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St Bede's Catholic Church

Kristeen Singh

Thanks to Fair Trade LA and St. Bede's Catholic Church in La Canada, California for inviting us to their holiday boutique. It was a wet morning, but the congregation still supported, with their generosity, as well as donuts and coffee. 

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Manav Sadhna Leprosy Project

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20150507_145403Some of the main ways that I remember Sunil is when I last visited the NGO Manav Sadhna in 2010. At that time, Sunil was involved in the health program. I remember walking through the Ramapir no Tekro Slum (one of the largest slums in India) with Sunil as we visited the homes of individuals who had diseases/illnesses. All the families welcomed him in and listened as Sunil spent time with them as if they were his own family. Sunil would often be very much involved giving medicines going to the hospital and so forth. 20150507_151528This trip I visited the leprosy community with him. Recently Sapna a friend of Nimo and I was interested in contributing to a project involving girl’s education. Soon after I emailed Viren bhai and Vandana didi from Manav Sadhna and they decided it would be great for her to contribute to a group of girls whose dream is to go to college. These girls’ parents have leprosy and given their quality of education it can be difficult for them to pass the national exam that gets you into college. Tuition classes are required. Our friend contributed and I was now visiting the project in Ahmadabad with my interest and on her behalf.

leper-hands-india-1990_0We arrived at the colony in the over 110 degree heat! I was given a brief tour of the leprosy community and saw the small concrete homes. We met some of those affected with the chronic infection caused by bacteria, leprosy. Sunil mentioned some of the symptoms that had developed which included severe disfiguring of skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. Weakness and poor eyesight are also often present. Many people we met had lost fingers and toes, since they cannot feel hot, cold, or pain this had caused the limb damage.

Unfortunately, many of these individuals have been shunned by society and I can’t imagine the discrimination and stigma they must face. I was privileged to be able to meet them and be welcomed by them. I learned that many were forced to leave their homes, some faced a real danger of being burned alive which is what brought them to the colony.

Sunil told me how Manav Sadhna first found the leprosy community. He mentioned that they were doing a compassion walk and visited a temple in Kalupur. At this temple, a saint feeds hundreds of people daily. The saint told them about the leprosy community and suggested they visit and work with this community.

20150507_152043The colony houses about 130 families. Sunil mentioned that this colony is at the end of the city, purposefully to be away from everyone and they are the poorest. Sunil pointed out that their homes were very clean as well as the streets. He also described that for many of those in the community, work is extremely difficult to get, so many resort to begging. He also mentioned that the community is diverse with Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.

For the first two years Manav Sadhna initially spent time with the community to learn about them and work with them to see how they could address their needs. Then they began working with the elderly community, many of which had developed other problems like cancer, vision loss, leg problems, bad intestines, etc. Many of them cannot beg any longer and often sleep hungry. Due to this, MS has started a kitchen program.

The kitchen program serves over 40 people a day with food. Members of the community are also involved. MS has worked together and built a community hall, which provides a shelter (helpful in monsoon season and in Ahmadabad’s notorious heat) and space for functions such as bhajans, festivals, and weddings.

They also worked with the community to help them access programs created by the government. Often times people are unaware of what programs they are eligible for. Also it is often quite difficult to get access to these programs. Manav Sadhna was able to bridge that gap. Now the community members have proper id cards, medical care, free transportation, etc. MS also has organized health and dental camps. They also partnered with other orgs to provide toilets. Additionally they have a pre school program and provide tuitions for students.

MS also has taken community members to visit temples. Outside of many religious places in India, you see many beggers, yet unfortunately many are not allowed in. MS has arranged trips for them to visit temples. Sunil mentioned, how many tears were shed when they visited these temples because this was the first time they were allowed in.

Later we went into the new community hall. I was here to meet the girls that my friend was supporting. Many of the children and spouses don’t have the disease, but since they are part of the family and colony they also face discrimination. The girls are part of a project called Dream Class. I believe this was started by Chris Lowman, an incredibly giving person I met a few years at a gathering organized by my friend Sonali. Chris spent a year of his life with Manav Sadhna initiating a few projects.

20150507_154712The girls had learned a religious cultural dance and performed that when I came. It was a big thank you to our friend Sapna that donated. Dream class, is about supporting several of the daughters of those with leprosy with their dream to go to college. These girls will be the first in their community to attend college. After the performance, I sat with the girls and they shared with me. One of the girls Mumta mentioned that after 10th standard girls normally get married. Sunil told me that the thought of having these girls attend college was not as easily accepted initially. Many conversations and activities were done to get the parents on board. The parents after the age of 15, start discussing ideas about marriage and not college.

The dream class includes a number of activities. This includes tuition classes, which is mainly what my friend is supporting. Many of these girls are in standards 10th and 12th and this is when they take their board examinations. Many students drop out at this time because they are unable to prepare for the board examination. They are in need of private tuitions. Five girls are now receiving these tuitions.

