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Tiny Miracles

We came across Amsterdam designer Pepe Heykoop during Dutch design week whose latest projects involves setting up workshops in one of Mumbai, India’s most underprivileged areas.

By Cassandra Pizzey / 15-11-2012

Heykoop points at the TV screen during our talk at Strijp T, part of Dutch Design Week. The video shows women creating lampshades, basket weaving, smiling and seemingly at peace. “This is part of the Tiny Miracles Foundation,” he explains.

Set up by his cousin Laurien Meuter, the Netherlands-based Tiny Miracles is a charitable organization that focusses on one particular area in Mumbai where some 1,000 people live in a tiny street-side slum. They call this stretch Hamara Chota Gram (our Tiny Village): the ‘City of Miracles’. The focus of the foundation is to alleviate this community from ‘very poor’ to ‘middle class’ within the next ten years.  By 2020 the City of Miracles will be self sustaining and be a home to strong middle-class citizens.

A tough call it seems, but instead of throwing a lot of money at the area, Heykoop is employing the locals and paying them a decent wage. In 2010, the organization was set up with the designer involved from the start. He employed the local mothers who had never worked in production before, to assemble his Leather Lampshades, “a project which is now running smoothly”.

The latest addition to Pepe Heykoop’s collection is the Bamboo Diamond, a lampshade made from hundreds of small bamboo sticks. A beautiful object in itself that diffuses the warm light and has a sense of craft about it.

“These products are made by dropouts, boys who have dropped out of school at a young age. These boys have never even learned to count properly yet they are creating these complex shapes made from 824 different-sized sticks.”

An impressive feat, getting these young adults into safe working places where they are given an education alongside a fair pay. “It’s no use paying them a salary comparable to ours, they simply wouldn’t need to come to work every day. However, we give them around four times the average wage in the area.”

Alongside the workshops, the ‘City of Miracles’ provides education, healthcare and a bit of fun in the form of dance classes and activities. “We aim to conquer our ambitions without showing hysterical imagery of slum living,” says Laurien Meuter in an interview with Glamour. The young entrepreneur set up the foundation after an accident left her in recovery for a short period. “During that time I began asking myself what I really wanted from life. I had done charity work in India before and decided it was time to take bigger action.”

Currently focussing on this particular area of Mumbai, close to the red light district, the charity first and foremost aims to help young girls get an education. By educating their parents, educating them, employing them where possible and offering them a better home life, Tiny Miracles hopes to keep these young girls away from danger. The charity is creating targets together with the Hamara Foundation to meet UNICEF standards.

Photography:  Annemarijne Bax

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