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Cannes starburst on Kalitala kids
- From Martin to Melanie, celebrities flock to dinner hosted by Sting’s wife

Calcutta, Sept. 4: The setting was Cannes, the sentiment Kalitala.

At a glittering dinner in a sprawling villa in the hills south of France, the stars were shining bright — Ricky Martin, Bryan Adams, Pamela Anderson, Bono, Naomi Campbell and Melanie Griffith. But the spotlight was on a group of underprivileged children in an obscure corner of Calcutta. The charity dinner was, after all, being hosted by Trudie Styler, wife of singer Sting, to raise money for the Kalitala homes run by Sabera Foundation and for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or Amfar, a non-government organisation.

The mood was mellow as Melanie Griffith tearfully described her “overwhelming experience” during her trip to the city last month. Announcing her plans to bring 15 of Sabera girls to her Beverly Hills home in October, Griffith, honorary president of Sabera along with Penelope Cruz, told the rest of the star cast: “They are the most beautiful young girls, and they deserve a chance in life.”

On October 10, a charity dinner will be hosted by Griffith and husband Antonio Banderas to raise money for Sabera. The 15 girls will dance to Bengali tunes and play the violin for a select audience.

A Sabera CD, too, will be released, for which the likes of Sting and Ricky Martin (on his June trip to Calcutta) have lent their voices. Some creations of Sabera’s sewing academy will also be showcased, for the first time in public, at the event.

It all started in 1999, when Spanish singer Nacho Cano, inspired by Mother Teresa, came to Calcutta. While making a documentary film, Calcutta, Life at the Railway Station, sponsored by a Spanish NGO, he rescued Sabera, a young girl, living in a garbage dump.

Sabera is now home to over 140 girls, with a computer-training centre, a sewing school and a music academy. It also runs several medical centres, including a tuberculosis clinic, as well as several employment projects for women in the community. A shelter for 200 youngsters and a children’s hospital are under construction. The next project, to be supervised by Antonio Banderas, is a school for the girls near their Kalitala home, beyond Thakurpukur.

Penelope Cruz, who visited the home previously, has extended her support with fundraising and awareness campaigns, through which Griffith was introduced to Sabera. Cruz and Tom Cruise have hosted screenings of the two documentary films made by Cano in Calcutta, at their home in Los Angeles, and she sponsors two Kalitala girls — Madhumita and Mongoli — as well. They visited her in Los Angeles in October last year, where they had “a great time”. Cruz says: “I am honoured to be a part of this foundation which will make a difference in the lives of so many.”

Griffith has since roped in husband Antonio and her sister Tracy, besides sponsoring two girls at the home. Her daughter Dakota’s school in the US, too, sponsors a Sabera child. At the dinner held on September 3, Griffith aptly summed up the answer to the query as to why so many celebrities were keen to support Sabera: “At first, I was so depressed. It made me feel like I wanted to give everything I owned away, except for what I needed to survive. That’s not very realistic. So the best thing I can do is use my celebrity status and my money to help them.”

And help them she does, with more than just monetary support: by giving them memories to treasure and a hope for the future. As Seema Mondol, 12, at the home, recalled: “Melanie aunty loved her stay here, although she cried as much as she laughed. But I know she enjoyed every minute.”

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