500 dreams came true in 2015

CSSG_2015_Christmas Card_LowRes

2015 was a monumental year for CSSG, thanks to your support, we were able to help over 500  angels spread their wings and learn how to fly. 2016 hopes to be an even stronger year with the goal of taking the programme to a wider group of young women and men.


“AND STILL I RISE…”: 450 young men and women educated in gender sensitivity


The project “And still I Rise” tackled the issue of gender discrimination by working through art and literature. A two-part workshop series was developed and implemented by CSSG with Flow India, followed by an art exhibition and the realization of videos with many well-known female personalities, from a cross section of the society.

The project aimed to use creative expression to address the issue of gender stereotypes and to empower girls at a formative stage in their life. It worked with the primary assumptions that stereotypes are reproduced by society at a young age and that creative expression has the power to change people’s own self-perception and be an empowering experience.

Girls aged 14 to 18 in India and other countries, wrote to the world on their personal hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future. Besides that, a number of contemporary artists produced works reflecting gender and the power of writing. An art exhibition, the “Art Exhibition and Outreach Project”, presented a selection of the letters with the artwork.

The exhibition was supported by many respected personalities from a cross section of the society including Shabana Azmi, Dia Mirza, Aditi Rao Hydari, Lushin Dubey, Konkana Sen, Priya Paul, Kusum Haider, Abha Adams, Sonam Kalra, Vidushi Mehra and Anjoli Ela Menon, who came together to recite letters written by young girls from around the world about their aspirations and how they saw the world; this was coupled with these women reciting the poem “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. View here

Through these events, CSSG has successfully educated 450 young men and women in gender sensitivity and inequality issues.

> The next step will be the realization of a book, which will compile the letters, the artwork and the results of this project.

EVENT: Interacting with some of the greatest women chefs in the world PART 3: Master class & Charity dinners (Delhi-Mumbai)

CSSG has completed a cycle of important meetings between the young beneficiaries of the programme and some of the finest and globally renowned Michelin starred chefs. Bringing together some of the greatest names in cooking, eight women Michelin female chefs travelled to India to take part in a series of events hosted in Delhi and Mumbai which included Ana Ros (Slovenia), Angela Hartnett (UK), Anita Mu-Jiuam Lo (USA), Carrie Helen Nahabedian (USA), Frances Atkins (UK), Lauren Eldridge (Australia), Lisa Allen (UK) and Sonja Fruhsammer (Germany).

Master class & Charity dinners (Delhi-Mumbai)

Anand Kapoor (President, CSSG) (centre) with the Michelin chefs

The celebrity Michelin starred Chefs were also part of master classes in Mumbai and Delhi, supported by Zomato, for kids, aspiring chefs and food lovers.

You can check Zomato’s coverage of the event here and here

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Finally, their strong involvement has enabled the organisation of charity dinners, hosted at the Four Season in Mumbai and at the Leela Palace in Delhi. These high profile charity fund raising dinners were designed by renowned Rohit Bal and Emmanuel Balayer. These events also received support from the revered contemporary opera group Divine supported by Damien Whiteley, which gathered much acclaim. Their intervention was a terrific success. The dinners also witnessed auction of artworks generously donated by Raj Nanda of Nanda Hobbs Contemporary, Australia to the charity.

CSSG also received the support of Villeroy & Boch which added every bit to an exceptional experience by offering its dinnerware for patrons to bid at the charity dinner along with a trip to the roots of Villeroy & Boch in Europe and a private dinner hosted by Nicola Luc Villeroy.

Proceeds from the auction will go towards building a rock solid future for the girls.

charity dinner

What next?

One of the crucial issues of the coming months is to enable young trained people to find a host company.

More than 200 girls are also waiting to participate to the training programme.

 CSSG’s objective is to enable the acquisition of new skills to the trainees, and to make it possible for a greater number of young women to participate in this programme.

EVENT: Interacting with some of the greatest women chefs in the world PART 2: Cooking workshops

CSSG has completed a cycle of important meetings between the young beneficiaries of the programme and some of the finest and globally renowned Michelin starred chefs. Bringing together some of the greatest names in cooking, eight women Michelin female chefs travelled to India to take part in a series of events hosted in Delhi and Mumbai which included Ana Ros (Slovenia), Angela Hartnett (UK), Anita Mu-Jiuam Lo (USA), Carrie Helen Nahabedian (USA), Frances Atkins (UK), Lauren Eldridge (Australia), Lisa Allen (UK) and Sonja Fruhsammer (Germany).

