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May 31, 2012

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May 31, 2012

Montage Initiative is a unique non-profit organization with powerful leadership, vision, keen awareness of art, and strong drive to help people. Only a few years old, it has already grown so much and touched the lives of many, especially by helping to improve the quality of life of widows in India. As I found out, one major way in which Montage Initiative does this is through its feature film project, stunning photography, film footage and videos, and artistic designs for fundraising events.

I was fortunate to become involved with Montage Initiative through service learning at Fairfield University because I have learned so much, gained great experience, and met wonderful people, all the while helping to make a difference through the various projects of Montage Initiative. I have enjoyed working with projects like the Travelling Art Gallery and service learning because they have given me the opportunity to really expand what I can do and truly become involved, things which I didn’t really have much confidence in myself about before Montage.

The CEO and leadership of Montage Initiative do a fantastic job at educating all the volunteers on tasks, events, and more. With the leadership’s attention to detail, care for all their volunteers, and dedication to teaching us and making us part of the family, Montage Initiative has succeeded in building a strong team of supporters. It struck me how the heads of Montage Initiative are always working tirelessly with Montage participants and partners to make sure that events and projects turn out the best possible. Montage translates this same attitude of care towards all with whom it engages: the leadership, volunteers, partners, and of course the people whose lives it works to improve.

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Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

Yes, I learned much about working with donors, partners, technology, and people. Being part of Montage Initiative made me become familiar with different technology, communications, websites, media, press releases, and more. Not to mention, all the amazing people I have met and networked with through Montage: board members, other volunteers, and people who have benefitted from our projects.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

I feel empowered through my work with Montage Initiative. I have personally felt the effects of Montage's mission to empower and educate women worldwide. It is awsome knowing that I am contributing to this organization's efforts to making a difference in the world.

January 26, 2011

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January 26, 2011

Women want the same wherever they are – to feed, protect and educate their children and take charge of their own destiny. The only difference between the women we met in India and the women we are is geography. As our trip to Vrindavan drew to a close, we knew our world would never be the same again, and we pledged to one another that we would do all we could to make a lasting and sustainable difference in theirs: Our pledge is Montage Initiative.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I was so fortunate to witness first hand empowerment groups formed within each village, where women connected with each other and met weekly to figure out ways to improve their lives. I was so inspired by their faith and hope - against all odds - to make a difference. Capitalizing on their strengths and abilities, we will be supporting their creative energies while also focusing on their sanitation needs.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

I am so grateful for each and every board member, advisor, volunteer, and donor that has participated with our organization thus far. The generosity of these individuals who freely give of their time and resources to enable others to build a better future is simply amazing. I wouldn't change a thing.....

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Will you volunteer or donate to this organization beyond what is required of board members?

Definitely

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you tell others about this organization?

Definitely

How did you learn about this organization?

Board Member

May 21, 2010

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May 21, 2010

Working with the gals at HeartShare was terrific - they love what they do and have endless compassion while maintaining a great sense of humor.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

seeing how hard they work towards helping others, being careful to get the most out of every donated dollar and tackling every aspect of their job with a smile!

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How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

