum wage, but still only about £2 a day.

Any workers escaped the low pay trap?

The ones who had some education and crucially had English language. They could get a job in a Coffee Day or MacDonald`s and move up in to the next economic league.

Make a world of difference

So if you see a pack of Freedom Incense in a shop near you be prepared to pay about 10p over the odds (will you miss it?) but rest assured that that 10p will make make a world of difference to someone. Think about it.. perhaps over a cup of coffee.

The True Cost Of A Cappuccino In Bangalore!
..and how an idea came to be. From David`s travel blog.

In the shadows of the huge Iskcon temple in Bangalore, along the maze of alleyways near by you will find numerous incense factories many with impressive names and long heritages. From the villages around the city small trucks bring bundles of raw incense that has been hand rolled in essence by home workers. In the factories the incense is dipped in fragrance, counted in to bundles of ten or twenty sticks and packed in branded packaging. You might think this is a mechanical process, but actually its all done by hand. On a recent trip to Bangalore I met the some of the workers packing incense sticks. These guys and girls sit on the floor counting and packing incense sticks worked so fast there hands were a blur. Put your hand in front of your face and shake it up and down as fast as possible, that's how fast and hard they were working. I asked how much they were paid.. 150 - 200 Rupees a day - more than twice the Indian minimum wage, but still only about £2 a day.

Incense packers in Bangalore

Jewellery making in Delhi

Ladies making hand made wrapping paper in Jaipur.

It really is a very unequal world we live in, much more nakedly exposed in India than here. Here is my amature and possibly naive analysis for what it's worth: It seems to me there are four basic economic classes in India. Firstly the physical workers (often skilled) who earn £1 or £2 a day and live in a social class that traps them there. This is about 70-80% of Indians. Secondly if you are educated and speak English you may earn £10 - £20 a day, and live in a middle class that affords a pretty good standard of living. But only because there is a plentifully supply of £1-£2 a day souls to cook and clean for you. The sad fact is there are slum dwellers in cities who work in nice houses for free, just to be off the streets for a few hours and get a decent meal (that they will most likely cook). Thirdly there is the professional and business class with access to either foreign, corporate or government money who earn western style wages but live in luxury well beyond the average western means, most of the businessmen in India have never ironed a shirt. Finally there are the stinking rich, with private jets and huge estates. There are more millionaires in India than most other countries. Apparently there are a million of them in India. So I went for a coffee with the educated and philosophical owner of the incense factory, they have trendy coffee shops in downtown Bangalore called "Coffee Day" and sipping an excellent cappuccino - cost 150 rupees or expressed another way one days incense packers wage. I asked if he ever felt guilty about this fact. Yes and no, on one hand they are paid enough to live on and most workers earn double what they might earn outside the city. They certainly seemed happy, and working conditions are good. On the other hand they could only dream about sipping a skinny latte, and living standards are at best basic. I asked him if any workers escaped the low pay trap, yes.. one or two he said. The ones who had some education and crucially had English language. They could get a job in a Coffee Day or MacDonald's and move up in to the next economic league.

Scarf production in Howrah

Jute bags stitching in Calcutta

Gemstone grading in Gujarat

Then over the coffee we brewed up an idea. What if we built in 10p of margin at the UK end to a pack of incense and sent this back to India in the form of paid for English lessons. An outer of 12 incense packs would pay for an hours instruction for say ten workers. The factory would provide the space and hire a professional teacher, the workers would agree to teach others their skills in return for lessons, so the factory could recruit more skilled workers and act like a stepping stone. Of course nothing is ever simple in India. It's taken the best part of a year to design and produce a range of incense; called Freedom Incense. Recruiting a local trustee in India to administer funds and avoid corruption took time. The factory management have tried hard to change the ground rules and some compromises had to be worked out. But on the positive side other Indian companies have embraced the concept enthusiastically. So there will be other Freedom products, including cotton and jute bags along soon. Sales from the first container of incense (now on sale) will generate enough to put several kids of workers through good schools and provided meals and further education for others.

