By John Hanc
Ritwika Mitra, 15, and Radhika Mitra, 19
Renaissance Now aids artists and craftspeople in India and other countries by providing free tools, training and marketing assistance.
Driving Force In 2008 Ritwika and Radhika were visiting relatives in Calcutta. One afternoon they were taking a cab ride through the crowded streets and halted at a red light. "When you stop, people come to the window to sell their wares," Radhika explains. 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. "The rickshaw driver didn't do anything," Radhika recalls. "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."
Call to Action They decided to raise money for tools—chisels, magnetic clasps and leather-sewing machines—to help local artists produce crafts like handbags, pottery and dolls more efficiently. The sisters organized a fundraising dinner and art auction in Fremont that drew 150 people and raised $11,000. But 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, says Radhika. The next year 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.
Key to Empowerment "We don't want to throw money at the problem," Radhika says. "Our goal is to help people become more financially independent so they don't have to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of making money."