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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

First-year student crochets for a better future

Needles and yarn have never looked more valuable.

Rupali Saiya, first-year computer engineering major, has proven their value with her organization called Crafts of Hope.

Crafts of Hope is a program that empowers underprivileged women and children by teaching them how to crochet. The women and children crochet hats, scarves and more, all for sale on the Crafts of Hope website, craftsofhope.com.

“They can empower their own livelihood and sustain themselves,” Saiya said. “It kind of gets them out of the downward spiral of male dominance and believing that they can’t do anything.”

Saiya started Crafts of Hope at the Mijwan Welfare Society in Uttar Pradesh, India to help women. In India, women are subordinate to and dependent upon males in society, Saiya said. By teaching them to crochet, they are given confidence to support themselves and are shown that they can be independent.

“Women there are married off at the age of 12 or 13 and they can’t do much with their lives. This way we show them something else they can do,” Saiya said. “They earn their own money so they’re not dependent on their husbands and some of them have actually come up and said that now they want to be an engineer, now they want to be a nurse, I want to be a doctor. And they believe they can do something more with their life than they could before.”

Along with these women, Crafts of Hope also helps the Society of Education of the Crippled (SEC), located in Bombay. The SEC provides schooling, nutritional programs and counseling for handicapped people. Children can participate in Crafts of Hope through the SEC.

“In India, if you are physically disabled or handicapped and you aren’t in the upper class, then there’s not very much treatment for you. People look down on you in society and think that you’re useless, which is not true at all,” Saiya said. “Basically, Crafts of Hope gives them the opportunity to do something different.”

The organization began after Saiya’s involvement with a charity called Home of Hope. Home of Hope identifies schools and orphanages in India that are in need. Nilima Subharwal, a doctor based in the Bay Area, founded this organization after helping to raise $7,000 for her friend’s orphanage.

After Saiya volunteered with this organization, she wanted to instigate her own ideas within her own branch of the charity.

“I wanted to do something to help them,” Saiya said. “I wanted to do more than just volunteer at functions and just stand behind a table and give out flyers.”

So, three years ago, Saiya developed the idea to teach women and children how to crochet, a skill her grandmother had taught her.

“It’s such an easy skill and you can do so much with it, so I figured, why can’t it be used?” Saiya said. “It’s something that you can do at your own leisure and you can do other things while doing it.”

The proceeds from crocheted garments’ sale on the website are donated to Home of Hope. Items cost between $3 and $30.

Saiya has help from various sources to continue the organization’s growth. Her family gives her the support to continue her efforts, the Home of Hope board gives her suggestions to make the program an even bigger success, and even her friends help her by modeling the items for sale on the website and spreading the word about the program.

However, despite all of the help from others, Saiya still has made sacrifices to spend more time on Crafts of Hope. On top of schoolwork, Saiya has to keep up with sales and supplies and deal with the time change in India, often staying up later to contact people there.

Saiya is driven solely by the happiness she sees in those whom she helps through Crafts of Hope. She said that because she is so fortunate, she takes it upon herself to help those who are not as lucky as she is.

“It just feels good to give back to the community,” Saiya said. “I feel like I should be doing something, so I do my best to help as much as I can. The best part of the entire experience is knowing that all of this effort is going to a good cause and knowing that those women and children are happy and are now able to achieve and go for bigger dreams. It makes me happy when they are happy.”

Saiya said that traveling to India and seeing the women and children has been one of the most valuable experiences she has had thus far.

“I visited the SEC and it showed me that no matter what’s going on in your life, a simple smile can make it better,” Saiya said. “All of these children had such a hard life, yet they were still able to smile and get through it and were as happy as I am.”

Crafts of Hope has a promising future, with Saiya hoping to expand across the globe and include more types of crafts.

Saiya’s mother, Hina Saiya, said that she believes the program her daughter started could go on forever — as long as there are others willing to put in the effort that Rupali has.

“She has set up the groundwork and established that this is a viable project. In order for this to grow, she needs more volunteers to help her in all the aspects of this venture,” Hina said.

“The world needs to know about what Rupali is doing,” Subharwal agreed. “She is an icon and a real inspiration. I hope [others] can learn from her and join her.”

DEVON BOHART can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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