Photo credit:livingsmile

I learned that the dream club also has other activities like inviting strong women to come and share their story. They invite speakers and also have taken them to different organization. Mumta said she learned how to speak and communicate with people through these activities. Mumta also mentioned how they did fun activities like making mother’s day cards and also conducting kindness activities.

Finally she mentioned that her parents were not able to give support for tuitions, but through Sapna she was able to get tuitions. “ Tuitions went well and she got good results thanks to Sapna. She wants to go to college.”

Prior to Manav Sadhna’s involvement, many of the girls hadn’t even really been out of the colony. They had not even visited the next neighborhood.

These girls want to study and get a good job. The reason for many is to stop their parents from begging. One girl mentioned that she is hoping to earn money and change other people’s mentality. Sunil mentioned that these five girls are now inspiring other girls in the colony.

Shayna, another beautiful girl wants to do Banking and Finance which is the same as Mumta. She is getting tuitions in accounting, statistics, and english. Tuitions have really helped her get a deep understanding. In school she wasn’t able to understand the subjects. She mentioned that she got good results from the tuitions. She also really wants to go to college.

Suman, mentioned she thought she had no chance of college or tuitions, but is grateful to Sapna and MS for the support. She will continue to study hard.

20150507_163106After meeting the girls, I also met some of the younger kids who are also getting tutoring. Overall I wish these girls the best of luck and thank Sapna for her generous support.

Blog by Kristeen Singh and edits by Seema Patel

 

 

 

 

Picture this! Painting the Women's Movement Book

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The  adjacent photo is one of my favorite drawing in the book. It is of a group of women wearing colorful Gujarati clothing, pulling out crops on a farm. The story behind it is very interesting. One of the women from a small village in Kutch (a district of Gujarat), had lost her husband. Her brother-in-law took over their farm, thereby depriving her of a livelihood. Going to court was ineffectual and the governing village council ignored what was happening. The woman gathered together a group and their form of protest was destroying the crops, which eventually worked. The brother-in-law gave the land back to its rightful owner.

The book has over 200 drawings, documenting these kinds of stories, mostly about the women’s movement in villages. The illustrator is Radhaben Garwa - an incredibly strong woman and artist who comes from the Baraya village in Mundra, Kutch. She is part of the collective at Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), an NGO that campaigns for women’s rights, economic empowerment, resistance to globalizing corporations and so much more. Radhaben has been documenting stories for the last 16 years.

radhaben_garva_20150126What is powerful about this book is that it is the voice of someone who is often not heard and not visible in the published sphere. Radhaben is a strong Dalit woman from rural Gujarat. This book gives us a chance to get a window into her life and really hear the stories of these women and see what she sees.

The stories in the book provide a political and vibrant perspective of the rural women’s movement in India. The women of Kutch in their colorful clothing, who are made up of different communities and casts are producers and activists. They deal with issues such as inequality in patriarchal societies. They also face global threats such as land takeovers from corporations, water shortages, and debts. One of the drawings represents the women participating in the Chipko movement, which was an organized resistance to the destruction of forests. Chipko means “embrace” the villagers embraced/hugged the trees and prevented the contractors’ from felling them.

The accompanying text by Sushma Iyengar captures the essence of the drawings in a magnificent way. Sushma is one of the three women who founded KMVS and has a background in cultural livelihoods, local governance, gender injustice and disaster management. Sushma is one of the most humble and caring people I have met and is also the one that gifted me this book, for which I am so grateful. We here at rHope are hoping to get orders for the book. Sales for this book will go towards sustaining the work of KMVS.

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Sushma gives us a portrait of Radhaben. “She is one of the first women who joined the movement. She came in because she along with some other women were trying to help a woman who was being battered by her husband. That is how she joined the movement. She did that one act and ever since then has been part of the movement. She joined the collective and then was keen to brush up her own literacy because she had learned as a child and had forgotten. So when we had organized one of the first literacy camps she very eagerly joined it along with almost 50-60 other women.”

When these women came, they got a basic idea of the alphabet. After attending the camp, they were so inspired that they felt the need to start something, and so they started the newsletter Ujjas (light in Gujarati). They believed that there is a light inside each and every one of them.

The newsletter was written, edited, created, published and printed by the women. They refused to be silent and wanted to unveil the truth. The paper created awareness and gave power. Radhaben spear-headed the whole process. Although she had limited education, she enjoyed expressing herself through words and through writing. She also started drawing a lot which was another effective way to reach the women since many couldn’t read. She really captured the expressions of people. She developed her own unique style of illustrating and she continued to contribute to the collective. The drawings in the book are from the Ujjas newspaper.

Another bonus! The book provides a powerful afterword by journalist Kalpana Sharma, which gives a deeper understanding of the feminist rural movement in India.

The book discusses some serious and important issues in the women’s movement and it is done in a super fun and creative way. Ideally the book is perfect for everyone. The expressions on their faces are demonstrative of their strong characters and it is enjoyable to see the lively colors of the drawings. The stories of change give a strong feeling of empowerment and hope.

