Archive - July 2014

Purple Toenails For One Smile

3. Ralph KapostinsNail polish may not cure cancer, but they say laughter is the best medicine – and laughter is exactly what Valeria Brosdal got when her husband Ralph Kapostins took her for a pedicure to lift her spirits after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

While Valerie was getting her toes painted her favorite color, purple, Ralph decided he’d get his toenails painted too, to try to make his wife smile.

It worked, and Ralph was so encouraged by her reaction that he posted a picture of their purple toes online. He then asked others to share their photos of painted nails in support of Valerie, according to NBC.

What Ralph didn’t expect was the over 400 people who participated in extremely beautiful, and creative ways.

The project has since grown and is being aided by a friend, Susan Woolf, who started a “Purple Toes Campaign” through the Lung Cancer Foundation.

The campaign allows anyone to submit a photo of his or her purple-painted toes for a living mural.

Best of all? Valerie seems more than excited by it all. “I’ve got a huge grin on my face. Thank you!” She wrote on Facebook.

Sometimes something as simple as purple toenails can change a life.

Seeds of Change

4. Seeds of ChangeA lot has been said and quoted by influential figures and the government as well. A lot has been promised and vouched for. However, the laws and measures that are put out by the government seem fair on paper. It’s easy to believe that things are rosy. But the fact is to the contrary – the implementation of the words is yet to be had..

There are loopholes in every system. Some can be filled out while some are smeared out but to what extent are we as a public willing to forgo such mistakes? A lot of this leads to discussions and debates while a very few lead to actions. This very act of bringing about a change in society was brought out by a lady named Beena Rao. A woman who is a staunch believer in the bringing about of change in the lives of the underprivileged, she transformed her vision into reality.

She started out by beginning a free coaching institute for slum children where the turnout was more than 1,200 students wanting to learn and attend these classes. She realized that in spite of the introduction of RTE’s and educational schemes, there still remained a huge dropout from schools. To fix this, she started her own non-profit organization that employs over 34 volunteers across Surat, Gujarat.

She simply states, “My satisfaction is immeasurable! It’s wonderful to see positive change in these children.” All of her hard work was done voluntarily just on the basis of a vision she wished to follow. Her strong determination has not only led to bringing her personal satisfaction and sense of achievement, but it has also led to the education of over 5,000 underprivileged children. All of them waiting to learn and grow.

Stop Crime By Paying Criminals!

4. CaliforniaIn some of the largest cities in the United States, the statistics for violent crime rates are rising. Drastic measures are taken in many of these cities to curtail the violence, but one city in California has an unusual solution: Paying people to not commit crimes.

The Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, California operates independently from the Richmond police on reducing the area’s soaring crime rates.

They do so by analyzing police data, and combining it with intelligence gathered by their own street team, consisting of former convicts, to compile a list of individuals most likely to carry out violent crimes, and the ones most likely to fall victim to them.

They then pay those most likely to commit crimes not to, and mentor them away from their dangerous lifestyles. They are approached with an opportunity to join the ONS under a “fellowship,” which includes being paired with a mentor, and a monthly stipend of up to $1,000 to encourage them to forego their at-risk lifestyles.

ONS founder DeVone Boggan says the programme is a mixture of past ideas that have been partially successful, and his own ideas gathered during his time as youth mentoring consultant.

Boggan, a former convict himself, was arrested for selling drugs when he was younger in Michigan. “I desperately needed strong, caring, and consistent adults who were willing to take a risk in believing in me,” Boggan said.

While the ONS and the Richmond police have a cooperative relationship, the ONS absolutely refuses to share its information with the police department, as it would compromise the delicate and up-close relationships that ONS fellows have with the people and neighborhoods they protect.

With both public and private funding, the city of Richmond saw its violent crime rates drop to their lowest point in over 30 years in 2013.

Whether it’s directly related to the work of the ONS or a combination of factors is difficult to say, but there’s no denying that what the ONS does is a progressive and promising idea – one that other major cities might learn a thing or two from.

A Potato Sack To Prom

2. Prom Dress18-year-old Courtney Barich of British Columbia, Canada turned her mother’s advice into thousands of dollars in donations for the Saint Martin de Porres Orphanage in Manila. After finding her perfect prom dress (with the imperfect price tag of $700) at a local boutique, Barich said she felt selfish for how much it would cost.

So, she abandoned her idea of the perfect dress and created a website where she pledged to “give up the glitz and glam of a beautiful grad dress and wear a burlap dress instead” for the purpose of raising $10,000 in much-needed donations to help the Manila orphanage, which she’d be visiting on an upcoming school mission trip.

