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Montreal henna artist turns passion into profit for vulnerable women

Click to play video: 'Henna artist turns passion into profit for vulnerable women' Henna artist turns passion into profit for vulnerable women
WATCH: A former health care worker is finding meaning in her art. But instead of focusing solely on personal profit from her passion she decided to use her talent to support under-served communities. She says it's her way of raising awareness to the needs of some people, and it's also her way of giving back. Global’s Phil Carpenter reports. – Aug 6, 2021

Sinthusha Kandiah discovered art as a teenager.

“I was going through a lot when I was younger so I think art was always a way to heal,” she told Global News from her home in Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough.

She said her outlet was henna.

So after graduating from McGill University in science and working briefly in health care, she quit that to concentrate on her art business. She says the purpose wasn’t just to make money for herself; she wanted to devote more time to serving the community.

Read more: No place to go or hide — A deeper look into how vulnerable Montreal women are trying to survive

“Basically I do henna for folks in Montreal and I use the proceeds that I raise to support communities who are often underserved,” she said.

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Kandiah does this through Divinart Foundation, which she created six years ago. She says most of the cash she makes supports marginalized women.

“Often in Montreal, I focus on Indigenous women,” she said. “In Sri Lanka, it’s war-affected individuals; in India, women living in slums.”

One of the groups she’s worked with in Montreal is Chez Doris, which helps women in need.

“She fundraised to get like household cleaning items, tools, stuff like that,” said Chez Doris volunteer and outreach co-ordinator Leah Peck, “for our Aboriginal housing programme for clients who went from homelessness into housing.”

Kandiah also donates her time, doing henna for Chez Doris’s clients, which, according to Peck, is a favourite activity among the women.

“They signed up right away,” she smiled.  “They were in line, they made sure they didn’t miss their appointments.”

Kandiah’s community work goes beyond just henna.

She invented a special pen that has a hidden scroll with phone numbers for various resources, including help for those experiencing domestic violence. The pens are distributed to women.

Connie Jarquin, a social worker at Afrique au Féminin based in Parc-Extension, which helps women in need, said she ordered some of the pens to hand out to their clients.

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She believes the pens are a good idea.

“Let’s say you live with a violent person. If the person sees that you have numbers for resources to get help, for sure it’s going to be worse for you,” she said.

Kandiah will be giving workshops on conjugal violence too.

“We recently heard of another femicide that happened in Parc-Ex,” she recalled. “So I really think it’s something we need to focus on.”

Read more: Montreal police continue search for suspect in Quebec’s 14th femicide of 2021

The killing she referred to was that of Rajinder Prabhneed Kaur, who was slain July 19 in her Parc-Extension apartment. She was the 14th woman killed in Quebec in 2021. The body of her husband, the prime suspect, was later found in Rivière des Prairies.

Kandiah said she’s doing all of this work as a way to give back.

Peck values the help.

“Any time anyone is willing to especially listen to what our needs are and then funnel the money to those particular needs, it’s incredibly helpful,” she said.

For Kandiah, giving back is just as meaningful as her art.

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