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Issue Date:  August 2013, Posted On: 9/24/2013

With $56,000 raised and donations still pouring in, Saheli's Nirbhaya fundraiser exceeds goals

With 380 guests in attendance and a whopping $56,000 raised last weekend to empower and educate women, Saheli's September 20th Nirbhaya fundraiser proved to be an overwhelming success. The event, which was a joint collaboration between Saheli and the Indian Medical Association of New England, was sold out a week prior and had set its initial goal for $40,000 and 250 guests.

"At the event one of our sponsors quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as having said, 'In the end we will remember not the words of enemies but the silence of our friends,'" said Anu Chitrapu, chair of the fundraising committee. "Saheli's friends have spoken. The 56k raised is a resounding testimonial of their support."

Chitrapu and Dr Manju Sheth, president of IMANE, led the efforts to bring this event together. They were joined by a dedicated, hardworking, and creative team that collaboratively designed and implemented the plans for the event, which was held at the Westin Hotel in Waltham, Mass. Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR also volunteered her time as master of ceremonies. The team reached out to local performers, sponsors, and other volunteers to present a remarkable event.Preetesh Shrivastava of Hindi Manch led the pledge drive.

"Community service has been one of my most important goals as IMANE president. I have also been associated with Saheli for many years so it was a great opportunity to bring two wonderful organizations together," said Dr. Sheth. "Community outreach was also an important role for me in this fund raiser. It was, therefore, very heart-warming for me to see such a great turn out. I want to express my personal gratitude to my IMANE family, everyone who came to this event and to all those who also could not make it but supported us wholeheartedly. Our community now knows even more about Saheli and its missions and goals. I think this will be a gift that will continue to give over the next few years."
 
The fundraising committee included Sumana Bhat, Rekha Singh, Neelam Wali, Sapna Aggarwal, Sumi Manwani, Deepa Jhaveri, Meera Subramaniam and Eshani Shah.  
 
The event was sold out a week prior to the event. More than 380 guests stunned the night with their colorful attire. The guests represented the entire South Asian spectrum: successful professionals, homemakers, and women from all socio-economic strata. Guests attending were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, including members from the American mainstream. The evening began with a cocktail hour of tasty Indian appetizers and was followed by an entertainment program that included melodious music and inspiring dance centered around the theme of hope and freedom for women. 

Chitrapu (left) and Sheth, along with the fundraising committee, helped organize the September 20 fundraiser 
The program began with a dance called Asha, which was beautifully performed by Sumi Manwani and her group with candlelights to represent the light of hope in women's lives. Nirbhaya Nirgum, a Kabir bhajan, rendered by Mohan Subramaniam and Shraddha Agarwal, conveyed the unique ability to bring one out of a state of despair and into an enlightened state of fearlessness.

The highlight of the program was Give Me Wings, which was danced by Mouli Pal. It portrayed a woman's  quest for freedom to experience the joy and beauty of life. Mouli also performed a dance to the Tagore song Ekla Chalo Re, which encourages one to continue their journey despite abandonment. Mile Sur Mera Tumharra, arranged by Tara Anand, encouraged everyone to join hands against violent crime against women. Incarnation of Women talked about the beauty of women and their role as mothers. The theme song, Nirbhaya, was choreographed and written for the fundraiser. It was an appeal to everyone to help women live their lives fearlessly. The land where the river Ganga flows, the land that prays to the goddess, the land that produced strong women, shouldn't that be the land where all women can live without fear?
 
Incarnation of Women was performed by Sankar Gangaikondan and Uma Shankar. Mile Sur Tera Hamara was performed by Meena Sundaram, Shradda Aggarwal, Mohan Subramaniam, Sudha Laxmi Rao. They were accompanied by Sahana Srinivasan, Tarun Bangalore, Pranav Ghatraju and music was arranged by Tara Anand.  

The evening was punctuated by Saheli volunteers Manish Patel and Ramesh Advani launching the Saheli Men's Initiative in their effort to move men from simply being bystanders to actively participating in preventing domestic violence. The aim of the Men's Initiative is to change social norms within the South Asian community that traditionally looks away from domestic violence as a canker in our society. Using online pledges, the Men's Initiative hopes to influence the South Asian men's views on the issue until it ultimately reaches a tipping point and transforms the community to actively resist violence against women.

Saheli anti-domestic violence advocate Salita Mehta gave a moving and meaningful speech on her work as an advocate. In her three years as an anti-domestic violence advocate, Salita has helped 150 women. She also shared that there are three million cases of domestic violence annually in the U.S. and that in 20 years there have been 63 cases of murder or attempted murder of South Asian women in the U.S. Additionally, more than three million children witness violence in their families and have long-term physical and psychological damage due to it. Advocates spend approximately five to 50 hours on each survivor: in 2013 alone, Saheli advocates have thus far spent upward of 500 hours working with survivors. Further, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are ranked in the top five most dangerous countries for women. It is essential that we, as a community wake up to fight violence against women. 

In that effort, the evening held a pledge drive. This money will be used to empower domestic violence survivors in their search for self-reliance. It will be used to both assist them through the process of recovery from trauma and to send them to job training programs with the hope that they will be able to gain employment. The evening ended with a sumptuous dinner donated by Masala Art and tasty Kulfi donated by Sonal Kakkar, along with high-spirited dancing till midnight!

Saheli and IMANE thank everyone who attended and volunteered their time and resources to make this event a success. They are especially thankful to Masala Art, DJ Yogi, Shobha Shastry, Neelam Wali and Sonal Kakkar for their generosity in donating their services to the event.

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