By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 11 December 2018)
Last Sunday afternoon at Spinners Web, a ‘Celebration’ Fashion Show featuring the collections of top Kenyan designers were modelled by 30 ‘dream girl’ models who’d been trained by Anuja Prashar.
Anuja doesn’t normally train young women in modelling, but this was a special occasion. As director of the AMURT’S department of development and CSR, she is normally busy setting up a vocational training program for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. So far, she’s already got 2000 girls from the ages of 19 to 26 lined up to learn practical and ‘employable’ skills in everything from handicrafts, specifically sewing and beading, to hairdressing and health care to business administration.
“We aim to train young women to become economically self-sufficient,” says Anuja whose organization has been in Kenya since 1993. “But in the past, AMURT focused primarily on health care services to disadvantaged people.”
But she says once they realized that most of the illnesses they were treating were either directly or indirectly related to poverty, they decided they needed to focus on entrepreneurship training and helping (in this case) young women to become financially self-sufficient.
For that reason, Anuja organized her fashion show to raise funds for the job training program, part of which will teach young women skills in fashion-related skills. Entitled ‘Dreams Entrepreneur and Enterprise Program’ or DEEP, the build-up to her fashion show was what she called the AMURT African Beads and Print 30 Day Challenge.
During those 30 days, she and everyone supporting DEEP was to wear African prints and beads every day for one month. So the fashion show was effectively ‘celebrating’ the end to the Challenge.
“The Challenge helped us raise Sh250,000 towards establishing the program,” says Anuja, who had launched the challenge with a panel addressing the topic “How African Beads and Print Industry are linked to Kenya’s Socio-Economic Community Development.” On that panel were two of Kenya’s leading designers, Deepa Dosaja whose expertise is fashion and Rhodia Mann whose genius is in jewelry and beads.
The fashion show itself also featured Deepa who was one of several leading Kenyan fashion and jewelry designers whose collections were worn by 30 young women who’ve been through AMURT’s first ‘dream’ training program. The other top designers included Niku Singh, Kiran Ahluwalia and Weaver Bird as well as Spinners Web designers like Tracy Kamau, Jackie Resley and others.
Anuja says the show itself was to illustrate how top designers need the skills she aims to train her young women in. The first dream program trained them in skills related to domestic services so they would be more employable as house maids.
But as Anuja believes that young women have the capacity to learn far more than being good domestics, she is keen to train them in entrepreneurship.
“I looked into other vocational training courses, including those run by the government. The cheapest courses ran anywhere from Sh15,000 which is way out of the range of the young women we are targeting. Our program is free,” she adds, noting her ambition is also to set up all over the country. Currently, the dream girls who took AMURT’S first course come from informal settlements (aka slums) around Nairobi such as Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kangemi where AMURT already runs a hospital.
Those are the same estates where the models featured at the Sunday fashion show came from. Wearing everything from beach wear by Kenya Kanga and Tausi Trends to an off-shoulder cocktail dress by Amazing Collection to Maasai Beaded dresses, Straight, Umbrella and Maxi Slit dresses down an impromptu cement catwalk, the novice models put on an elegant show.
The fashion show and raffle which featured, among other exceptional gifts, several hand-woven, hand-dyed Kenyan woolen jackets from Spinners Web, earned DEEP another Sh150,000. Anuja says DEEP is set to take off early next year.
The show itself was a tremendous source of inspiration to the models and their friends. But following the fashion show, what inspired them as much or even more was the arrival of Kenya’s leading Gospel singer, Gloria Muliro, who sang several of her hit songs including ‘Narudisha’. She also told her story of having been a house girl herself for three years, from 2000 to 2003.
“You would never believe it, looking at my life today. But what lifted me up was that I never lost hope and I never let go of my dreams. So don’t you let go of yours either,” Gloria said, speaking directly to Anuja’s dream girls.