Overall you are experiencing the journey of the movement through Radha’s eyes, which is an incredibly powerful way to understand the challenges that have happened and continue to happen. In addition to many of the difficulties they faced, it was great to see the fun things the women experienced as well. For example, seeing the excitement as the women traveled across the country to meet and share with other women who have similar experiences. It was hilarious to see the expressions traveling in buses and rickshaws.

“While Radhaben herself was going through a process of empowerment, She was also empowering herself by constantly empowering other women”

We invite you to discover this book. A book full of fun and interesting drawings that showcase real stories of women who have empowered themselves.

By: Kristeen Singh

Edits: Bharti Patel and Sushma Iyengar

Sweccha store

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DSC05317One of my favorite places in Delhi and in India is Hauz Khas Village. It is not a village by any means, but an area offering unique and fun shopping, art galleries, and food joints. It is also adjacent to a deer park which is nice place to go for a leisurely stroll. They have some beautiful historical monuments. I loved the all the items I found at Hauz Khas Village including old Bollywood style posters/coasters, and hand painted t-shirts from Maati.  Today I was here to visit Sweccha store. 20150228_140234Before reaching I also stopped off at the travel café Kunzum. I found it to be a great place to connect to other travelers or simply enjoy the wifi, travel books, and appreciated the generosity of the ‘pay-what-you-like’ café. After searching around a bit, I was directed to an alley and then a staircase.

 

I was now in the Swechha store, which offers unique, quirky, and well-designed upcycled products. Swechha Store (formerly known as Green the Gap) is an upcycling fair trade social enterprise, which houses a shop and production workshop in Delhi. Swechha Store is part of Swechha, one of the leading youth and environmental NGO’s in India.I loved so many of the products, including the wallets made out of tire. The store offers not only the Sweccha brand products, but also other eco-friendly brands.

I also had an opportunity to spend time at their eco friendly office and workshop. Here they also run the NGO, which was founded and run by Vimlendu Jha. He is also the face behind the enterprise and creator of Sweccha Store. The proceeds from the store help run the NGO. You can see more on my discussion with Vimlendu here.

Visiting the workshop, I began chatting with Bunkim - the ever so friendly main lead for Swechha store, who often mentions his love for the mountains from his home in Himachal Pradesh.  We walked into a room and right away I saw the incredibly talented artisans working in the workshop. They were working on tire laptop bags. Bunkim mentioned that many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds and that they have a fair trade unit. “We pay the people well, we respect them and, it’s also a very happy work environment that we are providing. This is very important to us and reflects in each and every product that we make. So each piece shows that it was made with love and care.”

The concept of the store started six years ago. At first it was just a project to see what happens when waste leaves your house. Does it go to a landfill like it does in India and stay there or can we extend the life of what we call waste?

They use products that people discard often and reuse them. They work with some of Delhi’s poorest rag pickers. The rag pickers pick up items that the recycling centers resell to Swechha. This cycle supports the rag pickers and the centers.

Through reusing waste and creating well-designed functional products, they are empowering consumers to make choices about their shopping habits. Consumers purchase an upcycled bag and hopefully that will get them to start thinking about how they can make the rest of their lives more sustainable and eco friendly. Swechha store is “changing the mind-set of people” as Bunkim proudly pointed out. Hopefully citizens can think about the issue of waste disposal for example and how they can reduce their everyday waste.

Bunkim (left) and Ram (right)

Next I spoke with Ram, who manages quite a few things, including getting all the raw materials and production. He has been working there for three years and lets me know that he feels incredible empowered and excited about Swechha. As the company moves forward he is happy to be there with them. He sources the waste materials such as, chip packets, tetra packs, milk pouches, waste leather, and rice sacks. It’s a lot of work to gather the best quality waste.

Down to Earth NGO in Mumbai: Part 2

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Down to Earth NGO in Mumbai: Part 2 Dev

After visiting DTE, I wanted to learn more and if possible introduce resources to the organization. I met up with Dev, one of the Founders of the organization in a coffee shop. He began by sharing that DTE started as a way to create something in the community that was accessible and give opportunity to maximize learning. For many parents, the idea of taking girls out of the community to teach is not fathomable. Therefore, DTE created five centers across Cuffe Parade and another in lower parel Mumbai that was accessible to the students and would be ok for parents to send their kids.

He went on to mention that these centers run weekdays, morning and evenings and are run largely by three teachers. The center I visited is a morning center, but in that same place in the evening is another batch.

Most of the staff (some of which are volunteers) have an education background. He is glad to say the lives of the kids they started with are definitely better now. He humbly mentions that it is largely due to their own efforts. He feels that DTE played a role as a catalyst and change is evident in their education, families and communities.

Dev gave a few examples of kids that DTE has worked with.

