Manisha Jain: Bringing People Together to Make Thousands of Home-Made Masks For Frontline Workers During the Pandemic

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Manisha Jain

DOVER, MA- In March 2020, when people’s lives came to a standstill, Manisha Jain’s took flight in a whole new direction. Having recently quit her educational career of two decades, pondering on what was in store for her, Ms. Jain was faced with the threat of a virus that had seemed so far away, become very real and close.

In response to a post on Facebook by Emerson Hospital asking for homemade masks for their staff with detailed instructions, Ms. Jain took the first step on a journey to starting her own charitable initiative, Sew We Care, that was instrumental in donating close to 25,000 pieces of homemade PPE to local hospitals and organizations.

On March 6, Ms. Jain will be honored as one of the 20 Outstanding Women of 2021 during the 18th Annual Woman of the Year Awards ceremony— to be held virtually this year. To buy a ticket, please click here.

Ms. Jain has been a leader in the Boston area’s education sector for the past 25 years. Passionate about intellectual as well as creative pursuits, Ms. Jain enjoys undertaking new challenges that transform visions into reality by efficient execution. A collaborator and team player to the core, Ms. Jain has been actively involved in the community as a volunteer for several organizations such as Ekal Vidyalaya, Palakurthi Foundation, Hindi Manch, Saheli, and Triveni School of Dance, among others, wherein she likes to lead silently and by example.

In all her endeavors, Ms. Jain strives to abide by her credo of pursuing excellence coupled with lifelong learning and giving, and values that as the single most important individual trait for success and contentment in life.

A Q&A with Ms. Jain:

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Manisha Jain: In March 2020, when people’s lives came to a standstill, mine took flight in an unimaginable direction. Having recently quit my educational career of two decades, pondering on what was in store for me, I heard the dreadful news that some dear friends had contracted COVID. Suddenly, the threat of a virus that seemed far away became very real and close. It brought forth unimaginable anxiety and a feeling of helplessness…of not knowing any answers, of not being able to help or make a difference!

I came across Emerson Hospital’s post on Facebook- a plea for homemade masks for their staff with detailed instructions. I apprehensively stitched my first mask, and to my pleasant surprise, it came out well and fit my husband perfectly. It gave me a sense of purpose and satisfaction and I realized that this could be my contribution to survive the crisis facing healthcare heroes and all of us.

I put out a request on Facebook and in my town group, urging people to help me with any of the steps of mask making, whether it be procuring fabric, cutting, ironing, sewing or delivering. The very next day I received tons of fabric donated at my doorstep. At the same time Jharna Madan, a dynamic leader in our community, reached out to me saying, ”I saw your post on facebook, I want to help.” Encouraged by the generosity of so many and by Jharna’s willingness to help, I made an instructional video and we began to spread the word. Though it was my anxiety that spurred this project, it gained wings through the generosity of community members who kept joining our group, aptly named “Sew We Care” by my daughter.

Having evolved in the COVID-19 era, Sew We Care was a completely collaborative, yet socially distanced, process. Everything was facilitated via Whatsapp, like an assembly line spanning across households. A friend’s daughter put it very eloquently “it seems like you all are running a drug cartel, a bag gets dropped off, picked up, no one meets each other, but the work gets done!”

At its peak, Sew We Care included volunteers from 33 different towns across MA and NH, with approximately 150+ members who were further assisted by their family members bringing the total number to about 500 people. We became a family of givers, not saying no to anyone who requested, and working round the clock to fulfill the need. We delivered close to 25,000 masks, scrub caps and other PPE to about 250 hospitals, senior centers, homeless shelters etc.

A deep sense of gratification and a renewed faith in humanity are my rewards from this project. It was beautiful and heartwarming to see so many people joining hands so compassionately. I didn’t even know most of these amazing individuals, but they kept sending messages like, “I will drive any distance, rain or shine!” Sew We Care has woven a fabric that brought hope into a seemingly hopeless time. Tomorrow if we were to be faced by a different crisis, I am positive that Sew we Care would rise to the occasion.

INE: If you are engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this group and what do you do for them?

MJ: Other than Sew We Care, I am involved with the following:

● Ekal Vidyalaya – their mission to bring basic education to every child across rural India resonates with me. Apart from supporting them, I conceptualized and helped organize their most recent virtual fundraising event in September 2020.

