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Meet the Fearless Women pt3: Kalendi & Aarti

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Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Upon meeting her, I adored Kalendi. She is mischievous in a very endearing way, always has something to say (in her own dialect), and is the class clown. From the very first day, she was ready to get right into haircutting even though she’d never even held a water spray bottle or comb, let alone scissors in her hands. She was present everyday, and although the training with rollers, pin curls and finger waves weren’t quite her forte, an amazing shift occurred as soon as she held scissors in her hands – she was a haircutting diamond in the rough.

Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Aarti, who is Kalendi’s younger sister, is the exact opposite of Kalendi’s playful nature. She is serious and quiet, she barely admits to understanding any of my English, and she is a strict enforcer of my proper Hindi pronunciation. She’s the toughest nut for me to crack, but we definitely connected. Aarti was fully present everyday, some days she grasped the techniques with ease and some days she struggled, but she always persistently tackled the daily lessons. She has the hands of an artist and she graciously shared her gifts with me in her stunning mhendi designs on my hands.

On March 15, 2015, at 17 years of age, Kalendi moved away to get married. Something like freedom of choice and the ability to create the life we want for ourselves, things that many of us take for granted, are foreign concepts for most of our Fearless Women. We will likely never see her again. This is one of the realities that these young Indian women face.

Meet the Fearless Beauties: Sheela and Anju

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Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

By the end of the first week, Sheela began to stand out as not only a student who understands English, but as a person who has “the hands” for hair. With this combination and her gentle yet confident personality, Sheela eagerly stepped up to assist me with the translation and demonstration of techniques. She always shows up to class on time, works hard, and diligently masters the techniques. She is that student that every teacher loves to have in class.

Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Anju stands out in class as an absolute natural. She needs only to see and hear a technique done once, and she effortlessly picks it up. Even more beautiful for me to watch is her innately humble personality and innocent shyness. Although she excels at each technique that her hands attempt, she quietly, with rosy cheeks and a twinkle in her eye, accepts praise with sincere gratitude.

Anju’s family is supportive of her and sees her success in our program as something positive. They understand that by receiving an education and learning a trade, Anju will be able to contribute to the family.  This is surprisingly rare for a young woman in India in her caste. In many households, it’s not an option for a girl to receive any education be it in literacy or to learn a profession that has the ability to propel her into independence.

Meet the Fearless Women pt 1: Deepa

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As I entered the final month of teaching with the first Fearless Beauty class, I found myself reflecting questions and intentions that I’ve had along the way:  Who will the girls be? Will they be receptive to the teachings? Will they be open to me? How will we connect?  As one of my dearest friends said to me many years ago, Connection is the Cure.  All human beings desire and thrive on connection…

The girls speak very little English, and I speak almost no Hindi. Rather than allowing language to be an obstacle, I used it as a way to connect, peel away the masks, melt the barriers, and earn their acceptance and trust. During our first day of class I used a few Hindi phrases that I diligently practiced leading up to that morning, and it worked! I immediately found myself in a circle with the girls giggling. It was on that day as well that I showed the girls I was not afraid of doing something imperfectly, that in our space it’s ok to laugh, and that they had things to teach me too.

Throughout the next few posts, we will introduce you to these Fearless Women, so that you too can make that deeper connection and learn more about the work and lives that you are helping to transform through your support.


Photography courtesy of Solana Prema Torres

Although I was told that the girls didn’t speak English, one very brave girl, Deepa, stood up and smiled shyly as she did her very best to introduce herself to us in English. During that first week and throughout our first month together, I learned that Deepa does understand and speak English, and I often turned to her for help with translation.  Within a few days, Deepa was given the name “Drama Queen” by one of the other girls and as time went on, we all learned just how fitting the name is. She is never on time, and her entrance to class is something of a production: we regularly get a kick out of Deepa as she runs into class 20 minutes late, out of breath and panting, causing a big scene with all wondrous excuses. All drama aside, she is a great student. She shows up everyday, works hard, takes direction and correction with grace, and she is dedicated to grasping the techniques.

We’re delighted to introduce you to these Fearless Women. Stay tuned for more from Rishikesh.

Tim on his Fearless Journey

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There have been times in my career where I have questioned what I am doing and the depth of my accomplishments.  It has been a struggle at times to justify my contributions the world and to society.  I understand why a person would look at what I am doing and view it as shallow or materialistic; it is, of course, completely on the surface.  I understand any knock against it, but I have come to be grateful for being able to make a living doing something I love and in turn making others feel confident and comfortable with themselves.  This, after all, is something all humans in every existence can relate to.

The desire to serve and help others is a trait I would like to believe all people have within themselves, some more deeply buried than others.  This was my reasoning for getting into teaching in the first place, to share what I have in the hope that it will help someone else; to plant a seed and watch it grow.  Heather approached me with her idea to take our trade and share it with less fortunate; a group of young women who may not otherwise have an opportunity at higher education.  To give them a skill set they can use and hopefully empower them towards a better quality of life.

