Selling Shawls to Save Children

Selling Shawls to Save Children

Great Falls businesswoman holds brunch fund-raiser for newborns in Afghanistan.

What better way to kick off a newly reinstated travel business than with a fund-raiser for children half a world away?

Shano Kapadia decided that with one child in college and the other going away in the fall, it was time to pick up her travel-planning business once again, and to let people know who she is and what she does, she planned a pashmina shawl trunk show, with a portion of the benefits going to the Afghan Newborn Initiative.

“When I spoke with my mother, she suggested that I invite Ellyn Cavanagh, whom my mother had worked with on a project to build nurseries and hospitals for newborn infants and children in Afghanistan,” Kapadia said.

A native of Afghanistan herself, Kapadia and her family came to the United States in 1980 to start a new life.

“We were not refugees that had to depend on anyone. One of the proudest moments of my life was having my passport stamped ‘Employment Authorized’ when we got here,” she said.

Kapadia’s family was prominent in Afghanistan. Her uncle, the late Abdu Karim Shadan, was the chief justice of the nation before his assassination in May 1992.

“It was the ignorance of the Taliban that killed him,” she said. “If they had valued his life, I think he’d still be alive.”

However, in order to keep his memory alive, Kapadia hopes some day to start her own charity to build schools in Afghanistan and name it after her uncle.

“He’s never been out of my mind,” she said. “He could’ve came over with the rest of us, but he wanted to make a difference for his country.”

Kapadia’s mother, Jamila Shadan, had been the president of Intermediate Medical Institute and project manager for the World Health Organization and had been involved with hospitals and women’s health issues in Afghanistan, she said.

“My intentions were to give (a donation) to a friend’s foundation for children of war, but my mother suggested Ellyn,” Kapadia said.

SHE HELD HER TRUNK show and brunch in her Great Falls home last weekend, inviting women from around the area whom she knew to get together and socialize, while providing an opportunity to raise a little money for the charity.

“Ellyn seemed like a very lovely lady, and I’m happy I was able to help her,” she said.

The brunch was informally set up, so those who attended could casually talk to whomever they chose.

The Afghan Newborn Initiative is a group under the larger Afghans for Civil Society, Cavanagh said.

“There is no prenatal care at all,” she said. “Most women deliver their babies at home, and any deliveries at the hospital are there because of complications. Many newborns are sickly because their mothers die in childbirth, and there’s no formula like we have here to help them grow strong.”

On average, three or four mothers die in childbirth every month, she said, which is actually a vast improvement from the three or four mothers a week it once was.

So far, Cavanagh said she’s been able to set up a neonatal nursery, “so babies can be warmed up and get basic care after they’re born. It’s vital to get these babies nutrition, and the money we raise goes to provide that nutrition and to help educate the families who are responsible for the babies if the mother dies,” she said.

Sadly, many mothers will go into a hospital to give birth with the intention of leaving their newborn behind.

“These are women who just walk away. On average, two babies a week are abandoned,” she said. “The nursery is responsible for clothing and caring for the baby for five days before it’s adopted out.”

Most of the work done by the Afghan Newborn Initiative has been done at the Rabia Balkhi Hospital in Kabul, she said.

There, she was able to set up a training school for nurses and doctors, to teach them how to resuscitate babies whose lungs are not fully working at birth.

“If you can resuscitate a baby, you’ll most likely save its life,” she said. “They don’t have the suction bags at the hospitals there that we have here, so we had to teach them other methods.”

For around $200, the group of doctors and nurses can take a neonatal-care course and purchase special equipment for the hospital, she said.

“It’s not difficult to teach this skill to the doctors and nurses, even with a language barrier,” Cavanagh said.

HER MOST RECENT trip to Afghanistan was earlier this year, when she went as a volunteer with the Department of Health and Human Services for six months.

“Under the Taliban control, women were kept trapped in their houses. They didn’t have the chance to communicate with each other, so here you have a group of women who haven’t been out of their house and socializing for five years,” she said.

Even now, the women who work in the hospitals are allowed to work only from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., because they’re still not allowed to be out of their homes without their husbands.

Cavanagh said she spent time at the Indirah Ghandi Children’s Hospital, where she found the medical workers in horrendous conditions.

“The intensive care unit there is worse than a barn,” she said. “There’s no running water. There are 40 women and their babies in this room the size of a suburban bedroom, and because there is one oxygen tank, the babies are lined up on a table and a tube is passed from baby to baby to warm them up.”

She has received some help from Zalmay Khalil Zad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

“He’s been wonderful,” she said. “He’s gotten some money allocated to our projects. About $5,000 would totally rehabilitate a hospital.”

Cavanagh said the $300 she received from the trunk show, and any money raised for the Afghan people, needs to be hand-delivered to Afghanistan.

“You have to take it there yourself to make sure it’s used for the right reason,” she said.

Yolan Williams, a friend of Kapadia’s through Langley High School, attended the event.

“I had so much fun,” she said. “Shano had these gorgeous pashminas and gave us the details on how they are made and how much people get paid to make them. I’m in awe of their artistry,” she said.

SHE HADN’T GIVEN much thought to the need for neonatal care in Afghanistan prior to the brunch, but she was inspired by talking with Cavanagh.

“There’s such a need to work with people who have newborns there, and hopefully there will be new frontiers in that area,” she said.

Williams also said she was impressed with Kapadia’s desire to help out those in need, at the beginning of her business venture.

“She’s thinking ahead to when her son graduates from high school and she’s got more time,” she said. “People don’t usually start a new job venture with an altruistic goal in mind.”

Kapadia’s long-term goal is to create her own charity in her uncle’s name to build schools in Afghanistan.

“Maybe if we can take the guns out of the hands of these children and educate them, it’ll make a difference,” she said.

More information on the Afghan Newborn Initiative is available at, and more information about Kapadia’s travel service and the charity is available at her Web site,