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INDIA: Talking About the Red Elephant in the Room

Kirthi
Posted July 20, 2016 from India

How an idea in the middle of the night became a passion, an organization, and a force for good in the world.


Many laughed at me. Still more thought I was crazy.

In December 2012, I was about to turn 25. I was getting involved in international organizations like the UN Online Volunteering Service, Peace x Peace, and E-International Relations. I went to sleep each night thinking about this one question: What if I could bring all the voices of these amazing people I was interacting with onto one platform to inspire people to act?

The day after my birthday, a young girl was gang raped on board a bus in a horrific incident that became international news. A chance encounter with a trigger brought all my repressed memories back, and I finally came to terms with a truth I had dissociated with: I had survived abuse as a child.

In the days following my birthday, I accepted the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award and talked about my experience as a volunteer in Nigeria at the first United Nations Volunteers Partnership Forum.I went to the US Consulate at Chennai to receive the US Presidential Services Medal awarded by President Barack Obama.

I began to realize the power in telling my story. To empathize, we must know. To know, we must talk. To talk, we must build faith. To build faith, we must be open, and must listen.

As I stood on stage accepting the US Presidential Services Medal, I knew I wanted to use my voice in a way that would be heard. People would know that my voice counts too. And it wouldn't just be my voice, but the voices of all those who were otherwise unheard.

That night, the Red Elephant Foundation was born.

I chose red because, well, who doesn’t remember something red waving in their faces? We were going to be engaged in telling stories to spark conversations that we simply must be having. The idea was to address the red elephant in the room.

When you start an initiative, especially in the dead of the night, your mind fills itself with ideas. And since you are the only staff member of the newly founded initiative, you give yourself orders to implement these ideas. Over the next few months, the president doubled up as the plumber, the CEO donned the cape of a carpenter, and the executive member became the electrician.

The nuts and bolts of creating an organization were not easy, but my education as a lawyer helped me. For a year or so, the organization ran without anything beyond an online platform. I interviewed survivors and changemakers and told their stories. Then, trusted friends and former co-workers got on board to head different divisions, and my core team soon grew into one of the most inspiring teams I will ever work with. We focused our key goals around gender equality and civilian peacebuilding.

We told stories of women, men, and transgender people who overcame odds and braved through difficult situations. We then built visually driven online campaigns rooted in gender equality and peacebuilding through dialogue.

We discovered that we had a sustainable readership. But what if the buck stopped there? We wanted the conversation to go on, so we kick started dialogue programs and workshops online and offline to broaden our community.

We began hosting workshops with communities at all levels and ages to encourage critical thinking. We partnered with schools across the world, and built our own community platform for peace and gender-based curriculum called ChalkPeace.

Now we are getting ready to kickstart our revenue model. Soon we will be raising funds through our workshops. Until then, my team and I are working on a purely voluntary basis, and effecting change through the power of a great investment: time and effort. Even if it is not profit-generating business, it is certainly impactful.

Getting here wasn’t easy. I had hate mail. I had people calling me names for being a feminist. I was labelled a freak. I was threatened on social media. Many laughed at me. Still more thought I was crazy. But what’s important, is that I stood for what I aimed to achieve, and I kept going with it. Many global organizations and individuals have supported me along the way and helped me sharpen my skills.

Since I started the Red Elephant Foundation, I have learned more about elephants. They show signs of emotions like grief and joy. And groups of females band together to protect their young. I’d unwittingly named my initiative after a symbol of matriarchy—a symbol of a world quite the opposite of ours, where females are revered, and given the respect they deserve.

I have a sense of euphoria knowing I am carrying forward this vision. Standing up in rooms filled with men and boys to train them on gender equality creates a feeling that words are not enough to describe.

Still, there is so much more work to do. There are many elephants in the room to address.

 

Comments 15

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Ashleigh Lauren
Jul 21, 2016
Jul 21, 2016

Kirthi,

Such a beautifully written and impactful narrative. Thank you for sharing the story of how you started the Red Elephant Foundation. I'm excited to hear more from you and your organization as you make communities better, safer places for everyone.