I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved on any level and fortunately for me that meant being heavily involved.  I went into it without really asking many questions rather jumping headfirst and figuring everything out as things moved forward.  I had never been to India and admittedly knew very little about the culture but the experience was more than I could have possibly imagined.  My goal going to Rishikesh was to give the students the tools necessary for a self sustaining career in cosmetology but the closer I became with the women it became clear empowerment was also about building confidence and having courage.  It wasn’t until I was leaving that I realized it was me who had learned an incredible amount from the young women at the vocational center.

Heather’s First Fearless Beauty Thoughts from India

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Traveling to school on the first day of class was a little different than I had expected, and that is one of the most beautiful things about India, things usually don’t go as you planned them to go. Mother India is such a great teacher, and this land and it’s people give you the opportunity time and again to let go of expectation, step into the flow of grace and be open to what is rather than how you want it to be.

My plan had been to spend several nights leading up to the first day of class sleeping at the Jaipur Inn in town, which is a brisk 20 minute walk across the foot bridge (crossing the sacred Ganges River), past motorcycles, begging sadhus, cows, cow poo, dogs, lots of people, up two steep flights of stairs, to a line of auto-rickshaws, to negotiate firmly with the drivers for a fair price to take me about 10 minutes into downtown Rishikesh and to school. That isn’t how it went though. Instead I spent a few more nights at a retreat center. The retreat center is about a 40 minute drive further up the Ganges River into the foothills of the Himalayas, nestled in between sacred mountain peaks, situated along a peaceful gurgling river. The center is a mountain paradise with exotic birds, lush forests, and peaceful surroundings. The first day of class, I awoke to begin my meditation practice in my room with a view overlooking the lush mountain forest blanketed in fog before departing for school in the taxi that was waiting for me in the driveway. The journey to school that day was just under an hour.

It’s interesting how our minds create stories for us of how things should be or how we want them to be. After hearing my description of both scenarios, which would you choose? Looking back and reading my description now, the mountain retreat center sounds and is absolutely stunning and awesome, but that day I was attached to the idea and experience that I had been planning on having of staying in town at the Jaipur Inn. I was so caught up in my head on the ride to school that I almost allowed the stories to take over the fact that it was finally the first day of school, the day that we all had been preparing for, and I didn’t. I saw what was going on and changed it. Instead I began to focus on what was about to happen. The girls and I were about to meet for the first time and Fearless Beauty was really beginning.

The taxi dropped me off on the corner of a bustling street in downtown Rishikesh, and I began my half-mile walk to the vocational center. The sun was rising up over the mountains and the Ganges River, and the quiet side street was full of school children. Thoughts and feelings began to arise as I went over again how I would greet the girls. What was that feeling in my belly, in my heart, in my throat? My old way of thinking would have labeled those physical feelings as nervousness, anxiety, or fear, and that would have probably been debilitating, blocking me from showing up as my “best” self for the girls. Not today though. In that moment, I realized that it was time to use all of the years of practice and study with my teacher to shift. It’s all a matter of perspective, and it was time to change that perspective. These were feelings of excitement and joy. I was about to meet these girls and share something wonderful with them! In that moment my eyes brimmed with tears as I was overcome with gratitude for this very special opportunity to serve knowing also that so many people were there putting their energy, intention, and support towards our project.

As I walked up the stairs to our classroom, I was greeted by Prerna, one of the teachers at the vocational center and now a part of our Fearless Beauty team. As we hugged, she said, “Wow, you’re early, Heather!?”. (Time is a little different here in India, and that is something I will share more about later.) More teachers arrived to share their support and to be a part of our new community. One by one the students arrived, sweetly, shyly, humbly, but all returning my smiles. As the girls arrived, I asked them to form a circle of chairs with me. The circle is an important part of our message and vision of support, empowerment, equality, and sharing.

I knew that learning their names would be a challenge for me so that’s where we began. As each girl stood to introduce herself, I repeated her name a couple of times. On to the next and each time, I repeated all the names before. Learning their names was our first way of connecting and moving through the language barrier. Most of the girls do not speak English or so I thought. Once each of the girls introduced herself, it was time to explain what we were about to do, why we are doing it, and what Fearless Beauty is. As I spoke about empowering women through haircutting and the beauty business, using our hands to heal and using beauty as a tool to go much deeper, I could see their eyes sparkling and soft smiles emerging. I knew that they were beginning to understand. Years of study and practice began to channel through me as I shared with them not only the “hair stuff”, but what it is to awaken as an empowered woman and how with awareness we can use the craft of hairdressing to not only awaken this in ourselves but also to be able to give that gift to others. And so the journey begins with Lakshmi, Aarti, Kalendi, Sheela, Anju, Deepa, Sonam, Rhayka, and Kavita, our first Fearless Beauty class.