One time

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

May 21, 2010

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May 21, 2010

Women want the same wherever they are – to feed, protect and educate their children and take charge of their own destiny. The only difference between the women we met in India and the women we are is geography. As our trip in November drew to a close, we knew our world would never be the same again, and we pledged to one another that we would do all we could to make a lasting and sustainable difference in theirs: Our pledge was HeartShare International. We left our lives under the banner of HeartShare to make this journey, made our own sacrifices to get here along with the help of a handful of women, many of whom we had never met and whose stories we didn’t know yet who donated anonymously, generously and spontaneously, all in the space of just twenty-four hours, so that we could make this trip for them and that they could make a difference too. An unforgiving wind swept through the open sides of our rickshaw carrying the rain deep inside our cab. “It’s not normally cold like this,” shouted our guide above the engine noise, grinning over his shoulder and bouncing wildly in his seat as we hit crater after crater in the road. The traditional Indian clothes we wore in honor of the women whose stories we had come to share gave little comfort from the cold and no protection from the elements, though being wedged tightly against one another did create a kind of “seatbelt stability” in the back, for which I was grateful as we had none. The dirt roads, which were no more than narrow tracks in places, became a sea of mud in a matter of moments, seeping into our open-toed sandals each time we stepped out. The last time I felt mud like this was making mud pies as a child in the garden. Back then I was making my dolls eat it; sticking my bare feet in it wasn’t part of the game until my shoe slipped off when my mother called me in for lunch. This was no game though. This was real, and neither the guide books nor our lives back in our native countries had prepared us for this. It was meant to be warm; we had no coats, no sweaters, no boots or umbrellas and no idea of the depth of poverty we would see or of the height of inspiration our hearts would soar to. And so we carried on. Our first mission to buy socks for the widows at Vrindavan, requested by one donor, was one of many lessons learned and an example of how a small item of such seeming inconsequence in our lives can make such a big difference in theirs. For a woman who has lost her husband, her home and her life, warm feet are a great comfort and a pair of socks a luxury. With the generous help of Dr. Mohini Giri, herself a widow, and the tremendous organization she created, The Guild of Service, born from her own painful experience, we were able to encounter one of the many faces of India that outside the country few really see, at her widows shelter Ma Dham and some of the surrounding villages where the Guild helps. It is hard to comprehend how an entire society can reject a woman simply because she has been widowed, much less her own family. There are approximately forty-one million widows in India. Of the twenty thousand living on the streets that make their way to Vrindavan, the holy birth place of Lord Krishna, Ma Dham houses only one hundred twenty. In or out of the shelter, however, these women lose their status to invisibility and pray for the same thing-- an early release from this life and an end to their suffering. A woman could be married at seventeen, be a mother at eighteen, and a widow at nineteen. Now considered ‘bad luck’ by her family, her life would be a long and difficult one, alone. Among the women we interviewed at Ma Dham, which offers them shelter, sisterhood, safety and sustenance, fate had taken its toll on their spirits and their faces, aging them prematurely, yet still they kept on smiling. Toothless, some of them, and poorly sighted, I found their loss of value to the world was a doubly harsh sentence to swallow. If they are widowed without children, the stigma is not the same, and society accepts their remarriage; but once she is a mother and a widow, it’s a different story. “Since when did motherhood become such a crime,” I wondered, “and women become so worthless?” One lady we interviewed, a widow in her sixties suffering from osteoporosis and a former employee of India’s Ministry of Finance, widowed for over twenty years and at Ma Dham for three, was asked how she thought India treated its widows. Articulate and in excellent English, her response was damning and evident: “Terrible,” she said, with a defiant strength in her eyes far greater than that of her frail body, “Terrible.” The Guild helps not only widows, but also women in local villages, to form empowerment groups, and it offers computer lessons for some of the children. Though internet connection was haphazard and the computers were aging, their teacher and Ma Dham’s head, Mr. Dastagir Ali Azam, was eager to show us just what the children could do, ranging from Excel spread sheets to complex pictures. Without printers, however, parents never got to see their children’s efforts, but then, printers needed paper, and paper, like socks, was a luxury. At one primary school we visited, run by the Social Outreach Foundation in Nodia, headed by one of Dr. Mohini’s colleagues, Prabha Grover, and set up for children of rickshaw drivers who couldn’t afford the cost of their child’s education, we heard well-disciplined and well-educated children tell us their hopes and dreams. Many of the boys wanted to be computer programmers or lawyers. The girls wanted to be teachers, nurses or doctors. To show recognition to students, instead of awarding them with children’s gift vouchers, computers or IPods, we gave them bars of soap, pencils and pads. As with socks and paper, we were back to basics, and it was impossible to imagine the kind of poverty these children returned to each day or their simple struggle to be more educated than their parents. The pride and ambition of these children were both humbling and inspiring, and it was clear that the greatest gift of both Ma Dham and the Outreach School was giving not only knowledge but pride, things many children in the developed world have yet to encounter. We turned a corner and entered our last village, Ramtal Ka Nagla, about three miles from Ma Dham, to meet another women’s empowerment group eager to hear what we had to say and give their permission to be filmed. By now we were running so behind schedule that some women had returned to market where they were selling jars of pickles they had made but came hurrying back to join us. We met in the crèche, a room with a rug but no glass in the windows, just bare concrete and care. Such tiny tots, so well behaved, sitting on the floor like the rest of us, all in a row; their little hearts touched mine and I wondered what their future would be. All that these people have is each other, and they use that strength to their benefit. Each woman, with the approval of her husband, saves fifty to one hundred rupees a month, just over a dollar; they are about to open a bank account so that if anyone in the village needs financial help, they will have access to money they could not otherwise receive. That these women, mostly uneducated and illiterate, had organized themselves in this way because they wanted to take charge of their own lives, and improve them, was inspiring. With no running water in the villages if the tanker doesn’t come, and it usually doesn’t, these women have to walk miles to bring some back. While we were there to assess the opportunities for work, microfinance, and training, it was clear that the most immediate need for all the women we met in the villages was water and toilets. Water, the source of life and a basic human necessity that we more often than not take for granted, is often lacking, and proper sanitation is impossible. Through the sea of mud women came. Women dressed in such bright colours as to make your heart sing. Carrying themselves with such dignity and grace, wearing smiles that seemed in total contrast to the struggle they faced. The women’s empowerment groups did more than just empower or inspire these women – they empowered and inspired us --to do all we could and be more than we were. This is the real face of India. It is the face of humanity, and she is beautiful, bold and determined.

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The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

experiencing first-hand the benefit of connecting and networking with women from across the globe in an effort to empower and enrich not only the lives of the less fortunate, but exponentially enriching our own lives through the process.

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How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

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