Akash- AkashHis father worked as a daily wager on a boat, while his mother has worked odd jobs including sweeping the floor of a bank.  He is one of the oldest students that stayed in school and stuck with the after school program.  Today he has started his second year in Commerce (14 standard) and is doing his national cadet in Navy. If he finishes here in three years then he will get into the Navy. This is his aspiration and what Dev calls a “game changer”. Dev mentioned how his “relationship with the sea is going to change. The father went to sea to fish, but his son will go into the sea on a ship in the Indian Army or Merchant Navy. It is the same source of employment, which is the sea, but the transaction across generation is definitely potential for an amazing story. “

Jyoti- Second example is  Jyoti, she is one of the brightest kids. There have been years that they sat with the parents for hours to ward off  attempts to get her married. “Jyoti’s cousin also started at the same time as her. Today that girl is married with two daughters. Jyoti however, is studying commerce at one of the best colleges in Mumbai and this is purely based on her merit.” He mentioned that Jyoti knew she wanted to be a teacher. Last year DTE was able to get her an internship at the Bombay International School. This year the school wanted to invite her again for an internship. Generally you are only welcomed back if you do well. “How amazing for a girl who could at a young age have been married with two kids to be in one of the best colleges in south Bombay, and is on her way to become a teacher. She also has now got a job with a nonprofit, which gives her the strength to tell her parents, listen I can pay off my own academic tuition fees.” He mentions that four teachers have been instrumental in this catalyzing role.

Dev mentions that they do a lot of programs, including life skills. They also have sports, which is largely now Ultimate Frisbee. Dev is a true fan of this sport. He mentions that this is a gender neutral sport, it is also a sport about conflict solution.

KhatijaWe have been playing for two years now and I told the kids there is a tournament we will go to if we make the cut. They team unanimously selected Khatija as their captain. She comes from a strict family, so attendance can be tough based on what is happening at home. Her dream is to start her own travel company. She has done two internships with travel companies. Both came back with flying colors.

I enjoyed my experience with DTE. It is an incredible organization and we look forward to brainstorming ways we can help! Please contact me if you would like to help support them in any way.  RHope’s focus is on livelihood programs which help future generations in under-resourced communities receive education and access to opportunities.

Down to Earth NGO in Mumbai: Part 1

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Down to Earth NGO in Mumbai: Part 1 On this day, I woke up to another day of pouring rain. It was the monsoon in Mumbai, which consisted of rain like I have never seen before in my life. I’m from LA and I always tell folks the story of how at one of my internships I called to say I’m not coming to work because of the rain and it was totally fine. This is an example of how ridiculous LA people can be when it comes to rain. I decided against taking the metro and used my other way of getting around, which is Uber.

20150615_111724I was scheduled to visit Down to Earth, an NGO that is essentially an after/before school program that focuses on Holistic Education, English, Math, Sport, Performing Arts as well as Art and Craft. I had learned about the organization through my dear friends Dev and Ankita. My first visit was actually with Ankita. She was covering a story on alternative education in Mumbai. Dev is one of the Founders of the organization.

 

 

20150623_084154The car journey there consisted of cars and bikes stranded due to the rain and streets filled with water. However, I arrived safely at the Backbay Bus depot in Cuffe Parade, Colaba which was our meeting point. As the rain poured, I found a small place serving Chai and some food

 

 

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I waited for Kirthna, the incredible inspiring dedicated volunteer teacher, who has been with the organization for years. We walked through the numerous dark narrow walkways filled with water, which came up to my knees to reach. As we walked, two of the students joined us. Kirthna also mentioned to watch out for rats and loose electrical wires. At this point, I thought maybe I shouldn’t have come. Kirthna had advised me not to come now because of the monsoons but since I was leaving soon, this was really the only day I could come. Other issues included water logging. Water is trapped and because of sewage, diseases and other problems are created. We passed small cramped homes where you could see water had already entered. People were continuing to do their everyday tasks despite the challenges. Kids were on their way to school, women preparing breakfast etc. We were probably passing by some of the homes of the children I would be soon meeting.

20150615_103522Ambedkar Nagar, is a slum along the sea-front. This slum is close to Colaba, where the Taj Hotel and Gateway of India is. Similar to other slums, many of the folks who live there work as: rag pickers, drivers, domestic help, gardeners, vegetable vendors, but here many also work on or near the docks and do work related to fishing. Later, Kirthna told me that if the “parents don’t go to work, the kids will go hungry that day”. This statement has stayed with me. How can a parent think about education, when they are focusing on whether they can feed their child?

After 5-10 minute walk we arrived at one of the students homes. Down to Earth is located above Harsha's home. Reaching the program involved a bit more adventure, which included climbing up two ladders. We reached and the kids slowly start to come in. A few of them remember me from my last visit with Ankita. We started by having the kids introduce themselves including details such as name, and what they want to be when they grow up. The kids also for fun shared parts of a play they did which had panchatantra stories. The stories are fables involving animals and include lessons on morals. I was given a glimpse of a story involving a husband and wife that had marital problems and a kid who played a monkey eating lots of bananas. The scene was the husband meeting the monkey and telling him not to let his wife know he was there, the kid playing the monkey was so entertaining and played the part of a monkey quite well, which included eating bananas and making monkey noises and doing monkey movements. 20150623_101739Eventually I shared the story of the tortoise and the hare. It was really nice to see the kids engaged in the story, After, we went around in a circle and discussed the moral of the story. Kirthna was of course helping me the entire time. The kids discussed the importance of taking time to do hard work and thought of examples in their own lives. Another child named Raju discussed how the tortoise and the hare could have worked together to win the rice. After this the kids shared some short presentations they had been working on which was very impressive. Raju presented on the Mumbai High Court. Harsha gave a breakdown on the United Nations. Out of all the NGO’s I visited, the level of confidence and English skills these kids had was indeed impressive.

