Ritwika and Radhika Mitra
Founders, Renaissance Now
In 2008 sisters Ritwika and Radhika Mitra were visiting relatives in Calcutta. One afternoon, while taking a cab ride through the crowded streets, they were halted at a red light. As is the case at red lights throughout India, their cab was quickly approached by dozens of artisans selling their wares. A boy who looked about 8 years old approached their cab and held up a handmade necklace. When the light turned green, a rickshaw seemed to come out of nowhere and knocked him down.
As Radhika recalls, “The rickshaw driver didn’t do anything, and the cab driver cursed the boy and then drove off.” The callous disregard for a child’s safety was stamped into their memory. “Alongside the poverty, seeing him get hurt and hearing his cries was too much to handle,” remembers Ritwika. “We had to do something.”
Their response? Ritwika and Radhika started a nonprofit called Renaissance Now, based in their Fremont home. Renaissance Now provides underprivileged artisans in their native Bengal, India with the tools they need to make the art that is their livelihood. To kick-start their organization, the sisters organized a fundraising dinner and art auction in Fremont that drew 150 people and raised $11,000. Their most common donations include chisels, magnetic clasps and leather-sewing machines—to help local artists produce crafts like handbags, pottery and dolls more efficiently. In some cases, these tools lead to their ticket out of dire situations, including human trafficking.
Despite all of their fundraising success, there was one more step: Before they could teach the craftspeople in India how to use the tools, they had to become skilled themselves. Consulting books and online tutorials, they learned how to weave and use the woodworking machines.
The next year after starting Renaissance Now, they returned to the Bengal region to share their lessons, and have since conducted projects in Romania, Bangladesh and the United States. Today, artists around the globe can connect with Renaissance Now and watch instructional videos through its channel on YouTube, youtube.com/supportren.
Finally, the girls have further empowered Indian artisans by selling these crafts on Renaissance Now’s own website. http://rennow.org/gallery.php?pg=3
To learn more about Renaissance Now and the Mitra sisters, visit: http://rennow.org/index.html
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