Not only did she manage to raise $7,500 towards her goal, but she also surprised everyone by showing up to the dance looking like this:

2. Courtney Barich

Designer Suman Faulkner of Lata Design volunteered two weeks of her time to design and create the burlap gown for Courtney and her cause. “I loved it. It was better than I thought it was going to turn out. The overwhelming support has been so great,” said Barich

Courtney is continuing her efforts to raise more money for the orphanage before she returns to Manila in September for more volunteer work. You can donate to the cause on her website here:

Queer Muslim Pride

1. LGBT MuslimThe LGBTQ and Muslim communities don’t often go hand in hand, with the latter traditionally considering homosexuality a sin. With such a rift between the two, many Muslims choose to leave the faith instead of being discriminated against by members of their own religion.

But photographer Samra Habib and her subjects seek to challenge that distinction. “Just Me and Allah,” a powerful series of portraits by the Toronto native, depicts queer Muslims who maintain both their faith and their sexuality.

The project’s roots were humble, with the photos originally appearing on Habib’s Tumblr page, titled “Queer Muslim Project.” The photos, along with interviews with some of the subjects, were exhibited throughout Toronto in conjunction with World Pride between 20th and 29th June.

While historically used as a slur for members of the LGBTQ community, “queer” is an umbrella term used to describe anyone who identifies outside of heteronormative identities both in terms of sexuality and gender representation. It’s now a term used by the LGBTQ community and its allies to describe anyone who’s not straight, but doesn’t necessarily identify as gay, lesbian, bi or transgender. Basically, it’s a non-label for those who are proudly non-mainstream. In this case, Habib likely titled her work the “Queer Muslim Project” so as not to label any of her subjects.

Habib got the idea for the project a few years back, after having a desire to showcase the many interesting LGBTQ Muslims she encountered. “I wanted to show everyone the creative and brilliant LGBTQ Muslims I identified with the most and would hang out with at art shows, queer dance parties and Jumu’ah prayer,” said Habib in a Tumblr post. “So I picked up my camera and decided to photograph what I was witnessing.”

Since launching the project, Habib has received emails from LGBTQ Muslims all around the world who have been impacted by her work. “I think that it’s so great that young queer Muslims around the world are mobilizing,” she said. “[They’re] saying, ‘You know what, my relationship with Islam doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden, I can take aspects of Islam that resonate with me and celebrate that.”

Reinvention At Its Best

4The shaping of our mind occurs at an early age. It is the initial years of schooling that mould us – in fact, more than mould us. However, with the increase in information technology over the years, the charm and essence of traditional forms have lost its entities. For example – the art of storytelling.

Vikram Sridhar is a young, educated man with a passion and love for storytelling. He started teaching little children by narrating stories. These stories weren’t just from a novel or a fable, these were stories woven around wildlife conservation and the environment. Instead of just expanding the mind of the students about another world, Vikram takes an initiative in building the process of social conscience among children at an early age.

The reason he does this is because he says, ‘Children catch things very fast and if it is interesting, they will definitely remember it for a long time’. Going by this, he uses his stories to not just share knowledge but shape their thoughts and draw them into becoming socially aware and proactive individuals.

Weaving captivating stories could be anyone’s forte but to thread them into moral science lessons that can be enjoyed by the young minds is a genius idea. He believes that people need to connect more and break free from gadgets. To concentrate and preserve the environment, we need to do more than just reading (and subsequently forgetting)!

Not Just A Sport Anymore

2All of us are brimming with passion. Some things that we are utterly passionate about can do us good. Sometimes, however, the things that we are passionate about can also do others good. Gurmangal Dass is an individual who turned his personal passion into a belief on a national scale.

He had a passion for sports. So after he was done with education, instead of opting for easy success and money, he chose the road less travelled. His main agenda was to revive sports across the state of Punjab, one village at a time. It seemed like an impossible task at first, but this gentleman was not about to quit easily.

It started off with the actual making of the football field with farmers traveling far distances to collect grass to make the field. Next came the part where youngsters were lured to take up this path and excel in the field of sports. What started as one man’s dream has now grown into a collective one. Today, there are over 40 students in the football academy and over 12 centres for coaching all over Punjab.

Heroes like Gurmangal Dass often go unnoticed. It is essential to acknowledge the presence and dedication of unsung heroes like him. It is people like these who, while they dream big, facilitate others in the pursuit of their own dreams too.

Breaking Stereotypes

1Living in a society where the base begins and ends at stereotypes, we have little to think about in terms of the extraordinary and the unusual. When in some situations it attempts to break free, more than surprise, it is the rigidity of the mentality that stops people from doing what they  want to do.

But there are people out there who,against all odds, create a name of respect so rare that sometimes being awestruck isn’t enough. Shravani Pawar is one such person! She started her social enterprise ‘Safe Hands’ in North Karnataka where over 400 rural women are trained to become security guards. A lot of people may find this absurd, but in its absurdity is its empowerment.