Cooking workshops

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After these two days, the experienced chefs and apprentices gathered together in the modern kitchens of The Leela Palace New Delhi, the highlight of those events. Together, in an atmosphere both studious and of rejoicing, the girls along with the chefs cooked a variety of dishes using organic ingredients procured from their visit to the organic farm. From the palate of ingredients that were provided, the girls together with the chefs learnt to cook Pizza, a variety of Frittatas, Chargrilled Vegetables, Pastas, Marinated Cherry Tomatoes and Apple Crumble with Vanilla Cream. The beauty of these dishes were that it showcased how to use a limited palate of ingredients and create dramatically different tasting dishes.

In the meantime, interviews took place at Le Cirque. Young girls were interviewed and will have the opportunity to start their career.

All these events were extremely successful. Girls and women were able to nourish each other through encounters that were very rich on a human level.

It’s our pleasure to support CSSG in its laudable initiative of ‘40 girls to 40 Chefs,’ and empower underprivileged girls to follow their culinary aspirations. This is something very close to the heart of The Leela, and reflects our core value to provide equal opportunities to all.We are delighted to open our doors to the next generation of young talent and give them a chance to work in the state-of-the-art kitchens of The Leela Palace New Delhi with some world-class chefs.” Mr. Rajiv Kaul, President – The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts.

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ros“I am really happy that I had the chance to meet the underprivileged girls. I believe going to the farm, trying to make the girls understand where the products are coming from and how
important it is that the product has a quality was most important. Sometimes, even European kids don’t have the understanding of simple things like “how spinach grows”. That basic knowledge is very important to have. I was honoured I was able to cook for and with  them. I am happy I was able to share a little piece of my everyday life with them. I believe that I don’t think any of them has been in a luxury environment of a 5-star property before. I believe it can be a great motivation – they saw us cooking and they know none of us comes from the richest of families on earth; we all needed to fight to get to the position we are in today.”

Ana Roš – Hisa Franko in Slovenia


frances“I’ve done this with CSSG for a few years now. I’m deeply struck by the young Indians I train. They’re mostly from underprivileged backgrounds and they really want to learn. All one needs to do is instill discipline, the idea that to succeed, you have to be very focused. They have the skill  we teach them how to concentrate. We have a center in northern England where we also teach underprivileged young people into catering. I’d like to eventually tie this us with that. It’s one way of giving back to my industry”.

Frances Atkins – The Yorke Arms in the UK


lauren2“Just watching them throughout the day get so excited about the ingredients – it is so inspiring really to see, how far they have already come just through their initial training. And then getting them back into the kitchen and cooking with them; there was this enthusiasm that everybody wanted to be involved and everybody wanted to learn and try new things. With the right encouragement and the right support, they’ll be able to go really far. They all want to work hard and they all want to achieve; it’s just amazing to witness it.”

Lauren Eldridge –  Marque in Sydney


lisa_yes_chef1-1170x650“The culture, the people – everything here is so different. There is a lot to take in. In Delhi, we had the opportunity to see the city and we tried out some of traditional street food. It was very different, but good. The amalgamation of spices that are used in cooking here is very fascinating. The produce and spices in India are different. Once has to know how to use them in our style of cooking……we are used to the frozen Indian curry; here, the way the spices are used and dishes cooked is amazing”.

  Lisa Goodwin-Allen – Northcote Manor in the UK


Naha“As a chef, it’s extremely rewarding to teach, inspire and share your knowledge and passion  for food and cooking. To see the joy and sheer awe on the faces of the youth that we shared our love of creating great food, was an experience I will always cherish. Sometimes it the simplest things in life that make the biggest impact. I believe we made a significant impact with CSSG and their exceptional work on empowering women for the betterment of their lives. Promoting the growth, physically, mentally, spiritually of young women in the creative culinary arts in a country such as India is quite an endeavour. I applaud all that you and CSSG has done.”

Carrie Nahabedian – Naha in Chicago


sonja“The week in India was a very special experience to me. It was alot of fun to work with the girls and a great feeling that I could teach them something – even if it was just the idea that women can make something out of their lives. I am thankful I could take part in this project.”

Sonja Frühsammer – Fruhsammers in Berlin



“It was a wonderful experience; very inspiring. It’s great to see so much potential in one room. Working with the girls was very sweet.

They were very eager with no attitude which is what you are looking for when you are hiring a cook. I see that they are going to do well.”