After the session, Kirthna advised that I get cleaned up and wash my feet and sandals. I took a short auto ride to the Taj Hotel and entered easily using my English, regardless of my simple dress. I went into the restroom available for visitors and cleaned up. Here I began thinking of the disparity and my privilege, and Kirthna saying “if the parents don’t go to work, the kids will go hungry that day”.

June 22, 2015

 

Monsoons at Haji Ali Dargah

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Monsoons at Haji Ali Dargah DSC06252 - CopyHaji Ali Dargah is one of the most popular religious shrines and tourist spots in Mumbai, visited by people of all faiths. It contains the tomb of the Muslim Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. It was built in 1431. The saint had given up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. There are few stories surrounding his life. For example, once the saint saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. She sobbed that her husband would be upset because she had spilled the oil she was carrying. He asked her to take him to the spot where she spilt the oil. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out. The overjoyed woman filled up the vessel and went home. (Source wikipedia)

Legend has it that Haji Ali died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his tomb miraculously floated back to this spot. It’s now known as a ray of hope to many who come here asking for God’s blessings. This shrine that looked like it was floating on water truly fascinated me. I knew I had to visit.

Alongside dozens of families, groups of youngsters and foreigners, I stood in the rain, waiting to enter the sacred space. Waiting was necessary because the walkway is not bound by railings, making it very dangerous during high tide.

Even amid gloomy skies and high tides crashing against the footpath, Haji Ali was still the most beautiful vision on the horizon.

Sipping a kesar milkshake I’d purchased at a nearby juice bar, I exchanged smiles with another young girl who had inched closer to me, hoping for shelter under my umbrella. She told me she’d come to pray and experience some silence; she’d been contemplating her own career decisions. My amazement was interrupted when a powerful gust of wind turned my umbrella outward. We laughed and enjoyed watching the high tides collide with the shore.

The opening of the gates is a sight to see. As with many places in India, simply entering a religious space is quite intense. Everyone began pushing forward, anxious to enter. It was chaotic and beautiful at the same time.

Upon entry, we were instructed to remove our shoes and enter the ladies’ section. Women are prohibited from entering the tomb, but this room allowed us to see a bit of its interior structure. Intricate architecture decorated the ceiling and colorful ornaments and coverings adorned the tomb itself. My new companion Saadiya pointed out a nearby window that had been decorated with red threads. She said I could tie a thread to the window and make a wish. Even with an obstructed view, I marveled at Haji Ali Dargah’s magnificent tomb, soaking up the energy in this holy space.

After some time in this room, watching women eagerly push forward to ask for blessings, we exited the shrine and I took some pictures. I bid a fond farewell to my umbrella buddy and wished her luck in her career endeavors. We exchanged smiles as high tides crashed in the distance.

 

Monsoons and Meditation in Mumbai

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Monsoons and Meditation in Mumbai Photo from Awakin Circle

The pouring rain of Mumbai couldn’t keep me away from the Awakin Circle meditation held at the home of Sachi. I had heard many wonderful things about the meditation and of Sachi’s family. Even though it this wasn’t the closest meditation in Mumbai, and even though I felt apprehensive venturing out where I knew nobody, I was missing meditation and community, so I decided to go.

I found Sachi’s apartment, sat down and quickly closed my eyes to meditate. I later opened my eyes to see a larger congregation had joined. We awoke to the Japji Sahib prayer of Guru Nanak, which surprised me. I’m from a Sikh family and have always resonated with the teachings of Guru Nanak. So, whereas I struggled with meditation at first, (as I usually do), waking up to hear this prayer felt like a cleansing, a healing.

The meditation topic was about our thoughts and how our thoughts are not private. Read in both Hindi and English, the basic premise is that our thoughts are actually part of the greater collective. People around me shared stories in Hindi and English about how they felt at peace after the meditation. The collective thoughts of everyone in the room had essentially spread, calming us all. One person spoke about the duality of thought: how a person can say one thing, but think another. We learned about having harmony with thoughts, and how our thoughts should be in line with our actions.

When it was my turn, I spoke about the nature of privacy in India, or lack thereof!  Some people laughed.  I elaborated by explaining how extended family units tend to develop their own collective thoughts, and that many kids must struggle maintaining their own thoughts in balance with the collective beliefs of their family. I questioned the origin of thoughts and their qualities. It was an engaging conversation and, afterward, we were served an incredible meal by Shaila Aunty. Even though I’m not a fan of Sambar idli, it was absolutely delicious.

After the meditation, the weather inspired a few folks to sing songs about the rain. In Hindi and even in English, the songs were incredibly joyful, something I’ll never forget.