She faced challenges like funding and making the families of the women understand that there is nothing wrong with a woman wearing ‘men-like’ clothes and working. She helped most of them break the stereotypical belief that this wasn’t an impossible task, and tuned them into believing that having an additional source of income would benefit their families. More than the concept of social awareness that is spreading among these women, it is now that they can live almost independently.

Shravani Pawar believes in listening to her heart rather than those waiting to bog you down. She started from scratch with difficulties, but now she’s up on her way up with the help of many women who never thought that they could have a shot at a job opportunity. She continues to inspire others who in turn inspire many more to break away from herd mentality.

All Hail Women Cabbies!

4. Revathi RoyRevathi Roy is a rally car driver turned entrepreneur in a simple cotton sari. Have you ever met a woman like that before?

Roy started Viira Cabs on January 17 with Preeti Sharma Menon, a friend who was looking to do something new. Viira, meaning courageous woman, is unique in its structure.

Her company employed and trained women to be drivers at a time when, she says, “No one had ever heard of a commercial driver being a woman.” Whilst it’s a cab service for women, it is also a female driver bureau, a recruitment agency and a motor training school.

All drivers, whether part of the regular cab-service or whether hired by customers as personal chauffeurs, go through a training programme. For Rs 10,000 and over a period of three months, women at Viira’s motor training school undergo 155 hours of driving, in addition to classes on road knowledge, traffic signs, martial arts, customer relations, etiquette and grooming.

4. Revathi Roy's Drivers

Once trained, many of these women are recruited by large corporations and hotels. Today, some of them can be seen at the front of a BMW.

How did Roy come up with such a great idea?

“Viira came about because I saw a need,” Roy says. “It was just a normal business.”

However, know that her “normal business” isn’t exactly ordinary. It has empowered hundreds of young women by recognizing that driving is a skill that can given many Mumbai ladies a dignified living, apart from a whole lot of confidence.

“Viira is a very powerful platform for poor, urban women who are now able to earn up to Rs 12,000 a month. I see this every day. My hope now is to go to Tier 2 cities where Indian women are most starved of opportunities,” Roy says.

But Viira’s USP, beyond being all-female, is undoubtedly its service. A quick look at the inside of a Maruti Eco Viira cab and you’ll know precisely what that means.

Every woman has to wear blue jeans and a striped shirt with polished black shoes. In addition, Viira has given its drivers silver nail polish, pink lipstick and a pair of pearl earrings. But if these gentle-looking creatures are harassed, God help you.

“If drivers find eve teasers they’ve been told to just hammer them. We’ve put pepper spray and batons in every single car. We’ll deal with the cops later,” quips the co-founder. The women also get karate lessons as a part of their training.

While Roy thinks there’s a market for this kind of business in many cities, she knows that it is Mumbai’s relative safety that has made her ventures possible. Her hope is that Viira will increase the mobility of senior citizens and young girls who will feel much safer in the hands of a trained, female driver. “The attitude of Indian mothers is changing. Now they know their daughters go out and drink. They realize they may as well keep them safe by putting them in the hands of a woman who at all times is playing the role of a mother or a sister.  A man can’t be a woman. And just because a woman is sitting at the wheel she doesn’t become a man.”

Revathi Roy – she is ‘Viira’, indeed!

A Standing Ovation For Parineeti Chopra

When you think of India, a lot of people think of the rich culture, history, traditions, and of course Bollywood. But in the last few years it has been known for something a lot more sinister and sad – violence toward women. After the gang rape of a young woman on a Delhi bus sparked outrage around the world, more and more stories of rape, acid attacks, and murders have been coming out of the woodwork.

It begged the question: how long has this been going on for and how long have the Indian authorities been covering up these cases?

It’s not just the government that needs to act, it’s the entire country that needs to be aware and recognize women as equals. There have been Bollywood stars speaking out about these horrendous crimes against women, the latest being Parineeti Chopra.

Parineeti was at a press conference to promote her film when a male journalist asked an unbelievably sexist question. Keep in mind – it’s not necessarily the actual question that was the problem, but the fact that men in India think it’s funny and normal to act in a misogynistic manner toward women.

The journalist asked Parineeti – “When girls are young, they enjoy it and when they become mature, they shout at men about the same thing. Why?” In his assessment of girls “liking it” he failed to recognize that his was a skewed and biased male point of view.

Parineeti answered in the best way possible by shutting him down and showing the rest of the journalists, as well as the over-400,000 people who have viewed the video that this will no longer be tolerated by women. ”Whether it is sex or a kiss, there are always two people involved and not just one.” Her answer perfectly summed up what has been missing in the minds of all the sexist perpetrators in India – that they don’t value the second person in the situation.

Violence against women is not just a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue, and we need just as many men standing up for justice as we do women. It is not just a fight for feminists, but for everyone who believes violating another human being against their will is considered a punishable crime.

Tell us what you think of Parineeti’s response in the comments below.