● Hindi Manch: Their efforts to keep our native language and culture alive are commendable. As chair of the Sangeet Vibhag, last year I was instrumental in organizing several virtual music events that brought the community together during socially distanced times culminating in the 3 day long virtual Hindi Manch International Festival!

● Palakurthi Foundation/Juju Productions – A partnership that started simply out of long-standing friendship and trust, grew because of our joint passion for bringing communities together and creating an impact. I have been involved with them since their inception in 2014, managing each one of their musical events that benefit local charities, primarily Veterans Inc.

● Triveni School of Dance – An organization very close to my heart, as both my daughters trained there for 13 years and had their arangetram. As a former parent and current board member, I have always supported Triveni in the education and performance of classical Indian dance, social awareness, and the celebration of cultural diversity, by assisting in their annual and charity shows, in planning and execution.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

MJ: I enjoy putting my heart and soul into creative pursuits be it cooking, baking, sewing, needlework or writing. I am constantly asking myself, “What problem am I trying to solve?”, utilizing the logical part of my brain. That fusion of creativity and problem-solving translates to event planning as well, where I enjoy managing all the different aspects and see a vision transformed into seamless reality.

I am an avid traveler, having visited 5 continents and countless destinations. I enjoy learning about the historical and cultural wealth of the places I visit. As soon as it’s safe to travel again, next on my list is: Turkey!

No matter where I may be, you can invariably find me every morning solving a sudoku and crossword with my morning cup of tea!

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

MJ: By giving it my all and not holding back, putting 100% effort in whatever I did, all through selfless service for the betterment of others!

Being an educator at heart, I have always believed in creating a difference and making an impact. Teaching academically gifted students for almost two decades, my goal was always to inspire them to use the gift of their intellect toward serving the society at large.

Sew We Care simply is a manifestation of the same. We did our bit to keep health heros safe and create a morale-boosting community of makers. It was extremely exciting when one of our members shared the video and model with people in India, where 5000 masks were made and donated by an NGO near Kolkata, with the generosity of sponsors who provided fabric. Seeing this kind of social impact is the biggest reward and motivation!

I was honored and humbled to hear a common refrain from so many members of Sew We Care – “You gave us a sense of purpose and direction during a most uncertain and bleak time”, “The community that you created during these unprecedented times helped us survive this dark period”. Sew We Care became a platform for healing and hope during one of the darkest eras of isolation and confusion witnessed by mankind. For me, this was even more powerful than the tangible act of providing PPE to local hospitals and organizations.

INE: Your rare talent?

MJ: I can fit an entire apartment worth of things into a 4-seater sedan, jenga style! Both my daughters went to boarding school at the age of 14, so I’ve had a lot of practice 🙂

INE: Your favorite books?

MJ: It’s a tie between Devotions by Mary Oliver and The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (that is the kindergarten teacher in me).

INE: Your favorite quotes?

MJ: “Grandma how do you deal with pain?”

“With your hands, dear. When you do it with your mind, the pain hardens even more.”

“With your hands, grandma?”

“Yes, yes. Our hands are the antennas of our soul. When you move them by sewing, cooking, painting, touching the earth or sinking it into the earth, they send signals of caring to the deepest part of you and your soul calms down. This way she doesn’t have to send pain anymore to show it.”

“Are hands really that important?”

“Yes, my girl. Think of babies: they get to know the world thanks to their touches. When you look at the hands of older people, they tell more about their lives than any other part of the body. Everything that is made by hand, so is said, is made with the heart because it really is like this: hands and heart are connected. Masseuses know this: When they touch another person’s body with their hands, they create a deep connection. Thinking of lovers: When their hands touch, they love each other in the most sublime way.”

“My hands grandma… how long haven’t I used them like that!”

“Move them my girl, start creating with them and everything in you will move. The pain will not pass away. But it will be the best masterpiece. And it won’t hurt anymore. Because you managed to embroider your essence.”

~ Elena Barnabé

INE: Who inspires you the most?

MJ: My late nani, my maternal grandmother has always inspired me – she went through every hardship in life with a smile on her face, always full of love and giving, embracing life and everything it had to offer. She made sure each one of her children were well educated and impactful citizens! She taught me the value of human connections and relations, of tolerance and resilience, of talent and goodness.

INE: Your core value you try to live by

MJ: In seeking happiness for others, you will find it in yourself. Do the right thing, try to make it better, keep doing it till you make a difference in the lives of others.

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