As with every Awakin Circle, I felt blessed to walk into this community and experience souls of kindness and love. Getting back home and walking in the rain, I couldn’t help but smile and feel thankful for everything I’d experienced.

Kristeen Singh June 17, 2015. Edited by Sim Grewall

“Do we really need to cut down trees to broaden our roots or is there a way around the trees?”

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Swechha Office

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Vimlendu. He is this cool guy with an incredible bio who talks about the thousand things Swechha does with such ease.  Walking into the office gives you a unique vibe, much of the decorative items are made out of waste materials, such as tires and so forth.

Vimlendu_MW_low_resVimlendu founded Swechha (We for Change) in 2000 and has turned it into one of India’s most influential organizations on youth matters. India Today and Outlook Magazine, acknowledged Vimlendu as one of the top 25 youth leaders of India. He was selected as one of 6 worldwide change makers by CNN International to be part of the Be the Change program, which followed his work for over a year.

Swechha is more than a youth-focused NGO, but a movement in India that engages in environmental and social development issues. This is from their mission statement: “Our work is done with and through the youth coming from all walks of life, in order to raise awareness and bring about a ‘change’. Our definition of ‘change’ means a revolution in the attitude and perceptions of the masses and simultaneously in the environment -- both social and human. We give the youth a platform to ‘be the change’ themselves for which they are provided with the necessary support and guidance.”  Their focus areas include: environment, education and enterprise/employability.

Photo credit Outlook India

Delhi is the second most polluted city in the world, but Swechha is doing something about the pollution. “Do we really need to cut down trees to broaden our roots or is there a way around the trees?” Vimlendu says. Swechha on average is planting over 1000 trees a year! The organization got its roots with the campaign, “WE for Yamuna” some 15 years ago. 70 percent of Delhi’s water comes from the Yamuna river. The Yamuna is a tributary river of the Ganga in northern India.Yet it is one of the most endangered waterways in India. Vimlendu and friends wanted to do something about the river, because nothing was happening at that time. In college they highlighted this issue of river pollution. The movement started very organically, but grew to be one of the strongest youth campaigns in Delhi. Almost 500 people joined the campaign within a month. The main purpose was to bring Yamuna back to the minds of the general population and highlight the issue of river pollution.

Swechha has numerous projects happening. I’m going to share just a few. A project they have is “Bridge the Gap”. Again they always ask questions, this time it was “can man and nature coexist? As well as can mankind and prosperity coexist?” Vimlendu feels that the education system doesn’t address these issues. One of their programs consists of running a 16-week session for school students on the environment, life skills and citizenship. In many of these programs the individual attitude is essential to the programs. It needs to be personal and local. Vimlendu mentions that there is no point telling a child living in Delhi what a river overseas looks like. He needs to care and take action in regards to his/her local area. Since 2004 this program has been implemented in more than 30 schools and had directly engaged over 30,000 students.

Yamuna YatraAnother event they plan is “The Yamuna Yatra”. This 12-day journey sounds like a life-changing experience. They take 60 to 70 people on a trip down the river. The folks who come are mostly students and participation gives a better and deeper understanding of the river and its impact. I may actually be going on their next trip!

Another project is the right to education. The project “Pagdandi” has gotten over 150 children into schools.  They also have a small center downstairs where every day 100 kids come and learn.

DSC05336The social enterprise initiative “Lunch Box 17” works with under resourced women to make lunch. Basically it is a daily cooking service. Women are employed and create lunch everyday for a 100 to 200 people in south Delhi. I think it is an incredibly effective social enterprise. They are taking a skill that these women have already.  Some of these women were working as maids and so they are building on that.

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Finally we here at rHope plan to partner with them on products. This was the main purpose of the visit. Products are sustainable, well designed and well made. The products are made by upcycling. Stay tuned to hear about our partnership in regards to products! If you are in India. Be sure to check out their store Green the Gap in Delhi.

Wanna get involved with Swechha? Get in touch with us for volunteer opportunities and more.

Thanks for reading!

Kristeen

Fair Trade LA @ Homeboy Industries’ “every angeleno counts” 5k

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Fair Trade LA supporters!  

rHope was so privileged to join Fair Trade LA and be part of their booth along with Laurel from Vida Verde at the Homeboy Industries’ “every angeleno counts” 5k Saturday October 18.

The walk had over 2,000 runners/walkers, food, a climbing wall, merchandise booths,  artists from all over LA displaying their works and more. Every volunteer and participant was smiling because they were running for hope and part of something that offers a chance.

Homeboy Industries supports people like Thomas. Thomas was working in the stall next to me.  He has grown up in Florence, in and out of gangs and prison much of his life. Ultimately he is thinking of his two year old daughter and wants a better life for her. How can he do that if people won’t hire him or give him a chance? Homeboy Industries is one of the only places for rehabilitation. They work with high risk, formerly gang involved men and women and provide services and paid job training. The founder of Homeboy Industries, Father Boyle set out 25 years ago, to provide jobs and education as alternatives to  gang life.  Over 120,000 former gang members and formerly incarcerated individuals have passed through Homeboy Industries and have changed their lives for the better.

