A Reason to Celebrate!

September 27, 2023: The ask came pretty late. Could we support the City of Alexandria’s Recovery celebration? Led by the city’s Opioid Treatment Program team, this event celebrates those in addiction recovery. In years past we offered a creative writing seminar, and this year was a little different. They had already purchased canvas frames and markers – could a Heard artist lead this event? Was our Heard visual artist, Sharmila Karamchandani, even available?

Yes, she was. Phew. The hard part was over. And we weren’t really sure what Sharmila was walking in to. It was a new venue, with other activities happening simultaneously. Would anyone even stop by?

And of course they did, and Sharmila made that happen. She wrote: “At first, the visitors were apprehensive to draw or paint anything. We had different size canvases, paint markers, regular markers, and different colored papers. Most of them started by saying they couldn’t draw or paint. or they would say “I am really bad at art.” I then invited them to give it a chance, come sit with me and color and just feel how the pens felt against the canvas, I offered to write their names in an abstract way or Realistic (their choice) and then they could just fill in the colors or make designs of their choice. Also, they could quiz people to find all the letters in their names.

Art revealed its Magic. They were amused by this. Slowly, people started giving it a chance and very soon a one-hour session turned into 3 hours with a table full of visitors engrossed in coloring and feeling happy with working on their pieces. In the end, most of them who gave this a chance left with personalized canvases and big smiles A lot of them said how therapeutic this time felt when they were coloring. Two of them said it felt more enjoyable than their other therapy. Feel blessed to be able to do such meaningful work in the community. I truly had a great time.”

What Mask do you Wear?

We all wear masks. We wear masks that reflect who we want to be to the outside world, and we wear masks that we wear only to ourselves. Our amazing art teacher Sharmila led the women of ALIVE! House through this project last night, with such power results! They each shared what their masks represented and gave us permission to share their masks – some of them – with you!

Helloooooo India!

Sometimes opportunities present themselves that are just too good to resist. And sometimes good people come together in strange and beautiful ways. That happened on January 22, 2021, when we partnered with 7 Sisters International, a nonprofit in Assam, India, that provides care for trafficked girls in South Asia, for a one-time arts project. How did this happen? Their founder was a friend and peer of our founder when they both served in the United States Air Force. Our India-born Sharmila Karamchandani was thrilled to teach a class in her native Hindi, despite the 12 1/2 hour time difference. She tells the story so well, which we lifted and edited from her Facebook post. Video and photos follow. And I love this video of Sharmila teaching this class in Hindi.


Last Friday, I had the opportunity to facilitate a visual art workshop through Heard for 7 Sisters International. [I]t was Saturday morning for them and Friday night for me. I felt fortunate to facilitate this workshop in my home country and in my national language Hindi. There were around 20 girls who attended the workshop. We made puppets. Each one made two puppets, One of themselves and the second one of the person who had positively influenced them the most.
They all sat on the floor with very little space in-between. After demonstrating what they were asked to make, soon innocent giggles warmed up my heart to see them all engrossed in cutting, thinking, making their puppets. They shared their supplies and also exchanged silly talks amongst each other…I wish I was there in person to bask in all the joy and happiness they emitted through the rectangular boxes on my screen. We created our puppets for an hour while listening to Bollywood dance songs.
Then came the time to share…which happens to be my favorite part of these workshops as there is so much wisdom imparted by these young souls. They each came on camera and shared their puppets one by one…some were bold and chatty, some shy and pensive, some apprehensive to come on camera…but they all shared and their counselor was happily surprised to see some of the quiet ones talk and share. I was so enamored by their innocence, silly child-like qualities, and creativity, and one yet a part of my heart was deeply saddened by the thought of what these girls must have endured in their young lives.
I was so impressed by their creativity, craftsmanship, and sharing. There made some unique puppets–a puppet of 7 sisters international building as this girl expressed was the best thing that happened to her; a puppet was made of “inspiring quotes” as that influenced this person the most; puppets of founders Janice and Donald and one of their Counselor Anna…Some made puppets of their sisters and other girls in the room, one created a puppet of God, one puppet was of a tik-tok (Social media platform) celebrity. One unique puppet was of a pigeon according to this girl was her guardian angel always flying above her to protect her.
They shared three things about themselves through their puppets…the atmosphere was light as they were being silly and goofy just like how children should be…a few said they love to read, to cook, one said she loves to sleep and quarrel, a lot of them liked to go out and see new places, to sing, to dance, eat chocolates and talk to their friends, counselors, and family members. I am grateful for organizations like 7 Sisters International that provide a safe space for girls who have been through such a rough childhood. Grateful to
Heard for this partnership and grateful to Jane Hess Collins for bringing me this opportunity to work in my home country. My heart is filled with gratitude and blessings for the girls whom I wish a lot of healing and a great life ahead.
Last but not least, I made a puppet too of my mom Anjana Khushalani who always inspires me to see the best in every situation, think positive, have faith in good karma, to never stop learning, and be kind to everyone ?

Who is your Puppet Avatar?

Happy new year everyone! Heard held its last class of 2020 at Friends of Guest House yesterday. Sharmila asked the women to create two puppets – one of the person who has had the most positive influence on you, and one of yourself. If you shared what you created, you were asked to share three interesting facts about you through your puppet.

Meet Crystal. She loves to work with hair, to sew, and to read. The puppet on the right is her mom. She always encouraged Crystal to think about people who had it worse than her and then she would always feel how blessed she truly was.

The puppet in Meet Tonya. Don’t you love her pink hair? To the right of Tonya’s puppet of herself is an unnamed family member who always stood by her and never gave up on her. This family member may have been a bit disappointed with her when she got in trouble but never stopped loving her.

This last puppet is of Sharmila’s brother who she credits as her role model and hero, and who introduced her to reading, music and strong values. Sharmila said that he has been extremely supportive of her in every step of her life, and she would not be the same [amazing] person if she did not have him in her life.

As you start 2021, who is your puppet avatar?