Tag Archives: half the sky

It’s a MASSive Problem


A few weeks ago, Anchal had the opportunity to screen a pre-release of Half the Sky. This small sampling of the film was, in itself, so moving that it inspired myself, along with family members, friends, coworkers, and numerous strangers, to watch the 2 day, 4 hour film when it premiered on PBS. As the last credit rolled off of the screen, I was left in awe. I always knew that women faced discrimination across the globe, but what I hadn’t realized was the extent to which this discrimination affected their lives. Rape. Slavery. Abuse. These women have endured horrors that are hard for most of us to even imagine. Fortunately, some of them are able to overcome these horrors in the midst of ongoing oppression thanks to organizations like Anchal and the other NGO’s featured in Half the Sky, such as New Light. Unfortunately, not all of them are lucky enough to have that opportunity.

For those women who are unable to get out, they often live a life of exploitation, cruelty, and pain. Many are impregnated leading to their death. Others are attacked during long commutes by bike. Then there are the women who face direct physical abuse, leading to their demise. Several of these atrocities could be prevented if it weren’t for two major factors: a lack of education and a lack of healthcare. As a designer, I often look at these types of issues as something I don’t have much control over. But I also realize that many of the decisions that I make in my career will have the ability to effect positive social change; social change such as that being created by MASS Design Group, a Boston-based architecture group that is building schools and hospitals in remote parts of third world countries.

The firm’s first endeavor was a hospital in Rwanda that was completed by three architecture students, one of which was Michael Murphy, the co-founder of MASS. This hospital not only provided much-needed healthcare for locals, it was also built using local materials (minimizing its environmental impact) and employed over 270 people (providing job opportunities). With the success of one project behind them, Michael and his team moved forward creating more hospitals and some schools as well. They now have three offices and multiple buildings under their belt, which has resulted in improved healthcare, better education, and more job opportunities in numerous countries. Plus, all of their buildings have a focus on sustainable design, using local materials and utilizing the surrounding landscapes for heat, sunlight, and water. With every facility they create, these architects are allowing fewer women to die from pregnancy complications that can be easily fixed. They are allowing more women the opportunity to get an education for a career other than prostitution. They are effecting positive social change in areas where it is most needed, and they are doing it through design.

To learn more about the amazing work done by MASS Design Group, you can visit their website at http://www.massdesigngroup.org/




“Thank You” Just Isn’t Enough – Half the Sky Screening


This past week has been an exciting time for the Anchal team. We have received amazing news right and left, and we are happy to report that our Didi Scarves are going fast! First, we want to thank everyone who helped make Anchal’s Night at the Movies Pre-Release Screening of Half the Sky a true success!

Before the event on Sunday afternoon the team was busy buying balloons, making signs, picking up 500+ cookies, and practicing lines. The office was surprisingly calm for most of the day, minus a forgotten password and 20 minutes of pure terror, but all in all we felt ready and confident. Then it came time to set up the space for the evening, nerves were setting in. Colleen and I made our way to the event space, of course picking up just one more iced coffee on the way. More jitters? ‘Eh why not?’

When we arrived at the Ursuline Arts Center, over 30 volunteers consisting of friends, family, students and new supporters were already taking care of every detail. 15 Sacred Heart Academy students volunteered to model scarves for the silent auction and help get things rolling. It was wonderful to have these young activists assist with the evenings events, their energy and excitement was contagious. As I stood watching from the balcony above, it was as if I was watching a choreographed dance. Everyone knew their place, whether it was the bartender, ticket salesmen/saleswomen, or just a good old schmoozer, everyone seemed ready. At this point I slipped away to tech world and readied the video. After getting the volume just right, I went back into the reception space. I was shocked! If the attendance had topped at that moment I would have been happy, but it didn’t. Within 30 minutes, over 250 people were sipping wine, and enjoying cookies, candy and popcorn.

The next hour flew by, knowing many of the faces I bounced from one group to the next quickly forgetting my job to document the evening with photographs. Thankfully our wonderful intern Rachael took these priceless photos. It was crazy! At times I could barely squeeze past people to check out the silent auction or to sneak over to the cookie table. Everyone was enjoying themselves, all excited to support Anchal and more importantly get a preview of the Half the Sky documentary. The social hour came and went, it was time for the show.

The event began with Elizabeth Woolsey, our wonderful emcee, giving a brief history of Anchal and introducing Colleen for a quick update on our project. 30 minutes later, the screening had begun. I abandoned my post as the ‘pusher of play’ and snuck down and around backstage. I turned the corner and saw Colleen. Within seconds we were giggling and jumping around. We were so excited with the incredible turn out and so very thankful for all the help we had received. We both agreed the event couldn’t have been going any better. After updating each other on random tidbits, we parted ways and returned to our posts.