Anita Lo – Annisa in New York

EVENT: Interacting with some of the greatest women chefs in the world PART 1: Spice market (Old Delhi) & Organic farm (Farm love)

CSSG has completed a cycle of important meetings between the young beneficiaries of the programme and some of the finest and globally renowned Michelin starred chefs. Bringing together some of the greatest names in cooking, eight women Michelin female chefs travelled to India to take part in a series of events hosted in Delhi and Mumbai which included Ana Ros (Slovenia), Angela Hartnett (UK), Anita Mu-Jiuam Lo (USA), Carrie Helen Nahabedian (USA), Frances Atkins (UK), Lauren Eldridge (Australia), Lisa Allen (UK) and Sonja Fruhsammer (Germany).

Spice market (Old Delhi)

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On 9 September, the chefs and the young project participants met for the first time in Old Delhi – a moment eagerly awaited and emotion unmistakenly awe-inspiring. After dynamic self-introductions, the impatient girls and women alike walked arm-in-arm through the streets of Old Delhi, guided by Mayur Sharma and Rocky Singh of the infamous “Highway on My Plate” fame and the more recently launched show “Food Xpress”. The walk down the streets of Old Delhi included visits to some of finest and Delhi’s favourite eateries coupled with a walk down Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest wholesale spice market. Not only did the chefs try their hand making some of the food specialties of Old Delhi, they keenly observed and learnt some of the finer nuances of Indian culinary culture from the girls. Together, the chefs and girls analyzed the smells and fresh scents, the materials, the colors of the spices… An exceptional moment of sharing.

Lisa Allen, the executive chef of the Michelin starred Northcote Manor in UK quips The culture, the people – everything here is so different. There is a lot to take in. In Delhi, we had the opportunity to see the city and we tried out some of traditional street food. It was very different, but good. The amalgamation of spices that are used in cooking here is very fascinating. The produce and spices in India are different. Once has to know how to use them in our style of cooking……we are used to the frozen Indian curry; here, the way the spices are used and dishes cooked is amazing”.

By late afternoon, Shaheen, a 18 year-old, with the same radiant smile as the other participants, expressed the emotion everybody felt: “Today, I’m feeling good.”

Getting young girls from impoverished backgrounds and enabling them through culinary training was already a great idea. Introducing them to some of the world’s greatest women chefs was brilliant! These young ladies will now dare to dream and you can give no greater gift to someone. Great work CSSG!“.  Rocky and Mayur, NDTV/History Channel/Living Foodz.

Organic farm (Farm love)


The teams met again the following day at Farm Love / CAARA, an organic farm in Vasant Kunj in New-Delhi. Each of the chefs accompanying a small group of students, the chefs explained how to pick fruits and vegetables, how to cut the aromatic herbs to make the best use of it, and how to cook them later.

Attentive and industrious, the young girls then contributed to prepare ground plants, they dug and planted. An entertaining and concrete manner to understand the different stages from cultivation to cooking.

We at FarmLove believe in making sure everyone gets an equal chance to eat better, live better, be better and that’s exactly what we got to do when collaborating with CSSG on their 40 girls to 40 chefs initiative. It was a great privilege to open up our fields and expertise to teach these young, bright, women the importance of chemical free farming. The Michelin star chefs were so encouraging and the hands on training the girls got within their presence was priceless. Chemical free food is a basic right and not a privilege and we at FarmLove along with our culinary team at CAARA will be continuing to work together with CSSG in providing hands- on training within the culinary arts (including demonstration teaching such as farming afternoons) and employment opportunities to not just 40 girls but many more”.  Ambika Seth, Executive Director – CAARA

Training in catering skills: 53 young girls trained and more in the running

40 girls to 40 chefs - underprivileged girls train with Michelin chefs in New Delhi as part of CSSG initiative

Fifty-three girls have just completed a culinary training course of two months within IHM Pusa, known to be one of the top hotel management institute in the country. The girls have successfully acquired the basic knowledge which will allow them to move forward with their aspirations to make a career in catering. The training was coupled with a daylong mentoring workshop with internationally acclaimed Michelin chefs in the national capital.

Following this programme, two solutions are now available to them: to continue six additional months of instruction, or to integrate immediately into the workplace through mentoring and on-the-job-training, with partner companies. AD Singh’s Restaurants, Diva Restaurants, Jaya’s Cakewalk, Lavaash by Saby, L’Opéra, Red Moon Bakery, Saurabh Khanijo – Welgrow group, Shreya’s Kitchen, Sweet Nothings by Avanti and Tres have already welcomed within their teams many of these young recruits who are wholeheartedly involved in their work.

Who are the participants?

Young girls aged 18 or older, participants have a passion for cooking. They dream to make it their career, to earn their living and enjoy their work.

The girls come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds having had no prior opportunity to develop, express and make the most of their talents.

