2014 May - Napier Courier - Sewing the Fabric of a Good Life

From: Napier Courier; Wednesday 28 May 2014.  John Ireland

As a student at Tamatea High School, Ana Wilkinson-Gee had two passions - India and sewing.

Now 39, and a mother of three, Ana has been indulging her twin interests for more than four years as she and her husband, Daniel, operate CIC (Continuous Improvement Communities) out of the village of Bhalupali in the Indian state of Orissa.

A philanthropic company, CIC's aim is to benefit families and communities by providing opportunities for up skilling, training and resourcing.

In Bhalupali, that includes running an early childhood centre and providing teaching and carpentry training.  

There is also a three-month sewing course that Ana teaches, passion on the skills she learned while earning a Diploma in Fashion Design from the Fashion and Design College in Christchurch.

Visiting Napier for only as long as it takes to renew the family's Kiwi passports, Ana has brought along samples from the Holi Boli fashion label, the women's clothing range she ans some of her sewing graduates produce.

"These are really nice quality, really good cotton," she says of the Indian salwars and summer dresses on display in a pop-up shop she is operating until Saturday in the Kitchen Table & Community Art Space on Tennyson St.

"I've taught the ladies how to stitch really well, so it's all export-quality.  It's all over-locked in the inside."

Ana pre-washes the fabric herself, then irons and cuts it before her employees do the actual sewing.

Holi Boli garments are one-offs, with only four made from a piece of fabric, one each in small, medium, large and extra large.

"The are quite unique," Ana says.

Holi Boli has caught the eye of at least one New Zealand fashion heavyweight.

Ana says Trelise Cooper has been "really supportive and encouraging of what we were doing in the village.  She invited us to be part of Fashion Week in August.  We won't be here but we have an ongoing communication with her."

Ana was working retail, and dress-making on the side, when she first heard of large orphanage in the Bhalupali area.

"That pulled my heart," she says.  "I started sponsoring that place and we went to visit it.  I just knew that I would be back - I just fell in love with it."

The family eventually moved to India, settling in Bhalupali, a rural village on the outskirts of the city of Sambalpur.

They spent the first year adjusting to conditions, including the extreme heat and the occasional wandering snake, before kicking CIC into gear.

"We really love Indian culture, how they've really absorbed us," she says. 

"We've become part of the community."

Ana says she is thrilled that her children are experiencing another culture and a different way of living.  

"They're getting to see the world outside New Zealand, "she says.  "I think it's great to see that it's a privilege to have electricity 24/7.  And it's a privilege to have clean running water.  Those are good foundations to help us have a good attitude in life, to appreciate what we have."

Her students are certainly appreciating their new sewing capabilities.

"It's been cool to be able to build a relationship with these ladies and be able to offer a skill to them that they wouldn't otherwise be able to acquire," Ana says.

"Now they can go and earn, and help contribute to the family income and get out of poverty."

A slower pace of life means Ana and Daniel feel as if they've barely started to achieve CIC's goals.

"We've just got our feet on the ground and we're starting to run," Ana says. 

"And we're going to keep running."

Napier Courier
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
By John Ireland


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