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Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Red Elephant Foundation

The Red Elephant Foundation is an initiative built on the foundations of story-telling, civilian peacebuilding and activism for women and girls.

Founder: Kirthi Jayakumar



What’s your background? Where did the idea come from?

I (Kirthi Jayakumar) had begun an ambitious project last December. Through many different platforms, I had the opportunity to interact and learn from some of the world’s most amazing women. Everything I imbibed made a huge difference to me and my life. What if I could bring all these women onto one platform, and take them to the world’s women and girls, so they could be inspired as I was? I started writing my second book – interviewing these amazing women and documenting their stories.

Last December, I remember thinking to myself one night that I wanted to use my voice in a way that it would be heard, in a way that people would know that my voice would count, too.

I was already doing that – screaming through my own blog and whining occasionally on the kind and bountiful space that another would offer me every now and then. I had friends who shared a similar passion – and needed a little space to get out there. So I decided that I’d tie in my second book with an organisation that would be the voice of girls and women everywhere.

Kirthi Jayakumar, Founder 
From the moment when you decided to start working on your idea – you finished setting up your platform.

When I started the Red Elephant Foundation, I found myself wondering why I chose the name that I did. I’m not sure how it came to be – it just happened. I remember my memory was once likened to that of an elephant. So I decided I’d use an elephant as a reference point for the initiative since we were going to be engaged in telling stories that the world should do well to remember. I chose red – because, well, who doesn’t remember something red waving in their faces?

But that was only the initial thought. With time, I realised that there was a deeper significance to the elephantine connotation – one that life’s amazing ways found a way to make happen. And that made me realise that we have a place in the universe. This amazing web-resource put it in neat words that I quote below:

“Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd. The herd is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd.”
“Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. They also display signs of grief, joy, anger and play.”

Unwittingly, I’d named my initiative after a symbol of matriarchy – a symbol of a world quite the opposite of ours, where the females are given the respect they deserve.

So there you go. That’s why it is the Red Elephant.

Initial phase of your foundation development.

Since I wanted it to be a storytelling initiative, I wanted it to be on a platform that anyone and everyone could access without any difficulty. I decided to keep it as an online channel that would allow people to access these articles, read, and then share them easily. The process of development then took on the role of active recruitment – so I went to trusted friends to form the core team, and expanded that through what I know to be a team of the greatest volunteers ever.

We work from the premise that storytelling inherently starts the process of peace. When the storyteller speaks, he unloads a burden, a difficult load and trauma. When the listener receives the story, they deconstruct stereotypes, judgmental proclivities and even fear. Mutual fear, distrust and ignorance keeps people away from one another – as they each form opinions built on their own assumptions that can erode their conduct with one another. Within a short span of time, a room full of strangers can become a room full of familiar and congenial people as the sharing of stories creates a camaraderie that culminates in an exchange of peace.

What has been the hardest part so far?

We don’t believe in considering anything as too hard to deal with – that said, nothing can be the hardest then!

What are you up to now, and what are the big things you’re working on?

As a spin off from the storytelling component, we have a subsidiary wing called the Travelling School of Peace (TSoP). An initiative built with the main aim of achieving peace, the TSoP seeks to build peace through story telling. Through workshops on storytelling, diversity and inter-faith tolerance, and celebration of differences, the TSoP meets with people of all kinds, guiding them towards telling their stories, cultivating empathy and evolving peaceful ways of coexistence. We are an inherently interdependent world – but we continue, as human beings, to perceive each other with deep-rooted prejudices, all of which we transform into beliefs, and then pass them onto the succeeding generations in the form of assumptions, hatred, discriminatory ideas and stereotypes.

We also have the Building Peace Project between India and Pakistan that is currently in the stage of accepting applicants from the two countries!

Any advice you would like to give to our readers?

Just take the plunge. It is rewarding, trust me.

Website: 
redelephantfoundation.org

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