These young women live in non-profit foster homes that CSGG works with: Baliga Trust, Cequin, Maitri and Rainbow Homes.

And Still I Rise: Conclusions

The exhibition “And Still I Rise”, curated by Anand Kapoor and Elizabeth Rogers, marked the continuation of a dialogue started in December 2014, when schoolgirls from around the world wrote letters about their lives and times. An initiative by CSSG, the letters were written during series of open-format workshops centred around discussing issues of gender-based inequality and discrimination.

Aman Biraderi_0958

These letters, that then found their way to prominent international artists, prompted a series of visual responses to issues that they spoke about, culminating in the exhibition on view at the Instituto Cervantes New Delhi from 27 March till 12 April 2015. At the opening, I was struck by how different artists had picked up on different pieces of what is essentially a larger narrative around the idea of gender itself. While some had chosen to create art with the letters themselves – Puja Bahri’s chandelier centrepiece made out of burnt and wax-dipped letters being the best example – others had chosen to depict how unspoken and unquestioned compliance with gender norms creates unrealistic roles for men and women (Nandan Ghiya), or is a lost game from the very beginning of a person’s birth (Manil Rohit’s The Rigged Lottery). There were also artworks exploring how gender binaries dictate, to borrow from Arundhati Roy, “who should be loved. And how. And how much” – Pratul Dash’s Love Difference and Banoo Batliboi’s Hearts being notable examples.

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A second round of workshops took place at the exhibition space, this time with two significant features – one: the artworks and the exhibition space would be used as a point of entrance to discuss issues surrounding gender, and two: boys would be invited to participate in the workshops too.

The results were tremendous. We saw participants as young as 7 and as old as 19 try and uncover the complexities of gender and inequality through the exhibition, with interesting results. I realised that in order to discuss gender discrimination, one effectively needs to tackle what gender essentially is at the very beginning of the discussion. Interestingly, this was something that everybody in the workshops enjoyed doing – we would ask if anyone could think of stereotypes associated with gender, and receive a barrage of answers all at once. I had a boy tell me he wants to be a world-famous chef when he grows up, but boys are frequently shood out of kitchens. I had a girl tell me that she is perceived as bossy in school when she tries to take charge of projects, but with the boys in her school it’s marked as a leadership skill. I had brother and sister duos bicker about what is “acceptable” attire to wear for girls, and who should decide that, and I had a small boy tell me very mournfully that boys are never allowed to wear their hair long unless they are rockstars.

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The art at the exhibition was used as a medium of exploring the stereotypes and inequality we had just discussed. I had only to ask “What do you think the artist is telling you here?” to hear a clamour of voices about the roles we are expected to play as a society, the rules that are laid down for us, and the often violent outcomes of attempting to break these rules. Princess Pea’s otherworldly, colourful art evoked strong reactions from both girls and boys, who acknowledged to creating alter egos and personal superheros who could do everything they couldn’t.

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The workshops ended with a thought-provoking self-mapping activity, where participants considered their lives in the future, and how they would try to live without being fettered by the framework of gender inequality. Most of the girls imagined their future selves as independent and widely travelled. Some wanted to become teachers or work with NGOS in rural areas. A lot of boys wanted to become doctors and realise their dreams of excelling at sports. Almost all the children who participated seemed to view education as a means to better their worlds, with a lot of them listing admission into a reputed college as a necessary goal.

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After two weeks of workshops with Teach for India schools, care homes and NGOs, English-speaking and Hindi-speaking schools, I found that the most significant takeaway that the participants had from attending the exhibition workshop was the power of using art to speak out about the social injustices that one witnesses. Covering a vast range of topics, media and approaches, each artist’s work in its own way birthed a plethora of arguments and discussions. Once again, I enjoyed facilitating these workshops thoroughly, and came away having learned a little more about the world we live in through the stories and tales that we shared during the workshops.



And Still I Rise; The Exhibition

The ‘And Still I Rise’ campaign has been going from strength to strength and we are now pleased to announce the ‘And Still I Rise’ art exhibition including renowned artists from all over the world such as Sebastian George, Princess Pea and Natalie Ludmila beginning on 27th March 2015.

You Blow Me Away
Louise Gardiner, You Blow Me Away.
Palace of Illusion
Princess Pea, Palace of Illusion
NGHK13 – 04 & 05
Nandan Ghiya, NGHK 13 – 04 & )5

CSSG will be collaborating with Flow India on our next set of workshops at the exhibition. Flow India is an organisation that designs and delivers innovative educational experiences that engage with art, heritage and culture.

