Nasreen Sheikh Spotlight
It’s not every day that I have an opportunity to interview someone who has been featured in Forbes and Cosmopolitan magazines.
When I heard this young woman speak at a local Toastmasters meeting, I walked right up to her afterwards and asked how I can help with her mission and vision.
Nasreen Sheikh’s petite, lithe frame, child-like enthusiasm and infectious giggle belie the great courage, vision and world-enhancing light that lies within. I’ve had the privilege of being in a live audience to hear some of the most renowned speakers of our time…Dr. Wayne Dyer, Neale Donald Walsh, Doreen Virtue and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few. None have captivated and inspired me more than Nasreen Sheikh.
Nasreen was born and raised near the India/Nepal border, in a small village of 2,000 people with no electricity or paved roads, where women are expected to marry by the age of 16 to 18. At 23, a woman is considered too old to marry – and to marry, raise a family and maintain the household is the only option a woman has. Nasreen watched her older sister get married to an abusive husband and subsequently lose her confidence and sense of self. Women are taught from a young age to keep their heads lowered, not make eye contact and always defer to men; thus is their “lot in life.”
Nasreen’s brother, living in the city, gave her hope. She reached out to him, and her brother agreed she could stay with him in Kathmandu, Nepal. Several weeks before moving she had a vivid dream about her surroundings in the city and when she arrived, experienced exactly what she had foreseen in the dream. Sheikh says, “If you vibrate at a high enough energy level, I believe you can see the future. I believe in magic; magic happens when you are in that state of higher consciousness.”
At the age of approximately 12, Nasreen learned different handicraft skills and for several years worked as a child laborer in a sweat shop producing clothing and accessories for large export companies. The workers averaged 10-14 hours at a stretch, for no more than $5 a day. Sometimes the paychecks came, and sometimes they didn’t. Sheikh once went a month and a half without being paid for her work.
Nasreen’s parents tried to arrange a marriage for her when she was in her late teens. Yet something in her heart told her to say, “no.” Her mother said, “That’s what I did, what my mother did, and now what you will do.” Sheikh managed to escape this forced marriage with the help of her teacher (a retired American man living in Nepal who responded to her ardent thirst for learning) and friends, an unprecedented event in her village. Nasreen was literally the first girl in the history of Rajura to break this cycle. Somehow, she found the courage and means to instead focus on educating and empowering first herself, then other women.
Sheikh opened a store called Local Women’s Handicrafts and then a training center for women in 2014. Her goal is to train 30 women each year. Their high quality, beautiful, hand-made creations such as rugs, scarves, necklaces, bracelets, back packs, hand clutches and wallets are made with eco-conscious materials and shipped in sustainable packaging. I have seen them and they are fantastic products! The “Surprise Parcel” donation includes one embroidered suede clutch, one beaded necklace, one friendship bracelet, one cotton scarf and one bonus surprise – for only $35 plus shipping! All items are hand-made by women being trained in the skill center. This will now be my favorite go-to gift for girlfriends and I trust many of my American friends will feel the same way.
Arriving in the United States for the first time was a shock for Sheikh. On her first air flight, she accidentally locked herself in the bathroom, not knowing how to open the door. Elevators were baffling, lights, sound and technology overwhelming. The first time she went to a store in a mall and saw the kind of items she had made as a child labeled “Made in India” – she saw the bigger picture, and realized how disconnected we are as an earthly community.
Nasreen has learned how to operate in a western city, with its technology, through experience, and says she has found people to be “very nice.” She also feels the deadened energy of a culture where people go from jobs they don’t like, to big box stores with the best sale, to buy items they don’t know the story behind.
I, for one, don’t want to purchase items made by a child in India or China working 12 hours a day who may or may not be paid. However, I would love to purchase these wonderful items made by a woman learning a skill to support herself and her family. We need to know the story behind what we purchase to cultivate a healthy and sustainable social, business, and environmental culture on our planet. Check the labels of the items you buy. Where were they made? Take the sweater or the decorative journal and ask the manager, “Who created this? What’s the story of this sweater? This journal?”
This is one little thing we can all do to help create a more just and balanced world…from where we are, right now, every day.
I thank Nasreen for reminding me…this is all it takes.
Perhaps the one thing this loving and compassionate warrior, leader and visionary fears is returning to her home village. She misses her family, and knows her mother is happy for her – deep in her heart. But her mother also often hears what a bad mother she is – with gender roles as clearly defined and deeply entrenched as they are in Rajura. Their perspectives and the worlds they experience are vastly different. It’s difficult to imagine what “going home” might be like for Nasreen.
Personally, I feel the whole world is her home, and I’m grateful to be her neighbor.
Please consider joining me in support of Nasreen Sheikh’s non-profit organization, LOCWOM (Local Organizations Comprised of Women Offering Mentorship). You can find out more and donate here: www.LOCWOM.com. (UPDATE 1/20/22: Please search for Nasreen Sheikh and/or Empowerment Collective for updated website information.)
Here are bios of some of the women LOCWOM has helped: http://www.lwhnepal.com/index/.
See the YouTube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQz1LE-NkaM.
Please pass this message along.
Authentically Yours, Laura