Piles of jute to be made into products

Hard at work in in Delhi

Drying out cotten sheets in the sun.

So if you see a pack of Freedom Incense in a shop near you be prepared to pay about 10p over the odds (will you miss it?) but rest assured that that 10p will make make a world of difference to someone.

Think about it.. perhaps over a cup of coffee.

10p from each freedom incense pack

Goes to the AW freedom fund

50p from each bag

Goes to the AW Freedom fund

Mission in Serampore

  • 5 June 2015

The Ancient Wisdom Freedom Fund, mission in Serampore, Kolkata is going good. Our latest initiative to start teaching the children English is off to a good start, with almost full attendance and very rapid learning skills. Regular readers will know, but we adopted a small Indian orphanage about a year ago.. with the help of Mr Chatterjee our Indian agent. He has worked tirelessly to make a difference to these kids.

Lots of children

  • 5 June 2015

The other day I had a very excitable skype conversation with Mr Chatterjee, the new teacher and lots of children wanting to practice english on me all at once.

You can support the orphanage project by stocking our Freedom products..

The new teacher

  • 5 June 2015

Here is our teacher in action :)

  • 5 June 2015

Greetings from Ubud

  • 5 September 2014

Greetings from Ubud, where I have just arrived from Kolkata. From Saharanpur it was back to Delhi, doing deals down in the old Central Bazar near the train station. It's a bit dodgy, real back street old Delhi with winding avenues pushy traders and hidden go-downs. Just happens to be the old export trading area, and houses some very old family companies. This is terrible area for gangs of beggars. Sat in a taxi at the lights you will inevitably hear a tap tap tap on the window, a ragged pathetic child with pleading eyes gesturing that they need food. Passing money to them is the wrong thing to do, you just feed the evil gang members and the system that trades in these unfortunate individuals. Encourage it and and you encourage mutilations and blindings, because this increases the earning potential of these poor unfortunates, not that they see a penny more than they need to stay alive.

From there to Kolkata with Mr Chatterjee who is our main agent. After visiting some potential suppliers in town, we headed out of town over the Ganges river and up to Mr Chatterjee's home town. Serampore is fairly large town, but with almost no infrastructure to speak of. Just one small hotel and no proper restaurants. The roads are narrow and potholed the town centre is hard to discern other than a decent foot path and some newly installed LED street lighting. Apart from the new lights, I wonder if it has changed much since 1845 when the Dutch left behind some crumbling colonial villas and a neatly organised street layout.

Greetings from Ubud. Part Two

  • 5 September 2014

The people however are a delight, peaceful and gentle with a sharp intellectual wit. The better off residents do the best they can to help the poor people. Regular readers will know that we do our bit to support a orphanage in the town. A delightful couple, and a lady who does the cooking (on the right with me in the picture) have given their lives to looking after around 25 young children. They go to a good school, are clean and well dressed and amazingly well behaved. Not to say talented kids.

This time they put on a small music and poetry show for me and Chatterjee. Where do these homeless children come from. Well for any number of reasons they end up on the streets, and can fall into the hands of the beggar gangs. From here to tapping on taxi windows in Delhi is not a long journey. The local police when they find a homeless child bring them here. Mr & Mrs Kundu take them in and care for them like their own children. There is zero government support, but local business people make donations of money or food to help. From the AW Freedom Fund we paid for a house renovation including a new roof. This time we fitted a decent kitchen.

We buy jute products here, and I spent four days working on new products and seeing a growing list of local handicraft workers bring their wares, hopeful of becoming suppliers. Most products generally are not suitable for our market, but with a bit of redesigning we can make some interesting things.. but it's a lot of work. Charity is good, but trade is better, because it gives people a chance to make something they can be proud of and with their own efforts improve their lot.

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