Fashion Shows always light the imagination of people who love to wrap themselves in beauty, and often raise money for good causes. Rarely, however, do they celebrate the dramatic changes in the lives of young girls, whose futures had been determined by traditions, thousands of years old. The Mijwan Welfare Society aimed to do just that.
The Mijwan Fashion Show took place in Mumbai, on January 23, 2011, and was created by Shabana Azmi, a five
time winner of the National Film Award for Best Actress. The event showed this years’ collection of elegant designs by Manesh Malhotra, and was worn by 24 Bollywood stars. This day was a unique way for her to recognize the energy of her father, who inspired her, and people who helped make a difference in Mijwan.
“My father, Kaif Azmi, was a rare poet who practiced what he preached in life,” says Shabana Azmi.” After getting a paralytic stroke which incapacitated his left arm and let, he gave up the comforts of Mumbai and settled in Mijwan, a village frozen in time.
“Today, Mijwan is becoming a model village, but it was an arduous journey. I remember asking him how he did not become frustrated when change would not occur at the pace he wanted, and he answered calmly. ‘When working for change, you should build into that expectation that change might not happen in your lifetime, but this should not stop your efforts, even if they happen after you.’”
Kaif Azmi’s words were correct, and became the mantra of Shabana. The Mijwan Welfare Society now has four Training Centers, and is responsible for changing a tradition that viewed their daughters as 2nd class, did not
provide them any education, and tradition called for their marriages to be arranged at the age of 12 or 13.
Dr. Nilima Sabharwal, the Founder of Home of Hope, was one of the people who helped move Mijwan forward. The two women met at a party hosted by a mutual friend in San Francisco, in 2000.
When Dr. Sabharwal learned that there was a very little school there that taught a few young girls to sew, she was anxious to visit this village on her next trip to India.
“In the Uttar Pradesh area, each village seemed more dilapidated and dismal than the one we had just driven through”, explains Sabharwal. “Enormous potholes on the tiny dirt and broken asphalt roads made the drive dangerous. It was amazing, however, just before arriving in Mijwan, the road was newly paved over, as a “welcome announcement,” thanks to a gift made by Kaifi Azmi.
“When I found the school, things seemed to be getting worse. In the very small dark room, with no lights, there were young girls sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls while they embroidered fabrics by hand, because there were no chairs. There was no bathroom and the women had to go into the fields when necessary. It was impossible to not help these women!”
Upon her return to the California, a new member of Home of Hope, Dr. Nalini Bhat, was appointed responsible for this job. The first step was to supply more sewing machines. Because electricity was unreliable in the village, 10 foot-pedaled sewing machines were purchased, along with chairs. A teacher was hired, and bathrooms were installed. The second step was to add more courses and a larger school being build, and a generator was purchased so small fans could keep the air moving during the hot season.
To encourage the families to send their daughters to the training program, Dr. Bhat designed a stipend program. This was done as an experiment, and covered the costs for two years, so progress could be measured, and the daughters could experience for the first time the feeling of earning their own independence.
These changes required team work with Namrata Goyal, who is a god-child of Shabana. She had been a film student in London, and returned to India to oversee this project. Ms. Goyal believes most truly that now is the time to stop watching injustice silently, and to continue working for social and economic equality between girls and boys.
Now, just 8 years later, a tradition that restrained the imagination and curiosity of these young women has been removed. The girls are now able to earn money, have been taught how to keep track of their income, and the school has expanded into a production site.
It is with pride that Azmi announces Ranbir Kapoor, a well recognized actor, as part of the Mijwan Welfare Society. He recognizes that 50% or the Indian population is under the age of 25. and acknowledges that attention must be turned towards rural India, and focus on empowering the girl child.
“In Mijwan we run a school, a college, a computer centre and sewing and chikankari centre,” says Shabana, when asked what is now taking place in Mijwan. “The work of the seamstresses is so stunning that Anita Dongre has been giving them work, and now Manish Malhotra is, also.
“I was told that the embroidery work of my girls in Mijwan was so exquisite, that butterflies would be tempted to sit on them! I hope that you have a spare moment to see their fine work online. These garments and embroidery at the Mijwan Fashion Show will catch your breath.”
Back in the United States, another young woman, Rupali Saiya, began Crafts of Hope, a division of Home of Hope, when only 15 years old. When she visited Mijwan, she taught the girls how to crochet and knit, and their products are now being sold in the United States.
When asking Nilima Sabharwal what makes the Home of Hope so successful, she is very quick with her answer.
“We have no middlemen here at HOH,” states Sabharwal. “All are volunteers, and are proud that we have positively touched the lives of 50,000 children. We are directly in touch with our kids, and to watch them blossoming is their gift to us. Providing a brighter future to underprivileged children and young adults, who by no fault of their own are orphaned, abandoned, or physically/mentally challenged keeps us going. Some are blind, deaf or mute. Some are Tsunami victims, street children or victims of AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases. It is our purpose to help them see their dreams becoming true!”
Home of Hope, begun in 1999, is a non-profit charitable organization, and committed to providing a brighter future to underprivileged children and young adults. With a Team of 7 Board Members, 11 Committee Members, and 4 Advisors, our revenues have grown to over $2,000,000. They raise funds which are used to improve the living conditions of orphaned, abandoned, physically/mentally challenged or otherwise disadvantaged youth, and have positively touched the lives of 50,000 children. They create long lasting partnerships with existing organizations that are effectively engaged in providing services consistent with our goals.
To see the film of the Mijwan Fashion Show, please go to the website,www.hohinc.org.