After an enviable medical and corporate career, Dr Rajeshree Nimish Parekh has dedicated her life to empowering women. Her method of choice: empowering women through the intricacies of beading and braiding.
Bracelet-making involves a rhythm. “Left, right, in, out, again and again,” says Dr Parekh, affectionately known as Gina by her colleagues, who has found the looping of strings into knots to be a “soothing influence”. Since turning this hobby into a charitable enterprise, she has introduced other women to its joys—and its empowering effects.
As part of her PoPstrings Project, residents at the Star Shelter bond through learning to make bracelets. PoP stand for “Power of Positivity”. For these survivors of domestic violence, braiding and beading are a means of earning supplementary income when the finished products are eventually sold.
Before turning her hands to beads and threads, Dr Parekh had applied her dexterity to surgery.
In India, where she was born, Dr Parekh was the chief operating officer and medical director at UnitedHealthcare India. She was also consulting and working for various companies from her time in India to Singapore. The corporate world, though, left her with the nagging feeling that “there was something missing in my life”.
She took a break from work and started braiding as a hobby. Along the way, she would gift family and friends her creations.
Her bracelet-making hobby would evolve after a chance meeting with mutual acquaintances at a wedding in Kenya. One was a Star Shelter employee. They chatted and met up with fellow women at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which founded the shelter in 1999. At that meeting, Dr Parekh offered her medical skills. To her surprise, SCWO was most drawn to her PoPstrings Project.
When asked what empowerment means to her, she says it is a level playing field for everyone, and the ability to express yourself. “It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that women must have corporate careers or be at the workplace. Empowerment can even be having equal footing in the home environment, where you are respected for who you are and your opinion is valued.”
Looking back at her career, Dr Parekh recalls often being the only woman at meetings between senior leaders. With PoPstrings however, she is intent on keeping the project as inclusive as possible.
Residents sometimes will bring their children along for braiding classes. When a resident’s nine-year-old son asked if he could learn how to braid, Dr Parekh’s answer was obvious.
“I said ‘sure’. I’m not setting gender stereotypes here.”