By Sara Giza
When Surekha Kulkarni moved from India to Louisville in 1986, she did so to help her son. Little did she know, by making this life change she eventually would go on to transform the lives of over 200 women.
She describes her life in India as happy and uneventful. Along with her husband Suhas Kulkarni, they enjoyed a privileged upper-class life and had two children—their son Nikhil and daughter Nima. Yet, when Nikhil started kindergarten everything changed. He began failing his school assignments. No doctors who examined him had any answers, and there seemed to be nothing wrong with him physically or mentally.
Suhas and Nikhil came to Louisville on a tip and ended up visiting the dePaul School and learning that Nikhil had dyslexia. The family felt relieved; however, back in India, his school said that they could not make the needed accommodations for just one child. “We felt like we had no choice and so we moved here—a family of four with four suitcases and a boatload of optimism,” Surekha recalls.
In 2005, while visiting India, she took a month-long jewelry making class on a whim. “I am an accidental artist,” she says. “I don’t even like wearing jewelry, but the class has become a lifelong passion. I started selling my jewelry with great success, but then realized that I did not enjoy selling—just the creative part.” Back in Louisville, she began teaching a jewelry making class called “Beaded Treasures” for the JCPS Adult and Continuing Education program.
In the fall of 2010 while volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, she met a group of women trying to sell their necklaces without much success. “Something clicked. I felt like I had to do something about it, but I didn’t know what. So I invited a few friends and co-hosted a party to see if the women’s jewelry would sell. To our complete surprise, within an hour we had sold over $1,000 worth of jewelry, had someone wanting to host the next party and volunteer artists wanting to get involved,” she says.
From 2012 to 2014, Surekha worked with a group of 10 refugee women from different countries and cultures such as Bhutan, Iraq and Congo to test the viability of the model. “When I met them,” she says, “they were homebound, lacking the confidence to enter mainstream society. As we worked together and the women started selling their jewelry, there was a positive change in their status within their families. The men began driving their wives to the jewelry shows to ensure their continued success. They started having more say in decision making in the family. Their opinion counted.”
Beaded Treasures Project became a 501c(3) nonprofit in 2014. Though it started out as a group of 10 women, 200 women had been trained by the end of 2016. The skills training workshops are a means to empowerment and help the women gain the confidence to pursue their individual dreams.
“To be a part of the transformation in the lives of the women I serve is both humbling and empowering,” Surekha says. She loves watching the transformation from dependent to independent, diffident to confident and helpless to empowered. That’s what keeps her going.
There are many ways to get involved and help. From hosting a home party or volunteering your time, you can be a change agent in the life of a woman in your community. VT
Beaded Treasures Project
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