Kulsum Shadab

An ideal world…what would it be like? One much better than ours? One sans violence, atrocities, hunger, poverty?
Just look around, and you will find 3 kinds of people. People that wish to live in an ideal world. People living to make their world ideal. And the third other category – ideal people that make other’s world ‘livable’.
Kulsum Shadab Wahab, Executive Director of the Hothur Foundation, belongs to the third category. A philanthropist, having worked with acid attack survivors and survivors of gender-based violence for more than a decade, Kulsum takes women empowerment to unfathomable levels. The Hothur foundation aims at improving the social, economic and political strength of acid attack survivors to ensure equal rights and help them freely live their life with a sense of self – worth , respect and dignity. Fueled by her passion for fashion, she also founded ARA LUMIÈRE – where these survivors are at the heart of the entire project adorning women’s hair with fashionable opulence. Head-gears designed by her team have been worn by Katy Perry and has also been recognised by Gucci’s Chime for Change (a global campaign founded by Gucci in 2013 to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality). All progress, they say, begins with wishful thinking.

Here’s a peek at Kulsum’s World!

Tell us a little (more) about yourself.
I’m an open book, really! I’m so grateful to be doing the two things
I’m passionate about – Fashion and Philanthropy. Using fashion as a tool to make a difference in the world, in the lives of my brave women. Each day becomes so fulfilling. This is my life and I love it!

I love being on the giving end and I am eternally thankful for having been given the opportunity to serve others. “Not everyone can say they have a life like mine,” the satisfaction you get by changing a life is unparalleled.

What is #HothurWarriors?
Nurses and medical staff have become the unwitting heroes of the coronavirus pandemic, as their struggles and long hour shifts many times go unnoticed and unpaid, due to the current surge and lack of funds. These are the Hothur Warriors we would like to highlight in this current situation.

The Hothur aid is a constructive plan devised by us to help health care workers in a financial crunch.

Tell us about your work with acid attack survivors. How did it begin?
My journey with acid attack survivors began with one of my visits to a hospital where I go to overlook the treatments we provide for the disabled kids and adults. I saw a terribly burnt woman. I was naive at the time and I did not know about acid attacks and asked a nurse about the woman. I went up to the woman, greeted her, but out of nervousness she rushed out of the room. Disturbed by her plight, I tried reaching out to her, for weeks, in vain. Finally, she agreed to meet me, confided in me sharing her fears and challenges in life, of being ridiculed, to not being able to find a job. She obviously could not afford her surgery, and was even ostracized by her family. The whole incident convinced me to work towards the upliftment of these innocent, brave women. Thus started an initiative with the sole purpose to empower victims of acid attacks, by not only creating social acceptance for the survivors but also raising awareness for skin banking. That brings me to skin banking.

Skin banking is much simpler than organ donation, when we donate eyes we give sight but when we donate skin we give life to an acid burn patient. Most survivors suffer third degree burns and only skin grafting can save them. This procedure can successfully heal survivors with 50 – 60% burns. However, in order for skin grafting to take place, healthy donors must donate their skin post their death, and unlike blood donation or organ donation, there is a lack of awareness and stigma attached to donating skin. Indeed science and technology has made great advances in making skin grafting a more effective process, we as a community need to step up and make it more accessible to victims through pledging to donate and combating the misconceptions.

An acid attack is an attempt to dehumanize and undermine one’s identity and dignity. An attempt to cause irreversible damage. However, you and I can help these brave women who have been victimized senselessly and aid their road to recovery through skin banking.

What is the ethos of Ara Lumeire? How has it helped women on that project?
Ara Lumiere is a collective of designers brought together by Hothur Foundation This collective consists of talented women who are above all inspirational with unmatched resilience – survivors of acid attacks. The ethos behind the brand is that incredibly beautiful, precious things can be born from the most difficult conditions. The project produces hair ornaments, helping these women bring hope into their lives. It is my vision to bring their struggles, but more importantly their triumph to the forefront by bringing them into our mainstream conversations. It is my endeavor to make fashion a more inclusive space, and through Ara Lumiere build dialogues for their betterment.” Each headgear is inspired by the journey of an acid attack survivor and made by the survivors themselves empowering them financially, while giving the chance to gain control over their lives. The survivors have been honoured on international platforms with prestigious awards. We are on a path to include them in the fashion industry, an ecosystem which the survivors believed was a space that they could never thrive in because of their scars.

Coco Chanel famously said – Elegance is refusal. And the women at Ara Lumiere do that everyday, refusing to cower to the label of a victim, refusing to put their lives on hold in face of adversity. I hope that we can take our vision forward and find avenues to engage the women at Ara Lumiere to not only restore their self-worth but enable them to achieve much more than they ever thought was possible!

Your work with underprivileged children…what is that all about?
Helping the differently abled and underprivileged is something that I always wanted to do. While walking past a park near my home some years ago I came upon a group of young differently abled children playing in a small play-centre created for them there. I had read a book called ‘Exceptional Children Exceptional Art’ by Davis and it really touched my heart. I knew then that I wanted to do something more to help such young children using a medium through which I could boost their confidence and give them a purpose to life.

Another initiative of the foundation close to my heart is called Colours of Hope – a small art camp for the underprivileged kids so that they can spend their time productively.
What began as a small art workshop for eight or nine children gradually grew into Colours Of Hope, an initiative of the foundation that works towards empowering differently abled children through art therapy. After employing a full-time psychiatrist and roping in volunteers and helpers, we now work with thousands of children. These children draw and paint and we convert their work into beautiful pieces of art.

We support these specially abled children who we love, encourage and support physically, emotionally and financially at every step. We have child acid attack survivors as well , something so horrific and unbelievable to even read, these children need medical attention and rehabilitation.Besides medical aid we organise workshops and sponsor their education.

There were initiatives by your foundation during the pandemic. Can you throw some light on it?
We started with three campaigns during the lockdown. One, against the violences women faced in their own homes battling the Shadow Pandemic called #HothurEmpowers. We are helping these ‘survivors’ of violence and abuse by giving them financial aid, shelter, counselling therapy and support in all possible ways. Sometimes just listening to them makes a whole lot of difference!

Our second initiative #HothurNutriMeals is about providing the less privileged covid-19 struck communities with a pack of three nutritious meals a day. With the initial aim of reaching out to two lakh people, we were successfully able to go beyond and provide for above four lakh people.

“The secret ingredient is always love and a little kindness!”
Our third initiative #HothurWarriors involves a constructive plan aiding frontline health care workers with financial aid and acclamation. Their selfless services have made them the unwitting heroes during the pandemic.

What have you learnt from your philanthropic work in all these years?
I have always believed in the power of gratitude and giving. All the time and efforts invested in my women and children have changed me as a person and made me all the more grateful about the little things we take for granted in life. I have learnt to never judge a book by its cover because everyone has a story of challenges and troubles and to never give up!

Which would you say, has been the most defining moment in your life?
Ara Lumière has been like a child. My defining moment in life was the inception of Ara Lumière because not only did it soulfully meld my love for fashion and philanthropy together, it was the start of an empowering journey of my women acid attack survivors. Ara has changed the lives of these women and given them purpose, taking them to platforms we never imagined, highlighting their struggles, talents and most importantly triumphs to the world.

Do you have a message for our readers, especially women?
Never give up on your dreams and never under-estimate yourself. Being a woman you are capable of so much more than a man, never believe you are anything lesser. No force in the world can stop a woman determined to rise!!

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