My wonderful friend Shikha with her upcycled rice bag from My name is Kumar Foundation
As a young woman I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world. This longing may in part be attributed to the countless political discussions I had sat in on at the family dinner table. Or perhaps I was influenced by the many religious sermons I had listened to at Catholic church and at bible study (I’m no longer a religious zealot but this is a story for another day). And then again, I may also have been heavily influenced by the unjust treatment I felt I received growing up as the eldest daughter of very strict parents, who tried to control my every move for fear I would become barefoot and pregnant (although I owned lots of shoes so being barefoot was never a possibility…)
Upon reflecting on my own personal experiences and the reasons for wanting to change this world for the better, I can’t help but reflect on the stories of other humanists or rather, humanitarians. Which leads me to the story of Renee Schreurs, a graduate student in economics and co-founder of the My Name is Kumar Foundation, an organisation with a mission to help change the lives of begging children from poverty stricken families in southern India.
It all began when Renee and co-founder Tim went to India in May 2012 to volunteer for Care Foundation. After 6 months they had to depart, but had gotten emotionally attached to the children they had met. So in July they returned to India. During that time Care Foundation was in financial crisis. The biggest sponsor had pulled back and so the organisation was left with very little options. Either they send the children back to their alcohol addicted parents or find a way to raise money and continue helping them. Thus, the idea for My name is Kumar Foundation was born.
In the first 5 months, Renee and Tim used their own money to help because in the beginning, they were not yet deemed an official organisation and thus were unable to raise money. But looking back, the pair believes it was all worth it. Renee explains, “We send these children to a good school in the city. By sending these children to school instead of begging we break the vicious circle.”
Together with their partner organisation, Care Foundation, the 3 person team at My Name is Kumar (Roxanne a social worker from the Netherlands who also volunteered at the Care Foundation is now a board member) ensure that the children go to school, have a safe home, clean drinking water, food, personal care and provide crucial support in helping them to enter ‘normal’ society. Renee who is also commencing a master degree in International Development at SOAS University in London returns to India 3 times a year for a total of 6 months to help and train the organisation. “We support the Care Foundation not only with money but also with advice to ensure that [it becomes] an independent organisation in the future”.
One of the ways the organisation helps to raise funds for their project is by selling upcycled fashion rice bags. People in India reuse rice bags to clean tables, motorbikes and floors. But given the beautiful colours and amazing designs, the team felt that they were too beautiful to be reused as cleaning rags. So they hired a local tailor named Karthick and decided to turn the rice bags into tote bags, cushion covers and toiletry bags selling them as a way of purchasing food for the children. Selling one upcycled rice bag allows the foundation to purchase one actual 25kg rice bag, feeding 37 children 4 meals each. Karthick now not only makes the bags, but the children’s school uniforms as well.
As it currently stands, the My name is Kumar Foundation helps 37 former begging children from 27 families. One of the biggest challenges they face is overcoming the parents resistance to accept their help and who often use what little money they have on alcohol. Renee admits that they are only willing to help the families if the parents agree to stop drinking but so far only one family has achieved this. There are many reasons why this is a condition, one of which is the child’s safety. And whilst the team understand that there are extremely complex systemic reasons for the economic and social inequalities in India which can’t be changed overnight, they don’t feel disillusioned in their efforts. In fact, they are extremely hopeful. And so am I.
To donate or learn more about Renee, Tim and Roxanne and the My name is Kumar Foundation, visit http://www.mynameiskumar.org/
To purchase an upcycled rice bag, visit http://www.buyriceback.com/
Thank you also to my wonderful friend Shikha who not not only introduced me to this amazing organisation but for reluctantly accepting my suggestion to model for the shoot. Your beauty resonates from the inside out and I really appreciate your friendship and your help in creating awareness of this cause xx
Upcycled bag: My name is Kumar Foundation / Model: Shikha Sachar / Outfit: Mode’s own / Images courtesy of My name is Kumar Foundation