By Amy Kuperinsky
PLAINSBORO, N.J. (AP) — It’s not every day that a drone shows up at your front door, drops a package with an iPad in it and whirls away, leaving you a personalized video message from Nick Cannon to come to Florida — right away.
But that’s what happened to Ruchita Zaparde earlier this month when she got the news that she would be one of four honorees at the recent Nickelodeon’s HALO Awards. The ceremony — its name stands for Helping and Leading Others — recognizes young people who have started community service initiatives.
Zaparde, 18, who lives in Plainsboro and attends Princeton Day School, is the founder of Sew a Future, a nonprofit that raises money to buy sewing machines for widows in India, NJ.com reported. She first came up with the idea after she traveled to India with her family in 2010.
Zaparde’s parents hail from the central part of the country, and she was visiting a rural region of Maharashtra when she met a woman named Asha, who had been kicked out of her in-laws’ home after her husband died.
Asha, 27, had two daughters and made ends meet by working as a farm laborer and sewing at night.
But the farm work was only seasonal. And when the farm’s crop didn’t produce as expected, Asha’s daughters had to leave school to work. She desperately wanted her children to be able to return to school, but the family needed the money.
Zaparde learned that Asha could make triple the money she brought in each day — $3 instead of $1 — if she had a sewing machine. So she set about raising the $110 that would cover the cost of a pedal-operated — or treadle — sewing machine for Asha, the only option for those who do not have reliable access to electricity.
“At that point I realized that it wasn’t just Asha alone,” Zaparde says. “A sewing machine could change someone’s life completely.”
Since then, the Middlesex County teenager has sparked a fundraising effort that has spread to 57 schools and 1,400 students in 30 states. She has personally delivered sewing machines to 313 widows in India. She makes trips whenever she can during breaks from school.
Zaparde remembers the specifics of many of the women’s stories. There was Chhaya, a 28-year-old widow whose husband was killed in a road accident. Before she got her sewing machine, she was earning less than $1 a day for her farm work. And Chanda, 26. Her husband killed himself after he could not pay off his debt. She not only had to support her two young daughters, but also her elderly parents. With a sewing machine, she could.
“We want to help these widows get back on their feet,” Zaparde says. “It’s a responsibility of ours to make a difference and create a change.”
Recipients of the sewing machines also get a starter kit of threads, fabrics, scissors and a one-year guarantee on the machine.
Zaparde travels to India with her mother or father, who often help her with dialect differences, though she does speak Marathri, the language of the region. She says she hears the widows’ stories in two ways — “What they’re speaking to me and what they’re showing with their emotions.”
Zaparde, who started Sew a Future when she was in eighth grade, recently took a year off from school to recover from spinal surgery. She hopes to pursue classical studies in college and says she intends to keep the project going, as well as continue her visits to widows in India.
“Seeing that change on their face,” she says, makes it all worthwhile. (end)