Kamla doesn't know how to read or write, but she has perfected her signature stitch, a row of tiny markings planted like seeds in a field - planted into the handsome black dress, swing coat and slides you see above, for instance. Along with 82 other women in Ajmer, India, Kamla works with a social enterprise called Anchal, proudly growing a life out of those rows of stitches.
Before Anchal, the opportunities for women in her town were bleak. 85% of the women now with Anchal were once commercial sex workers; it seemed at the time their only choice for survival. Ten million women in India fall to that fate, forty million women worldwide.
A student at Rhode Island College of Design, Colleen Clines was inspired to do something about that staggering statistic after traveling to India. Joined by her sister Maggie, also a student of design, Anchal was born, with a heart in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
I stumbled onto Maggie and Colleen in New York, finding their interpretation of the Indian kantha stitch refreshingly modern, and finding also remarkable their work with the women themselves. At Anchal, over 150 women have been trained in sewing, stitching, dyeing, and leadership. The women receive educational workshops in finances and communication; they receive annual eye exams. Their children are in school, eat healthy meals, and receive annual health check-ups. Many live in new homes purchased by mothers with income.
Kamla, that smiling face you see above, was born into extreme poverty, never permitted to go to school, gave birth to her first child at 18. Now, because of her work with Anchal, Kamla has sent her four daughters to school, including her eldest who is in graduate school, studying to become a teacher. Her youngest, in 3rd grade, is teaching Kamla how to sign her own name.
When I put on that little black dress covered in stitches, I feel as though I am a part of a vast field where hope has been planted. I feel the joy that has infused it, the determination that has finished it, the hope of a woman in each inch - a woman who will do anything to give her children a better life. And in the process, make a better one for herself. That's not a dress, I want to say. That's a dream, and each day, stitch by stitch by stitch, it is coming true.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker