Sewing for a good cause in the UAE
Dr Shambavi Rajagopal, Founder of Save Scrap and Sew, shares her exciting journey of starting the initiative
On your trips to the tailor shop, have you thought of what happens to the unused scraps of cloth? This was a question Dr Shambavi Rajagopal, a visiting faculty at Canadian University in Dubai, often wondered.
"I have been in the country for 25 years and I have the same tailor for about 20 years now. I know a little bit about sewing and how much material is required to stitch something. To stitch something you need twice the length of cloth, where sometimes the scraps get wasted because you cannot do anything with them. So I used to tell my tailor to return the remaining material so that I could do something with it," she says.
In April last year, Rajagopal saw her tailor carrying two bags of scrap materials outside the shop. "I asked him where he was going and he said he was going to throw the scraps with the rest of the garbage," she recalls. "I asked him 'why would you throw it in the garbage', to which he replied that it was of no use anymore and he did not have any place to store it. That was a moment of truth for me and I realised something needs to be done!
"My tailor asked me if I wanted the scraps and I felt a little weird because I didn't want somebody else's cloth. But I came back home and had a discussion with my family and we all believed that we should do something useful with the scraps."
Rajagopal passed around the message in her locality and got some of her friends onboard that cared about turning scrap into something useful. Eventually, about six of them started the community that today boasts of about 100 volunteers.
"That is when we came up with a concept that we will not sell what we make as it is against ethics, because the scraps belong to someone else and people might doubt the tailor's intentions. I feel that it is not always about money and these pieces are resources that we donate to the needy," she says.
Rajagopal says that it can be quite a tedious process as fabrics come in all kinds of shapes and in different materials. The initial idea was to make bedsheets out of the scraps and cut them into a standard size of 5 by 5 or 10 by 10, so that the person who was stitching could also do so easily.
She says, "Many people said that they didn't know stitching but I said that it doesn't matter because cutting and sorting itself is so tough and can take quite some time to organise. In the initial sessions, I remember just ironing for the first two to three hours. Getting those pieces sorted used to take long and the finished product took a lot of time. So I thought of making small bags. It's a quicker process and the volunteers get to see the results faster."
Every week Rajagopal has an open forum for three hours where people can come and help. "I think that really helped us build as people could come whenever and there was no restriction on timing," she adds.
She believes that by keeping the process simple, people enjoy the activity more. "The great part about this initiative is that nobody can work alone and it's teamwork. We distributed the sheets when the Chennai floods happened. They have been handed to palliative care. I don't want to sell them and this is only for charity."
Anybody can become a volunteer at Save Scrap and Sew. She says, "If a group of people want to get together in their area, I am happy to come and help them start off. Later, they can host the sessions on their own."
The angle of teamwork makes the activity more fun, says Rajagopal. "When people create something with their hands, that's attractive to them. I am keen for this to become a team-building activity for corporates and I feel that people can easily take out two to three hours of their time for a cause. It can be a great icebreaker in offices too."
The Spirit of Teamwork
Volunteer Simi says, "I came to know about the initiative through a friend. I run a boutique called Simply Beautiful and it helps me put scrap fabric to good use. I also get a chance to interact with creative ladies who convert scrap into a pieces of art."
Volunteer Prema Venkat adds, "I have been with this initiative since the beginning. These sheets and bags are friendly to the environment, put smiles on the faces of the people receiving them, and gives us great pleasure."
Amrit Venkat Iyer, a 14-year-old Grade 10 student from Gems Modern Academy and the first male teen buddy in the initiative says, "Save Scrap and Sew is a wonderful initiative that turns unwanted things into useful stuff, and donate it to the needy. As a teen volunteer, I think it is a wonderful platform for all youngsters to know the value of every small thing that is discarded as scarp. It also gives us an opportunity to get involved in community service and give back to the world."
Saba Asim, a volunteer who hosts classes in Al Furjan community, says, "I got to know about Save Scrap and Sew through Facebook and I was looking to take part in community work. I got in touch with people in the area and started volunteering. It has been a great experience as we save scraps from the landfills and it is also about fostering team work and people coming together for a cause."
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