Homeboy Industries tag line is “products with a purpose” which is in line with rHope and Fair Trade LA. We support artisan families, pay them a decent living wage and provide safe working conditions.  We also offer “products with a purpose”. Look for Homeboy industries products at Farmers Markets, grocery stores, have brunch at Homegirl Café, buy a t-shirt and/or remember that we all deserve a second chance and are capable of great things.

Care for the Cause Fashion Show for Chhoti Si Asha

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Model Lasy with rHope Clutch made by the women of Chhoti Si Asha  

Care for the Cause organized a fashion show with proceeds supporting impoverished women and children in India.

Care for the Cause, a volunteer organization that strives to alleviate human suffering by raising awareness on social issues, held a fashion show to benefit the Indian nonprofit Chhoti Si Asha (whom rHope also supports). The event took place at AnQi in Costa Mesa.

Models worked the runway! DJ Amit Kotecha rocked the show. We enjoyed beautiful Indian fashion from Prathaa and Khushy Designs. A portion of proceeds benefit Chhoti Si Asha. Check out the photos taken by Mad Guru below.

Event planner, Ajita Chopra brought all of this together with her passionate and energetic volunteers. The entire Care for the Cause team were wonderful and we loved meeting folks like Punita, who in addition to being a Founder of Care for the Cause, works as a nurse and uses her skills to benefit people around the world.

The event benefited Chhoti Si Asha, a volunteer driven nonprofit which builds sustainable livelihoods for underprivileged women & youth in Chandigarh, India. Chhoti Si Asha runs two main programs, The Janta Colony Library, an educational program and library and the Stitch-a-Living livelihood program for women.

rHope, based in the US, empowers artisan groups including Chhoti Si Asha by retooling products and giving women opportunities to participate in trade. rHope sold handmade wallets and clutches made by the women of Chhoti Si Asha at the event with proceeds going to continued support of their Stitch a Living program.

Kristeen Singh (Founder of rHope) and Krishna Dahya (Indicorps Fellow) presented on Chhoti Si Asha. They shared the story of Manju one of the women in the program. She lives in a slum, is uneducated, but able to stitch very well. Working allows her to support her 3 sons and provide them with a chance at a better future. They also spoke about 3rd grader Shubham, who is supported by the library project created by Divya Sooryakumar (Indicore Fellow) of Chhoti si Asha. When Divya met him, he did not know his ABCs or how to count. Thanks to the Library and Educational Center, Shubham learned to counting, addition, subtraction as well as both the the Hindi and English alphabet.

Lastly, a message from Liza Chawla founder of Chhoti Si Asha “Thanks for putting in so much trust in Chhoti Si Asha. The love and trust from people and organizations like Care for the Cause is what keeps us motivated and inspires us to do more. A bow and hugs to the entire team who contributed in putting this show together. Thank you from our entire team.”

New Fair Trade LA bags made by rHope

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We here at rHope are so happy to have worked with Fair Trade LA to create customized, stylish  jute bags for them. Partnering with Fair Trade LA was synergistic since we are both about empowering artisans and consumers to purchase products made using fair trade practices.

Sonali shopping, fair trade la, rhope, eco friendly bag, vegan, empowering women

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fair trade la, rhope, eco friendly bag, vegan, empowering women

These bags are double sided.  One side has the Fair Trade LA logo and the back has the message “Choose Fair Trade LA Join the Movement”.  The bags are eco-friendly, vegan and sustainable. The bags are made from an organic fiber that is natural and biodegradable.

You can pick up one of these snazzy functional bags at the Fair Trade LA Booth at the Green Festival at the Convention Center Sept 12-14, 2014.

 

Saroj making fair trade bag

Manju Making Fair Trade Bag

 

Here you can see the women from our partner organization Chhoti Si Asha making the bags. They had a great time and were happy to earn money to support their families. The  women we work with are impoverished and live in slums in India. Most are uneducated and have less access to paid opportunities. Orders and purchases like these, help the women and their families raise their standard of living in a holistic way through skill training, income generation, financial management, access to health care, and education for them and their families.

Thanks to Fair Trade LA for this order. We hope all of us together, can empower women, enrich the lives of those struggling in poverty and offer hope.  We look forward to seeing you this weekend at the Fair Trade LA booth at the Green Festival!

Women in Social Enterprise LA August 2014

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What a fabulous Women in Social Enterprise gathering we had! Want to know what we talked about? Then keep reading for all things SE and cool ways to plug in. Attend to share in the riveting dating stories, food and drink!

We started with introductions and then got a brief presentation from Sydnie on Kiva Zip! Sydnie  has been on a fellowship here in LA from Canada and she shared info on Kiva Zip. Kiva Zip is part of Kiva.org (a platform that joins microfinance loans and crowdfunding together). Sydnie has been helping folks locally who have a new business or are growing a new business and need a loan. Initial loans are $5,000. Loans have a zero percent interest rate. Every day people can help make other people's entrepreneurial dreams come true with as little as $5 towards a loan.