The evening wound down once the film had ended, and all the silent auction pieces had found new homes. It felt amazing to share our passion with those who were unaware on the women’s right issue addressed in the film. More importantly we hoped that the film opened eyes and inspired hearts. So to say THANK YOU just doesn’t seem to cover it, but THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered their time, who bought tickets and came to the show. Special thanks to those that sponsored the event and who donated the party beverages and snacks. It was a fantastic evening!

Now that you’ve seen the film, spread the word! Tell anyone who will listen about the struggles women face today and tell them how they can make a difference by supporting Anchal and organizations like us. That’s all it takes, educate those around you and share your passion for changing lives.


If you missed the Half the Sky documentary this past Monday and Tuesday, visit their site for future screenings and learn how you can purchase the DVD!

For more photographs check out NFocus

“Talent is universal; opportunity is not.” –Nicholas Kristof


Whew, if watching Half the Sky won’t get you in the mood to get off the couch and make a “dent in the universe” as Steve Jobs so elegantly once quoted, I don’t know what will!

A few days ago I was having a “bad day.” As I currently navigate a transitional period between my post-Indian and pre-Argentinean lives, my life feels boring at times. I’m currently working as a barista in a café, babysitting, tutoring Spanish, and doing random projects around my house to try and keep busy before my next departure. Not exactly riveting, but I’m normally content to be surrounded by family and friends. However, just the other day, for unknown reasons I felt incredibly unhappy and unsettled when I took stake of my life-working in the café and feeling un-stimulated, feeling unsure about where my life is going/the uncertainty of it all, second guessing my decision to study in Argentina, living at home instead of on my own. “Woe is me,” I thought. So I went to my room, lay down in my bed and allowed myself a good 30 minutes of grumbling and crying and general immaturity.

Then I watched Half the Sky. I watched as women told stories of the day they were circumcised, recounted the day they were sold to a brothel, or the time they were raped by their uncle. I sipped my tea and nibbled my cookies, all of which had been bought in a store, which I had driven to in a car, conveniences that the women in this film couldn’t even fathom. I re-took stake of my surroundings, realizing that I had a roof over my head, parents who love and support me, my health, a college degree, that I live in a society that values my productivity and skill-set and immediately felt guilty for having had a “bad day.”

Half the Sky is a sobering account of the realities that many women in the world face. The filming is gorgeous, the stories moving and the message harrowing yet inspiring. One of the quotes that struck me came from Nicholas Kristof, the brains behind the operation of Half the Sky. He said, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”


Talk about hitting the nail on the head. It’s opportunity that separates us, the “lucky” women in the world, from the “unlucky” ones, isn’t it? Opportunities that are created by a society that values dignity and equality for women, and works toward making such opportunities a reality. A woman in Somaliland may have the potential to become an incredible writer, but if her parents force her to quit school and find work to support her family, those opportunities, to develop her skill-set, to pursue a career, are lost.

This quote immediately took me back to one of my memories of working at a low-income school near the slums in Hyderabad, India. One of my early projects was working with the 10th standard girls (equivalent to 8th grade) on their Design For Change Project*. The theme of their project was eve teasing, the Indian English word for name-calling. Their idea was to create a series of skits showing how girls their age can stand up to boys, and, in their words, “be bold.” Their idea was to take their skits to neighboring schools and perform them for girls in hopes of reversing cultural norms (i.e. notions that women should be shy, delicate, etc). For days, and months, I practiced with them. We wrote and re-wrote the scripts, practiced the role playing and perfected it until they had everything memorized. When they were ready, I took them to a nearby school where they could perform their skits for younger girls.

It was beautiful. Tears welled up in my eyes, I was incredibly proud. I watched as Ehlam, the bossy dark-eyed girl who was the narrator, helped situate everyone on stage, watched as Ramsha and Nimrah pretended to be the boys in the skits, putting on low voices and acting gruff with the occasional hiccup of laughter. They did it! All of the months of working on the skits had finally paid off. I felt relieved and satisfied, felt like I could put a little check next to the imaginary “do something good today” box on my to-do list.

But then there were a few words from the owner of this particular school. Asma, a teacher who I worked closely with at my school, translated as he took the microphone, and I listened with horror as he began to undo everything I had just done.

