Making handmade paper from elephant dung

Today, we focus on Vijendra Shekhawat, a well-known eco-business entrepreneur in India. His volunteer project in India "Traditional Paper" is making handmade papers from elephant dung. A real success story: Vijendra is telling us how he has discovered the way of making paper from sustainable products and how he wants to expand his social business.

Jairpur/India. Today, we focus on Vijendra Shekhawat, a well-known eco-business entrepreneur in India. His volunteer project in India “Traditional Paper” is making handmade papers from elephant dung. A real success story: Vijendra is telling us how he has discovered the way of making paper from sustainable products and how he wants to expand his social business.

Hi Vijendra, how are you? I am curious about your volunteer project in India and the way you are producing paper. But let us start from the beginning. You told me that the that your success is based to your childhood in India.

Yes, I was grown up in Shekhawati Rajasthan in India. It is a region with not a lot of opportunities in industrial or agricultural business for people.
My father worked as a day laborer on farms or constructions. Often the employers did not pay him and he was not hard enough to fight for his right. He is a really honest, hardworking and lovable person, but he could not care about his family without money. So my mother, my siblings and me decide to move to the city to search for better opportunities.

How did you create the idea for your volunteer project in India and your environmental friendly business?

My last job as an employee was in the handmade paper industry. I dreamed of my own handmade paper business and for that reason I began saving money for starting my own business. At the beginning of 2002, I opened my own business. I founded “Traditional Paper”, a volunteer project in India which is focused on making paper from sustainable products.

Our production was very small and it was hard to compete in the market in terms of quantity. So we focused on quality and had to seek out a niche market.

One day I was walking on an elephant path and saw their dung. I started thinking about making paper out of their dung. I told my family about my idea, but no one believed in it. After several failed attempts of making paper out of this special material, I found a way to produce high quality paper.

How is now the situation of the organization?

We are still producing and living at the same time in a small house. From our profits we were able to buy to buy land (5000 sqm) in the countryside near Jaipur. We actually do not have a lot of cash reserves. We are struggling to get a loan from a bank or other funding. The government has so many schemes for young entrepreneurs and volunteer projects in India. Unfortunately, nothing is really working out, due to heavy corruption in India. But we are keen to find our way and to improve our financial situation. So we are looking forward to increase our production and the quality.

We are happy that you cooperate with Volunteer World and that you use our platform to submit volunteer programs. How is a typical day for a volunteer? What are the tasks at your social project?

Volunteers can help us in different steps of the production process. There is a lot to do and it is quite interesting for a person to see and learn the process of making handmade paper of dung.

We are always happy about new ideas and input of externals concerning our production process and our marketing activities. We have a lot of new ideas and smaller projects, which could improved in processing and promotion.

Volunteers can combine their stay with learning our language and getting to know our wonderful culture. Jaipur is as well a lively city and a touristic spot with interesting sights. So there is a lot to discover beside the voluntary job.

Costs are considerable point for volunteers. Do you charge any fees for volunteering in your environmental volunteer project? Are you providing food or accommodation for the volunteers? What costs do volunteers should expect for the living costs?

There are no fees for volunteers and we do not charge anything just for attending to the project. We can provide a low-standard accommodation and food for free at our house. We also can help to find a more comfortable accommodation. There are a lot of high quality restaurants, too. Generally, the living costs are really low. A volunteer should expect $300 per month, if they want to live on a higher standard and do not take the option to live at our house.

What are you plans for the future at your social volunteer project in India?

We are going to expand our production unit to increase our output. We require more capacity to produce paper, made of sustainable products, such as elephant dung. I want to work with poor families and teach their children how to use waste material to protect the environment. We want to organize workshops, where these small children learn how to care about the environment and how to promote environmental responsibility. Additionally, throughout such workshops the children can make some eco-friendly products on their own for selling it. With their own made profit, they can finance their education. Another topic we focus on, is to find and try other natural sustainable materials to produce paper. So I will keep you up to date. I promise, you won’t miss, what is coming next.

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