"My name is Gwendolene Mugodi and I am a writer and the founder of Paivapo Storytellers, a movement that aims to provide better access to local, good quality literature to the children in Zimbabwe--and eventually beyond. Our work would not be complete without the help of local artists like Abel Zvorufura who I met through the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. As two different artists we spent about a month and a half going back and forth on this book until we got to a place we were both happy with. I look forward to sharing that full book in a few months, but for now here's a little bit about Abel and why he does what he does."
My First Taste of Rural India
I've seen this vision many times.
It's the year 2012. The financial markets are recovering, Libya is spiraling out of control, and everybody is talking about whether a certain Mr. Barack Obama will serve a second term as president. Of course, at this point, I have no idea that any of this is happening. I'm just a ‘privileged’ city boy in India lying on the wooden bed of an overnight train, travelling with my grandfather to some place in Madhya Pradesh (which literally translates to the middle of India) called Katni that will change the course of the next few years of my life.
My feet hit the ground with a thud as disturbed specs of dust disperse around my ankles. The sun shines bright in my eyes and the sounds engulf me. So this is rural India.
The night passes most serenely, albeit surprisingly, for I find myself immersed in the most peaceful sleep, guided solely by the thin sheet between my back and the ground and the sounds of crickets chirping.
When the morning arrives I am taken to house of one of the weavers to spend the day, as my grandfather goes off with the leaders of the land rights organization that he works with.
A man walks up to me and introduces himself as the administrative head of the weavers. Then without another word he walks back to his station and continues weaving the piece of cloth he had left half way in order to greet me.
As the day progresses I begin speaking with this man about everything from how he weaves the cloth to the history behind the tribe that the entire population of the village belongs to: the Panika tribe. I learn that the art of weaving this cloth is an age old tradition that has been passed down the generations. He hands me a piece of cloth which is unlike anything that I have ever felt before, but as I begin to express appreciation for it, I see sorrow in his eyes. When I ask him, he says: "My children will probably have to go to the city and do perform undignified forms of manual labor to simply feed themselves. Nobody wants to buy cloth like this anymore."
The rest of the day passes in a sad silence. He continues to weave and I continue to stare at the swatch of cloth that sits in my hand not knowing what to think or do. As the sun sets and he begins to close up shop, I turn to him numbly offering back the swatch of cloth that has draped my hands all day. He smiles at me, the sorrow still consuming his eyes, and tells me to hold on to it.
I sit here and write this words three years after that day. I show that swatch of cloth to every customer that I meet at trade shows, as they browse through our catalogue of consumer products made from this unique hand-woven cloth, and this story of how the Panika Project came to be never fails to bring a smile to their faces.
I began this project not too long after my visit to Katni in an effort to break the bubble of privilege and ignorance that surrounds most of urban India, the same bubble that burst for me that day in Katni, and show them the people – the India – that they have so conveniently forgotten. I’m constantly driven by the want to bring a change in this small place in whatever small way I can, because I believe that every small change creates something so much bigger than we can even imagine.
Over the summer our team plans on attending several trade shows across India to spread awareness about this unique cloth and the unique people who weave it. And we hope, by the end of the summer, to have our products in a few retail stores across India so that the people of Katni have a much-needed stream of sustainable income over the years to come.
August 11, 2016
June 13, 2016
Lauren Maunus '19 is starting a bold new venture.
Its goal: To help eliminate food waste and bring healthy, affordable food to "food swamps" in Rhode Island and beyond.
March 15, 2016"If little girls like me were saying Barbie is the pretty one and the brown one is the ugly one, that's a problem."
Yelitsa Jean-Charles studies Illustration at RISD with a a concentration in Gender, Race & Sexuality. She identifies as a visual activist, and believes that artists have a responsibility as society’s image-makers. Her doll company and book series, Healthy Roots, combats internalized racism and colorism by getting to the root of the problem: altering beauty standards and cultviating self-love for young girls through education, diversity, and positive representation.
March 12, 2016An Excerpt
Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She traveled to her home in Iran last summer and brought back a cultural souvenir: the book she wrote, Taste of Culture. She explores Iranian families, streets, stores and the stories and spirit embedded in the recipes of Iranian food. She hopes to start a conversation about the benefit of knowing cuisines of different cultures to connect societies.
This year's class of Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellows have just begun their yearlong foray into the world of social entrepenuership. Check out their projects here.
December 16, 2015
Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.
I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction.
October 2, 2015