He talked about the Prophet Muhammad, how it was written in the Koran that girls should study hard but have good manners, be mild and soft-spoken and at the mercy of their husbands, ready to raise children. A fresh batch of tears stung the corners of my eyes as I tried to smile and put on a good face. How could he do this?! Inside I was livid, my hurt pumping furiously, my palms began to sweat, I either wanted to hit him over the head with the microphone and tell the girls, “It’s a lie, don’t believe what he’s saying!” or run right out the door. But I had to sit through it, all of it, every stupid, piddling message he had to say to his girls, hear him mechanically and meticulously un-do the Design for Change Project that my girls had created, stitch by stitch. This man was single-handedly shutting the door to opportunities for his school girls by perpetuating cultural norms emboldened by religious sentiments.

The worst part about it was, nobody was contradicting him. Not even my girls, who came from better-educated families than the school we had performed the skits. Being a good wife, cooking meals and raising children was these girls’ mission, and it had been beaten into their skulls, by tradition and culture. How could I possibly think I was going to change all of that? What weapons did I have in my drawing board? Who was I, to think that I could cut down centuries of old beliefs and re-plant new ideas in their wake?

Although it has been my experience that working in the developing world is often like taking one step forward and two backward, I’ve realized that the one thing we can create for all women is, you guessed it, opportunity. As long as women have the chance to become educated, start businesses and pursue careers, they can break the endemic chains of cultural servitude that have kept them bound from the liberties that all women should be afforded in the 21st century. Of course, to some degree this has to happen organically and by leaders within these countries, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t help.

And so that’s why I can’t, and won’t quit, trying to give people in developing countries, especially women and children, the opportunities that are their rights. That’s why Half the Sky has re-invigorated my passion and desire for a more just world for our fellow didi’s everywhere. And that’s why, I will never, ever look at my life and think that I’m having a “bad day.”


*Design for Change is an initiative developed by Kiran Bir Sethi, a native of India. The program aims to allow children to express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action. The winners that are selected receive funding for their schools.

Half the Sky + Anchal


If you happened to miss last night’s premiere of Half the Sky, you have a second chance to catch part 2 tonight at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Half the Sky:Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was inspired by the book written by NY Times reporters, Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky was filmed in 10 countries and follows Kristof, WuDunn, and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous individuals. Across the globe oppression is being confronted, and real meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. The linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us the single most vital opportunity of our time: the opportunity to make a change. All over the world women are seizing this opportunity.

Anchal artisans stitching with America Ferrera & New Light’s Urmi Basu during the filming of Half the Sky

Where does Anchal fit into this global movement?  This evening’s screening is especially important to Anchal because our partner New Light and Director, Urmi Basu are highlighted in tonight’s film. America Ferrera met the New Light family and Anchal’s artisan during the filming last year.

It wasn’t long before Ferrera was sitting on the ground with Anchal’s artisans participating in our program and admiring their designs and their amazing strength to create change. She felt so inspired she offered to partner with us on the Didi Connection.

America said this about her experience:
“New Light and Anchal work hand-in hand: New Light saves the innocence of the children and Anchal restores the safety and dignity of their mothers. While working with New Light during the filming of Half the Sky, I was very inspired by Anchal’s program that provides creative jobs to support women out of the sex trade. I felt compelled to partner with them on the Didi Connection.”

Watch this clip from America’s time in India. This is the life of our artisans, where they live, and our amazing partner New Light. So do not miss seeing Half the Sky tonight at 9pm on PBS! And keep your eyes peeled for our friends Urmi Basu, America Ferrera, and Anchal’s artisans. We can not wait!

Half the Sky Press Tour with Anchal’s Partner


The Anchal team is extremely excited about the upcoming PBS Half the Sky documentary that premieres on October 1st and 2nd. Not only will it be a powerful film about women and children’s oppression around the world but it also features our partner New Light and Executive Director, Urmi Basu.

Recently, a group from the film met with the press to promote the film and to speak about their experiences. The team from the film included Meg Ryan, Diane Lane, Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, America Ferrea, and Urmi Basu. Our friend America shared this about her experiences at New Light.

“I walked away remembering to keep my eyes open and my heart open to the possibility that I might one day come across a certain need that I could meet and remember that a hero like Urmi changed hundreds of children’s’ lives by deciding to say yes instead of no.”

If you have not yet visited Half the Sky Movement’s website or watched the trailer, do yourself a favor and take a look now. The website truly sheds light on the experiences our artisans face daily.

Be sure to stay tuned. We will be sharing Anchal’s plans to celebrate the film’s debut very soon.