Wives of African diplomats thank India

Bilateral bridges are often strengthened with acts of selfless giving and paying back to express gratitude. This is what wives of African heads of missions here are doing: starting charity projects for the poor, women and underprivileged children to thank India for helping in the continent’s economic growth.

The low-key projects are currently confined to the capital from where the Association of Spouses of African Heads of Mission (ASAHOM) operates.

One such initiative is the African Gala, an annual African cultural exposition to raise funds for charity.

The 8th edition of the African Gala 2012 Saturday at Hotel Ashok drew representatives from 20 African missions and Indian partners in Africa and was presided over by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

“African women are very hardworking. They carry the burden of civilisation. The continent is slowly opening up,” Dikshit told IANS at the gala. 

“I’m happy to see so many women who have stepped out and are working in responsible positions including as ambassadors. It is a wonderful continent with remarkable people,” she said.

Dikshit recalled her with meeting Africa’s first woman Nobel laureate Wangari Muta Maathai, an environmentalist and democracy activist and founder of the Green Belt movement, before she won the prize in 2004.

“Maathai was one of the most inspiring story one has ever heard,” she said.

The gala brought glimpses of several soft diplomatic initiatives between the two countries.

One of the attractions was an African fashion show featuring women from Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Gabon, Mali and Uganda and presented by New Delhi-based International Institute of Fashion Technology.

Full HD Collection and Fusion Collection – drawn from colours and fabrics of Africa – was a hit with the women at the gala.

Also on offer were contemporary African dances and a feast of traditional dishes from the continent such up country cassava, Angolan beans, fried chicken, fish cooked in palm oil, peanut butter rice and mutton.

The stars of the gala were more than 100 women from the missions wearing fusion attires — silk ensembles created along traditional African lines of flowing skirts and dresses with matching ornamental head wraps.

The nearly five-hour gala was planned by the ASAHOM members with the help of Hotel Ashok, African embassies and Indian business partners of Africa, including FICCI and the Indian government’s department of science and technology, an ASAHOM spokesperson said.

ASAHOM has members from 40 African countries out of the 54, making it an important multi-cultural body, said its president Marie-Louise Balumene. “The association has embraced the husbands as well,” she said.

“ASAHOM was born in 2003 in India and has expanded. We thought that instead of sitting together and having cups of coffee, as mothers we should give back to the host country. The association extended its mandate from a social entity to giving back,” the associaiton’s chairperson Leonia Nkuruh, wife of the Rawandan high commissioner, told IANS.

“Last year, we were involved in eight charities for women and children in slums around the capital,” she said.

“One of projects that touched my heart was gifting a wheelchair to an old woman who had no arms and legs, in New Delhi. She had to be lifted by her family. The wheelchair was automatic and now she can move on her own. We often visit her,” she added.

ASAHOM’s other projects include adoption of a school for the underpriviledged in the capital, helping women and children aged between one and 25 and organisisng three charities events during Diwali, Eid and Christmas which the woman fund from their kitties, she said.

“The annual Africa Gala is one of our most important charity events,” she said.

The woman have also form a support network helping each other find their way around the capital — and “occasionally going out for heritage trips to places like the museum”.

Social entrepreneur Munish Gupta, who is leading education and infrastructure projects in Africa, told IANS: “The association wanted to do something more for India than just sitting over coffee when they realised that India and Africa have so much in common.”

He said the fund for the ASAHOM charity was generated by three categories of supporters — “the annual supporters or sponsors who help the group all year long, publisher of the association’s magazine and quick personal fundraising for small charities from friends of Africa”.

The members pay an annual subscription and the gala and the association sell tables to embassies at the gala, he said.