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     Volume 5 Issue 123 | December 8, 2006 |

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A Golden Evening for Charity

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

How can an extravagant event, complete with an elaborate dinner, music and dancing, contribute to the betterment of society, one may ask. But that was, essentially, what the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Women’s Association Gala Night, held last Thursday at the Radisson Water Garden Hotel, was about.

SAARC Women’s Association celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The gala charity event, with a red, black and white theme (including the dress code of the guests), consisted of a spectacular fashion show featuring fashion designer of AnDes, Aneela Haque’s creations, the traditional candle-lighting ceremony, a raffle draw and a musical soiree by Habib. Also at the event, 48-year-old Femina magazine launched its first Bangladesh issue, wrapped in AnDes’ small, block-printed bags for the guests to take home.

The night started with the glamour of Aneela Haque’s “Fusion Fever”. The catwalk came ablaze with flaming red, black and white saris, skirts and shararas, blouses and kurtas, flared trousers and panjabis. Much of the crepe silk and khadi had Aneela’s signature calligraphy in block print. Beads, sequins and antique jewellery added to the magnificence of swishy muslin and traditional jamdanis. One of the most glamorous on stage was possibly Aneela Haque herself at the end of the show, flanked by three child models, flaunting their own shalwar kameezes, tops and jeans.

The fashion show was followed by a candle-lighting ceremony, in which representatives from the seven SAARC nations, including ambassadors, high commissioners, and, in some cases, their wives, all lit candles as a symbol of peace and harmony.

Short speeches by the president of the association, Reyhana Ashraf as well as representatives of two of the sponsor companies -- Rubaba Dowla, marketing head of Grameen Phone and Alok Goyal of Femina, BBC Worldwide and Times Group, followed. Ghazala Hamid, fundraising chairperson of SAARC Women’s Association, gave the vote of thanks.

A sumptuous dinner with scrumptious desserts was followed by a raffle draw in which were won dinner coupons, beauty packages, saris, perfume sets and, for the luckiest, airline tickets to Bhutan, Thailand and Abu Dhabi. One lucky man actually won both a beauty package and a sari!

The highlight of the event, however, was the causes for which it was held. Half the proceeds will go to Dhaka Shishu Hospital where the association provides free treatment to women and children, sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank. The other half will go to the Islamia Eye Hospital for cataract operations on underprivileged women and children.

“Any extra funds,” says fundraising chairperson Ghazala Hamid, “are used throughout the year for different purposes, such as, providing warm clothing for street children. Last year, for example, after the floods, we contributed to the rehabilitation of jamdani weavers.” The homes of 10 “female-headed” families in the jamdani weavers’ community in Nayapara were rebuilt, new looms installed, toilets set up and a tube well installed.

“Over the years,” says Reyhana Ashraf, president, SAARC Women’s Association, “our organisation has donated Tk. 5 lakh to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation, funded 10 reconstructive surgeries for poor patients with cleft lip and palate deformities, the setting up of the Children’s Library at the Kochi Kachar Mela, made donations to the earthquake victims in Pakistan and tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.”

Relief was also provided during the floods in Dhaka; medicine and educational material donated to the Dustha Nari O Shishu Kalyan Sangstha, a free school for street children; 3,300 patients treated free of cost at Dhaka Shishu Hospital and 150 children operated on to reduce avoidable blindness at the Islamia Eye Hospital.

Three visually impaired children came to the limelight in the last segment of the event while singing the popular “Mamunia” with a dazzling Ferdous Wahid. One of the girls, Mahmuda Khatun, an SSC candidate, rendered a heart-wrenching recitation of the poem “Disabled” by disabled Jamaican poet John Young, voicing very simply, that more unfortunate than those who are short of hearing, seeing, etc., are those who are short of feeling and disabled of the heart.

The night ended with Habib’s music, a lot of it his favourite, Loko Giti, with numbers such as “Keno piriti baraila re bondhu”, “Ekela ghore roite parina”, “Ashi bole gelo bondhu” and the very popular “Kemone bolibo ami”. SAARC was founded in 1985 with the goal of improving the lives of South Asian men and women. Eleven years later,

SAARC Women’s Association was established with the specific objective of bettering the lives of women and children in the region. Since then, the organisation has come a long way, and has an even longer way to go. The initiatives taken by the organisation, as well as charity events such as this, are made possible not only by big corporate businesses but also through the generous contributions of individuals whose kindness can literally light up the lives of so many around us.



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