Activist who empowers woman in India to visit Vail Valley |

Activist who empowers woman in India to visit Vail Valley

Susan Kiely
Community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyOne of the women who has taken Women With A Cause's sewing classes in India. The group plans to visit Vail, Colorado this summer

After serving as the chaplain of 800 senior citizens who live in government housing in downtown Denver, Susan Kiely decided to take a sabbatical. Serving seniors was a full-time volunteer job, which was full of challenges and rewards.

As she assessed the last six years she knew that she was ready for a change. In December of 2005 she decided to join her husband on a business venture to New York. The next day she received an invitation to attend the World Vision AIDS Breakfast, which was being held at one of her favorite brunch spots, The Tavern on the Green.

As she sat and listened to the plight of women living in the Third World, her heart broke. In Africa and Asia women have little education and many of die in their 20s.

In Africa the women contract AIDS from their husbands or rapists. In Asia young girls are sold to brothels and many are used for sexual services before puberty. In India many women resort to prostitution as a way of supporting their families. More than 250,000 people in India, called the Dalits (also known as Untouchables) are prevented from making a decent living because of the Hindu caste system. The practice of “untouchability” has been outlawed in democratic India. Yet because 93 percent of Indians practice the Hindu religion most abide by the caste system.

Susan has always been a clotheshorse. She managed an after-five showroom at the Dallas Apparel Mart and has taken courses in design. Armed with these skills and a “can do” spirit, she decided to pursue teaching these women a trade, as well as, design and manufacture smart clothing for American and European women.

In January of 2006 she met Joseph D’Souza. While sitting in his office in Hyderabad, India, she told him of her plan and the need for a partner in this venture. D’Souza listened yet told her that he was not interested since many people have come to India and have exploited the people with their “get rich quick” schemes. After producing a business plan and the proof that she was able to fund her project sufficiently, Dr. D’Souza was convinced.

Upon returning home, Kiely proceeded to seek out a pattern maker. Much to her surprise, she learned that Colorado State University has a world-renown pattern making and design department. After interviewing a few graduates she hired Karie Koplar, a woman with a masters degree from Colorado State and years of pattern-making experience.

In March Karie and Susan took an exploratory trip to India. One day they found themselves three hours from the nearest town in the company of two gentlemen who had agreed to show them a facility where silk is dyed and printed. At midnight they finalized buying rolls of silk for the venture.

Susan then went to work recruiting American women with sewing skills and in October the first group of teachers arrived in Hyderabad to work one-on-one with Indian women. On the first day of class the Indian ladies shuffled in with eyes cast down. None of them had ever spent time with an American woman. But as the sewing teachers smiled and talked through interpreters, the student became more relaxed.

By Wednesday the students eagerly hurried to class with smiles on their faces. On Friday afternoon a formal graduation ceremony was held complete with diplomas. On the final day of the week, the students and their teachers gathered in the courtyard for the last bonding experience, a foot washing.

The American teachers tenderly bathed the feet of their students. Each student then had her feet massaged with fragrant oils. The time had now arrived for each Indian woman to return to her village or city.

A few of the India women, who lived in the city of Hyderabad, decided to return to the workroom to be employed as seamstresses who would produce jackets for Susan’s company, Women With A Cause.

Back in Denver, Susan anxiously awaited the first delivery of jackets. The first shipment brought tears and smiles. Knowing that the Indian women were now well employed, Susan and her friends were even more dedicated to teach more women.

Several days later Susan received a phone call from a friend who offered her the use of her basement as an office and storeroom.

When Women With A Cause was started the U.S. economy was booming and the original sales plan included home parties. With determination to keep the Indian women at work, as well as, to continue to teach new groups of students, Kiely has regrouped and will travel to resort areas and present programs at country clubs and women’s groups.

Nonprofits, that hold a clothing party have the opportunity to earn money for their group. Twenty-five percent of the money made at a clothing party will be given to the presenting organization.

Susan Kiely is currently recruiting and training seamstresses to go to India next October. Women who are interested in teaching may contact her by calling Amanda at 3093-675-0405. “Women With A Cause” will be presenting a show in the Vail Valley this August. Please watch for an announcement in the Vail Daily. You can learn more at:

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