Flow India supports Creative Service’s Support Group initiative in our belief that cultures are systems of thought – and each of us is uniquely formed by our personal history and current reality. By reflecting deeply on our own experiences and attitudes we make connections and become more self-aware. This self-awareness is a part of the process of empowerment.

In our initial set of workshops we worked with girls from across Delhi and from very different social backgrounds to create letters about what it means to be a girl and their aspirations for the future. We did not specify the target of the letters and gave the option of anonymity.

Vasant Valley at the first set of workshops

We initiated discussion by thinking about stereotypes in a simple exercise of categorising descriptive word e.g. brave, sensitive, loving, or strong as being typically applied to boys or girls. They were then encouraged to think about how they saw themselves and their future.

The principle behind the workshops was to create a very open space for reflection. What came out was unexpected and raw. Some expressed anger, and some felt sorry for others. While some of the girls were highly articulate, in many cases their skills in writing were not equal to the depth of emotions or complexity of the ideas they had spoken about in discussion.

The body of letters stand as they are – unpolished and intimate. These letters inspire and link the artworks in the exhibition and provoke us to think about our own opinions and immediate responses.

Prolific letter writing at Institut Cervantes

Flow India and Creative Services Support Group will now be undertaking a second set of workshops, which will use the exhibition in its totality to reflect on issues of gender discrimination and stereotyping. For these workshops we are again bringing groups of children – both boys and girls – to explore, discuss and create.

By its nature art is subjective rather than didactic. Complex ideas are made tangible. Our responses are not polarised, judgemental or dismissive. Using a methodology involving focusing, investigation and creativity we can ensure a deeper response to the exhibition and the ideas that underpin its curation.

Our learning on this journey is that there is a great thirst for new ways to explore old issues – that cracked fault-lines in our society are inflicting great pain, and that our tales of global and societal progress are undermined by the very anger and passion with which these girls have written about their own lives. We see art and writing as at the forefront humanity’s effort to create a more liberated, empathetic and empowered future for all our children.

And Still I Rise: The Exhibition will be running from 27th March 2015 until 11th April 2015 at Institut Cervantes, Hanuman Rd, Connaught Place, New Delhi from 10 am – 6 pm every day. 

And Still I Rise; An International Creative Writing Project

Sitting at home and sewing or cooking and crying at the TV or not reading and
staring out the window or sweeping away ambitions under carpets of
indignation and not speaking up or thinking out loud
are things I’ve never been through
and never will in my entirety
because change is present
and change is constant
just like the blood that flows through our all veins,
red and pure,
and whole.
I hope that 15 years from now,
you are exactly where you want to be,
where sex is just a ratio and gender discrimination a thing of
Tamanna, Age 14

Ten schools, ten days – December 5 concluded a series of creative writing workshops organised by the Creative Services Support Group (CSSG), Instituto Cervantes Delhi, and Flow India. The participants were girls aged 14-18 from schools in and around New Delhi, invited to come and write a letter about their lives and times. The lines above are part of an experimental prose poem written as a response to an hour and a half of intense, thought-provoking discussions and debates about the world we live in today, and what it has to offer women – and how, if at all, we see it changing for the better in the coming decades.




Workshop 3

The most important question we asked ourselves at the workshop were “Why write a letter?” The answers were diverse and on-point – because writing gives you the space to be truly honest and personal, because in setting your views down on paper you are asserting both power and independence over your thoughts, and because letter-writing, for the longest time, has been a domain for women to engage in conversations about the spaces they inhabit. The letters written by the girls – to the world, to themselves in the future, to family members, to (in some cases) nobody and everbody – definitely echoed their desire to be heard. From deeply personal stories to musings on the larger realities we inhabit as women of a particular nationality, religion or economic background, the girls seemed to enjoy reflecting on their life outside of their school curriculum.

As a facilitator, I was constantly struck by the ease of conversation during the sessions. We weren’t discussing anything we hadn’t already thought about – gender discrimination and violence against women were topics that everyone had an active engagement with already, it was just the space to speak out about them that hadn’t found these girls earlier. I had several requests, from students as well as teachers, to continue these workshops with parents present, to involve boys in the discussion too (this was from participants from the co-ed school), and to have larger sessions for pre-teens as well. If the letters written during these workshops are anything to go by, the larger discourse around gender and gender equality is not in vain – we have here words that are rational, feisty, angry, and optimistic; a true marker of the times we live in. I am thankful to have met and spoken to each of these wonderful, intelligent, passionate women.

Workshop 2

Workshop 1

Priyanka Kumar, Lead Facilitator