Nasrul Rohmat and his cousin skipped their college internship and travelled to India. Their social enterprise, Nomad, now provides a livelihood, education and sanitation in Roopsi Village, Rajasthan.
Sixteen kilometres from Jaisalmer lies a small hamlet, Roopsi Village, with a population of 1,829 people. The dry parched land with 318 houses faces problems common to villages across Rajasthan— poor infrastructure, unemployment, water crises, poor healthcare management and lack of toilets in schools.
However, one social enterprise, Nomad, is on a mission to address these problems, one leather bag at a time.
Nomad is bridging the gap between rural artisans and emerging and developing markets. Led by Singapore-based Nasrul Rohmat and Haziq Rashid, the organisation has partnered with artisans to produce quality leather bags that are marketable around the world.
Started in 2016, Nomad has engaged with 25 artisans; they offer traditionally crafted leather bags designed to meet modern needs of urban dwellers. While each bag maintains the authenticity of the artisan’s craft with a unique rustic feel, Nomad innovates with each bag to “introduce functional features with elements of modern aesthetics”.
The leather is sourced from the mountainous region of Kashmir while the hide is treated through an age-old artisanal process, passed down through generations, and is tanned with vegetable dyes.
Nasrul, 26, says, Craftsmanship is more than just a source of income. It represents cultural narratives that transform across many generations. We are committed to preserve this tradition that is at stake in the face of globalisation.
To provide market opportunity and sustainable income, Nomad imparts knowledge through training that introduces artisans to various tools and design elements. This improves the quality of the craft, with the result that five artisans witnessed a 300 percent increase in income within the first three months of production.
Nomad was born out of the desire to travel around the world and help those in need.
In June 2015, Nasrul skipped his college internship and opted to travel to India with his cousin and co-founder, Haziq. Seeking adventure, they went on the Goechala Trek in Sikkim against the warnings of the villagers, since trekking was considered dangerous in the monsoon.
On day one itself, Nasrul had a near-death experience.
We climbed to a high altitude without acclimatisation and I started having difficulty breathing. I was half conscious and almost fell off a ledge. I was already having flashbacks of my family by then. My eyes began to roll back and my mouth started foaming, Nasrul recalls.
Luckily his guide grabbed him just in time. Nasrul was nursed back to health by nearby villagers. However, this one incident made him question himself.
“What if I actually died? I realised I hadn’t done much in life, and I knew I had to change.”
After Sikkim, the cousins travelled to Rajasthan in a 39-hour long train journey, followed by a 12-hour bus ride. It is here that Nomad was conceptualised.
We lived among the people there, understood their struggles, and during our stay also came across a school a school in disrepair, with no filtered water or even toilets. We saw this as the opportunity to make a difference, Nasrul says.
The next one year was spent in ideating and raising funds for their startup in a “foreign country”. The duo connected with the Young Social Entrepreneur programme run by the Singapore International Foundation. Their idea received not only financial support but they also knowledge and mentorship on how to make this a sustainable business model. But despite the backing, their journey in India has not been easy.
Communication was not as fluid and not being physically there to oversee was a challenge, but the support from locals made it easier. They are willing to take us into their home and make us a part of their life. India made us feel at home, he says.
Poverty and caste discrimination were two of the social evils frequently associated with leather workers in Roopsi. Nomad seeks to alleviate the situation by ensuring quality education for all. The money generated from each purchase is also used to support a local school that provides education for underprivileged children within the community.
We aim to provide these children with the opportunity to pursue higher education, thereby achieving employability. This is our Nomad restoration project, Nasrul explains.
Apart from sponsoring education, Nomad uses company profits to provide basic infrastructure and school supplies. Nasrul’s team recently distributed 150 sweaters to students who could not afford basic winter wear.
Nomad’s most significant achievement has been the construction of the first toilet in the school after four years of operation. This allowed students and teachers to adopt better hygiene practices and averted the spread of diseases within the school compound.
What’s their next goal? Working for the welfare of gypsy woman living in the deserts of Pushkar. The cousins are currently also in talks with the Pushkar Children Trust, an NGO based in Pushkar, to be a part of their beneficiary programme.