Thank you,

Ashleigh 

Kirthi
Jul 21, 2016
Jul 21, 2016

Thanks so much, Ashleigh! This means a lot to me <3 *hugs*

Adahmbah
Jul 21, 2016
Jul 21, 2016

Wahoo Kirthi,

Your words are so strong and i feel the wing of change blowing to your direction.I feel my struggles and dreams in your story.I can remember i was one of those you mentored and encouraged in Peace x peace.You gave me the bases to start up a movement which i am empowering thousands of women and young people.I have never had the opportunity to tell you thank you.And i wish to to tell you thank you for all the resources and online training you gave me despite my location and country.I wish to encourage you to keep changing lives.Thanks for sharing.

Adah Mbah

Founder/CEO

Mother of Hope Cameroon-Mohcam

https://www.facebook.com/motherofhopecameroon/

Kirthi
Jul 21, 2016
Jul 21, 2016

Adah!! THANK YOU DEAR SISTER! I am so moved to see you here, and I am so eager to read your work. You are very important to me, and not a day goes by without you being in my thoughts. <3 <3 <3 <3

Nicole Joseph-Chin
Jul 22, 2016
Jul 22, 2016

Lovely story Kirthi. Thank you for your inspiring work. 

Adahmbah
Jul 22, 2016
Jul 22, 2016

OOh Sister Kirthi,

I can imagine.You can check on my profile to know more about me.Even though i haven't written much.But it can speak for me.

I am so grateful and also happy to find you back.

Thanks to world pulse we are reconnecting again.

Adah

Paul Frank
Jul 23, 2016
Jul 23, 2016

It is not an accident that Mountain, Mover, and Mother all start with 'Mo',

Nor that Women, Word, and World entrench the tradition.

Your Actions Accomplished Acclaim,

But more importantly Transformed Troubles into Trust.

'Tis Kismet Kind Kirthi

Ahdi Hassan
Jul 23, 2016
Jul 23, 2016

I am highly appreciated your story... Make this the moment you begin making choices that lead, ultimately, to your highest potential.

Olutosin
Jul 23, 2016
Jul 23, 2016

Great work you are doing!

Thank you for listening to you and for following your dream

Kirthi
Jul 24, 2016
Jul 24, 2016

Thank you all, for your lovely, lovely words! Sending you all lots of love and good thoughts <3 <3 Each of your encouragement matters a lot to me, and makes me want to strive harder and harder to be better! Thank you, a million times!

Rupande Mehta
Jul 24, 2016
Jul 24, 2016

What an awesome piece. So nice to hear how Red Elephant got started. You're an amazing woman and will achieve great things with your awesome organization. 

Jasmine Linabary
Jul 25, 2016
Jul 25, 2016

Kirthi,

Thank you for sharing your story! I was excited to learn about your organization. I was especially interested in your focus on peacebuilding and storytelling and immediately wanted to know more. 

I am sorry to hear you have encountered hate and pushback online and offline. Please know that your efforts and energy are inspiring. The work you are doing is important and I wish you the very best of luck with it moving forward.

Warmest regards,

Jasmine

Michele Paynter
Jul 28, 2016
Jul 28, 2016

 Kirthi,

I applaud your tireless efforts and dreams in establishing your program, RED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION. Your testimonial was heartfelt, compassionate and quite visionary.

Kirthi, my hope is that your organization continues to empower women, both nationally and internationally. Thank you so very much for sharing your dream organization!

In Sisterhood & Peace,

Imanigurl01

 

Smeeta Hirani
Jul 28, 2016
Jul 28, 2016

Goooooo Kirthi!!!! Loved your story! And yes, who does NOT remember RED waving at our faces? The incident you mentioned Dec 2012 changed my life in a massive way too. I found myself here, at World Pulse, largely because of it. You have managed to reignite that.

Rooting for you ALLLLL the way!!

Smeeta

Kirthi
Jul 29, 2016
Jul 29, 2016

Thank you all my lovely, lovely, lovely sisters! You each inspire me, and move me beyond words with all the amazing work you each do. *hugs* and LOTS of love!!