Who gets helped? Folks like Mario of Milagrosa Market. It has always been a dream of his to own his own business. Now he has his own store and is looking to provide healthy choices in his shop and needs a loan to purchase more food products!

What else did we learn about? Some cool companies mentioned below.

Nexleaf Analytics- Nexleaf Analytics is a nonprofit technology company that builds wirelessly connected devices and sensor technologies for critical public health and environmental interventions. One of our SE members, Tara, works here!

Enrou- Enrou is a central marketplace for fashionable products that empowers developing communities around the world.

rHope- rHope’s Purpose is to empower the artisans who make our beautiful products and you, the consumer, who purchases them. SE member, Kristeen, is Co-Founder.

Chicklauncher- Connecting women entrepreneurs with the resources they need to achieve success!

Crowdfunder- Connecting entrepreneurs with investors around the world to help fund their business and fuel economic growth.

Come to our next women in social enterprise gathering on Wednesday Septemeber 3rd at the Hub LA.  We will have a tour of Hub LA and also hear a bit from member Magen on raising capital for your project.  Join our Women in Social Enterprise Facebook Group to be plugged in.

Looking for other incredible social enterprise events in LA. Check out this link by Hostess to Hostess.

 

rHope Partners with Garment Worker Center Los Angeles

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rHope is happy to have a new partnership with The Garment Worker Center and had a great time visiting the center with Marissa Nuncio. Garment Worker Center (GWC) is a worker rights organization whose mission is to organize low-wage garment workers in Los Angeles in the fight for social and economic justice.  GWC also promotes fair trade shopping and they sell handmade, fair trade items from around the world through their Shop With a Heart Project. Their intention is to provide alternatives to mass produced, sweatshop-made clothing and goods at affordable prices.. We are excited that they will be selling some of our wallets and clutches.
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Each purchase provides livelihoods for women who live in poverty in India via Chhoti si Asha and also goes towards to protecting garment workers in Los Angeles. If you purchase one of our amazing wallets you are also choosing a product that is made of jute, a biodegradable material and also has fabrics made from repurposed materials. One product gives to three causes!
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Below is a bit more on Garment Workers.
The idea to create a Garment Worker Center was during the infamous Thai garment worker slave case in El Monte California. Dozens of workers had been trafficked from Thailand and imprisoned in an apartment building made into a makeshift factory.
GWC addresses the systemic problems of wage theft, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, and the abusive and inhumane treatment faced by workers on-the-job.
They are the only center in Los Angeles, and the state, dedicated entirely to garment worker issues.
I’m so glad Garment Workers approached us! I first learned about them with an event we worked together on with South Asians for Justice Los Angeles and a few other organizations. The event was to raise awareness about the collapse of the Rana Plaza-8 story building  which lead to a death toll of over 1000, making it one of the worst garment disasters in history.

8th Annual Fair Trade and Conscious Gifts Holiday Bazaar

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IMG_2423 rHope and Mad Guru were both very excited to attend the 8th Annual Fair Trade and Conscious Gifts Holiday Bazaar this past Saturday. The event was organized by 9to5, National Association of Working Women. It was great to see so many wonderful organizations including Afghan Womens Mission. Garment Workers Center Los Angeles, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, Fair Trade LA and more! We loved the 10 year old girl who made cupcakes, brownies and fudge. She was raising money to donate all proceeds to the food bank!

The event took place at First Unitarian Church which in addition to spirituality is also about social justice They have provided sanctuary for Central American war refugees in the 1980s, and current work includes securing full civil rights for LGBTQ persons, and just and compassionate immigration laws, social justice work is a vital part of what they do.  While we arrived in the morning we saw that they were passing out food to homeless folks.

Check out some of the photos here

Royal Cup in Long Beach

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Thanks to Raj, of Royal Cup Cafe in Long Beach, we were able to join for a beautiful event featuring art, poetry, live music and our very special hand bags. We jammed to the funky grooves of John "Fingaz" Caldwell and friends amid art by Tabala Jala Thomas, Nate Luben, and poetry by Cristie Bennett. To top it off, we enjoyed Royal Cup Cafe's fantastic sandwiches, gourmet coffee and teas.

rHope at Convergence World Boutique

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Cathy at ConvergenceWe are excited to announce that our products are available at the socially conscious Convergence World Boutique. Visit the store in Cerritos, CA for our eco-friendly wallets, stylish jaipuri, subway sling, and messenger bags. We enjoyed meeting the team including Matt and Cathy. We are both dedicated to sell products that empower, help people and are responsibly made. rHope display at Convergence

If you are looking for some creative gifts that give back this holiday season this is the place. Convergence carries products like Krochet Kids and 31 Bits.

Kristeen was happy to join them for an event organized in conjunction with TOMS.  TOMS shoes had their beshady campaign which raises awareness on visual impairment and blindness worldwide. TOMS shoes, through the sale of their sunglasses and partnership with Seva Foundation, are providing prescription glasses, medical treatment and eye surgeries.  Glad to get shady with Convergence on world site day!