When working with grassroot projects such as this, you regularly come across situations so moving, they make you stop and reconsider your life. This happens quite a lot actually.
I have always known that Dr Mune's team of women come from the same slum communities as the young girls which they are helping, though I had not always appreciated what this meant. This puts them in the best position to help for many reasons. They themselves have had to go through the same discrimination and lack of opportunity, and therefore are perfect role models. They also live amongst the girls, in the very same neighbourhoods, and so both can see the reality of each others' life on a regular basis.
Rani is one such woman. She has been working for the team and the project for 3 years or so, and is responsible for co-ordinating many of the project activities. Her father having died, she overcame a lot to earn complete her education, find employment and support her mother. She now earns a living through helping to empower girls in the slums.
As we walk around the neighbourhood, someone points out that this is Rani's house. I am amazed. The haphazard arrangement of brick and corrugated iron is among the poorest of the houses which we see (of which there are many). We go inside, where Rani's mother is delighted to receive us.
She tells me how proud she is of her daughter, and how difficult things have been in the years since Rani's father passed away. She's especially happy because this year they have saved enough to repair the roof. I ask her what she means and she points to a corner of the house. The roofing has come away from the brickwork and for the last 2 years when it rains, water has come flooding into the house. The house itself is tiny anyway - basically one room, separated into 2 - a small kitchen and a living/sleeping area.
Through working for the project, Rani can not only support her mother, but has also been able to save for the costly roof repairs. This flies in the face of everything girls here are told they are capable of.
This project is empowering not only the beneficiaries - the slums girls - but also the staff themselves. Women like Rani, who are the first generation of informed and independent young women to emerge from the slums, are the real changemakers you are supporting with your donations. Thank you.
Thank you for supporting for this important work. Below I have again included some experiences from my recent trip, which I hope are interesting for you. Also, Globalgiving are running a matching campaign on Wednesday 13th March, which I have included some information about underneath.
In a small room, in a building adjacent to the project offices in the Vishrantwadi slums, I sit amongst the latest batch of sewing students. They range in age from 13 to mid-20s, and chat and laugh as they work, apart from when trying to pay attention to some some new technique they are being taught. The experience of leaving their homes, forming friendships and discussing things with their peers is as important for these women as the hard skills they are learning.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and there is a warmth and friendship between the women. They have only known each other for a few months at the most, but in that time they have grown very close, and seeing each other most days of the week.
They tell me that before coming to these classes they would do nothing. Nothing. That's the word they use. When I push them a little further, it seems nothing means housework and perhaps watching some televison. They say they never thought to do anything else. Those who were unmarried would be forbid from leaving the house by their parents and brothers, and those who were married would be similarly forbidden by their husbands. In addition, they themselves were scared to leave, with almost no confidence or social skills.
Sara tells me, among other things, about how they share their joys and their pains with one another. She tells me how good it is for all of them to have found others they can talk to, others that are experiencing the same thing. I ask them if they still experience resistance from their families and their husbands. "Oh yes, some mornings we start with a lot of tears" she says laughing. The other women laugh too.
However, somehow they have all managed to get themselves to classes. Some have changed the minds of their families and partners, while others come to classes secretly and when they can. Yet others, it seems, are just having to stand their ground. They can all do this because of the support they recieve from each other, which depends on the support they recieve from you.
Thank you all for supporting these women to gain the confidence they have lacked until now.
On Wednesday 13th March, Globalgiving USA is matching all donations with a 30% contribution, up to $1,000 per donor. This is a unique opportunity to make your contribution to these activities count for even more than usual. Please do consider donating on this day, or letting people who might be interested know. The matching will begin at 9am ET.
With gratitude and best wishes,
I hope this report finds you all well. Sorry there has been a slight delay in updates - I have been away from the office visiting the project, spending time with the team and meeting beneficiaries. I'd like to take this opportunity to share a few of my experiences there.
Dr Mune and her team of young women operate from a small office, tucked in the corner of a street in the Vishrantwadi area: one of the older slums of Pune. She has around her an impressive team of young women, each one dressed in a simple white sari, which seems to be something of a uniform amongst the team. Each woman has her own story of slum life, and each is now helping others who are in a situation they know all too well.
As we walk through the different slums and visit the various activities - sewing training, nutritional awareness workshops, study support classes - the degree of respect that Dr Mune and her team command is obvious. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, not least many of the old beneficiaries who come pouring out of their houses to give their thanks and invite us for tea.
The situation is largely the same of all of the girls in the slums. Their lives consist of being confined to their houses, helping their mothers with the chores until their family has found someone suitable for them to marry. But thanks to this work, that situation is changing now.
We sit in a circle and many of the girls tell me their thoughts and personal stories. Some of them have had their marriages fixed recently. Indeed, they will probably all marry at some point, it being impossible not to in this society. But they have managed to delay their marriages until they are 21 or 22. In this time they have completed their education, have knowledge of their rights, and have gained self-confidence. Some have started working and others want to continue to study. Had it not been for the project, they tell me, they would have been married at 15 and not thought anything of it.
On the floor of a house in another slum, a group of younger girls from the locality gather and tell me what they have been learning. One girl of 13 delivers a most incredible and unrehearsed speech about the importance of keeping ones important documents, and especially marriage certificate, safe. "If we don't keep our marriage certificates, our husbands might do anything - they might beat us. Then, if we went to the police they would ask us for proof of our marriage, and we would have nothing to show." The girls have all been on 'exposure visits' the police station, and know that their husbands aren't allowed to hit them. Their mothers beam proudly.
This year the project team have begun activities in 3 new slums, bringing the same benefit to the girls of new communities. All of these girls will be the confident, informed, self-reliant mothers of the next generation. Thank you all for donating to this life changing work.
My name is Sara, and I am from Vishrantwadi.
Some time ago, my father died, and after that we suffered some serious financial problems.
I heard about the project and the vocational training they give to girls. I went there to learn tailoring and how to stitch clothes. However, I learnt many things alongside the tailoring which were very useful, such as the premarriage and personality development workshops.
My mother is very happy to see me as a tailor.
I feel a lot of gratitude to the project and the karuna trust for the work they are doing to help those who want to overcome their problems.
They are helping to empower women. I was empowered thought becoming financially independent. I now earn money from my tailoring work, and have confidence in my life and future.
I learnt that I woman can do anything. That means me.
Name: - Preeti Shatrughna Thakur
Education: - 11TH STD
Age: 16 years
I am very happy to share my joy with you.
I passed my 10th grade exam with good marks, but after finishing my exams, I didn't know what to do with myself, and so remained stuck at home. Some project workers cam to my house one day to tell me about the computer courses they were running. I was interested, but used to go with my father, as I was scared of doing anything on my own.
My experience and feelings:
After joining the project I have been able to build my self-esteem and started thinking very positively about my own existence. As well as the computer classes, I have participated in many different activities and workshops such as the pre-marriage conselling, information sessions on HIV and AIDS, and workshops on personality development.
Not only has this all helped to build my self-confidence, it has also changed my parents attitudes. They now give me a freedom to think for myself, to make my own decisions, to go to classes, and they are thinking about higher education for me rather than marriage.
They seem to no longer be troubled that they only have daughters and no sons!
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