It is very hot and humid in Mumbai right now. Onset of monsoon is expected by mid June. A lot of open air activities must take place before that. One of them was a much needed rally to demand more , cleaner and safe toilets for women and girls. Vacha is very active in the nearly 5 year old Right to Pee campaign for such toilets. Men are known to relieve themselves in the open and behind waste heaps of parked trucks. Apart from the inconvenience, these sites can also make women and girls vulnerable to sexual attacks.
In a series of discussions with girls in Malvani, the second largest slum in India after Dharavi, the toilet and garbage disposal issues were taken up for campaigning against. Six groups from various bastis (‘slums’) got involved as this is a common problem in all poor neighbourhoods. Boys were encouraged to participate also. On May 23 about 150 , mostly girls, got together in Malvani. Girls divided themselves in 3 groups to work on Signature Collecting , Slogans Shouting and Street Theatre Performance. Girls had already informed local police about the event and written to the Solid Waste Disposal and other relevant Municipal departments. The local response was amazing. This is a problem faced by all, men too. Hygiene is everybody’s issue. Very few in a slum have indoor toilets. What was surprising was the media response. Times of India carried a report in its tabloid Mumbai Mirror, Radio Mirchi interviewed Deepa Pawar of Vacha in Hndi for a popular programme, Maharshtra Times, a major Marathi daily reported the campaign and TV 9 covered it for its channel. Links for the reports in English are given here. Please do have a look.
The immediate impact of the campaign is big and the residents are now optimistic about getting decent toilets. The local authorities have woken up and the toilets are suddenly cleaner, being washed daily instead of once in a way. The campaign is still on. The matter is being taken up for impacting the development plan for Mumbai and with ward authorities. A women’s group is formed to support girls for monitoring state of toilets. The girls had originally started with rehearsing for a play, making banners, writing to elected representatives feel encouraged by thousands of signatures collected and by the tremendous support they have go locally. Girls feel empowered by such encouragement and by acceptance of their leadership role in the community.
We want to share some happy news. Vacha Trust completes 25 years of its formal existence as a charity on March 19th. It has been a fulfilling journey of working on issues of women and girls. We had actually started working from 1987 but had not registered as a trust until 1990. We had some stressed periods due to shortage of resources but, with good will of supporters like you and others, we survived and flourished. We wish you could all be with us to celebrate this mile stone. Encouraged by it we now rededicate ourselves to conducting programs in life skills for girls and train hundreds of girls a year. We are approaching many agencies and individuals for support. We hope you will also visit the project no. 16755 at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/life-skills-training-annually-for-poor-girls-in-mumai/ and continue to support our project of life skills training for girls from impoverished families living in slums. We sincerely hope you will also visit our website from time to time.
The last quarter in the project had two major events. One was the release of newsletters in all the 17 poor neighbourhoods, where Vacha is active, on the Indian Republic Day. In six communities it was their 12th newsletter. In a new community, girls start with making posters and leaflets and then gradually acquire skills and confidence to create own newsletters. The other event was celebration of Women’s Day in the same areas where the girls chose to treat it like Mothers’ Day and bonded with mothers to discuss new social realities that they all live in and their impact on girls’ lives. The topics vary such as girls’ aspirations for further education, for fashion and dress code, mothers’ situation about domestic chores and so on.
Vacha’s active participation in the core group of NGOs working on Right To Pee, a campaign for safe a clean public toilets for women continues. On Women’s Day the govt. awarded it for being a strong women led citizens’ campaign. To the campaigns demand for toilets for women in public spaces, Vacha has added a demand for repairs and maintenance of toilets in slum areas, where people do not have the facility at home and the state of public toilets are dirty and very inconvenient for women and girls.
Currently we have only planned a get together of Vacha team and volunteers on March 19 when we actually complete 25 years but hope to have more events through the year if resources permit. We reaffirm our appreciation of your support and good will and welcome your good wishes for the occasion.
Vacha Team sends Season’s Greetings and Best Wishes for 2015.
We take this opportunity to thank you once again for your generosity and for your active concern for empowerment of deprived girls who, for most of you, live in a far away country. All of us truly appreciate this.
Our girls live in families that have migrated from very poor regions where conservative traditions prevail. Communication across generations as well as gender is not very direct. Girls are discouraged from talking to father and male relatives. A girl may talk to her mother and sisters freely but not necessarily be able to share her thoughts and feelings fully. With brothers also there is limited communication. Her friends, all female, are different but then her mobility is largely restricted. A communication workshop was held in one large and conservative community focusing on conversation within family. It was the first time ever that such a topic was raised with girls in this community which is relatively new to Vacha programme. First day there was a discussion in which girls shared where they feel stifled, angry or upset but cannot express themselves in words without fear of repercussions. It was suggested by trainers that communication can be non verbal too and that people do express that way but we had to learn the right way to do it. A whole lot of non verbal communication ways and their pros and cons and possible impact were discussed. The powerless have to learn to maneuver the situation so that their point of view, dissent or demand can be communicated without negative consequences for them. The response was tremendous. Girls were creative in talking about various situations and solutions were sought collectively. Next day they practiced what they had learnt and saw the importance of using silence as a method of communication.
This kind of activity is something of tight rope walking. Strife within family has to be discouraged. Family is the only support system for girls as the State does not have a good and comprehensive welfare policy. Yet girls must also become active and self confident individuals. We are happy to report that local Vacha staff has been able to build trust and good will in the community. We look forward to sharing girls’ experiences of using the newly acquired communication skills and their impact.
Safety issues of girls are becoming a major concern. With the ratio for women in Mumbai being 832 per 1000 men, sexual harassment and assaults can only increase. Besides discussions on safety, groups of girls visited police stations to learn about processes involved in assuring safety for women and girls in public spaces. They created leaflets based on what they had learnt and shared the information with others in the community. One group also joined a rally organized by a youth group for spreading awareness and demanding action against the culprits.
We have written about Rehana in earlier reports. She is the girl who could not open her mouth because of an accident when she fell face down and her dentures closed tight. Vacha’s social worker Deepa organized a subsidized surgery. Vacha supplemented what her family could collect. This was possible because of contributions you make. Well, the good news is that she has just won second prize in a photography competition in her college that has over a thousand students. Rehana is naturally on Cloud Nine! It is the first success in her life and she hopes to become a professional photographer some day. She had learnt photography in a Vacha workshop but does not own a camera. Though new technology has made it a less expensive hobby but it is still out of bounds for poor girls. So let us celebrate Rehana’s victory in this festive season.
We request you to consider in future our long term programme for girls' training in life skills. Its objectives are to help them become productive members in the economy and active participants in civic life. While this project funding is nearly coming to an end, the long term project is at :http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/life-skills-training-annually-for-poor-girls-in-mumai/ Please do visit it and also our website for more information.
Once again we wish you the best and hope to have your continued support and good will through GlobalGiving in the coming year.
Our team is deeply thankful to you for having supported our work for empowerment of girls from poverty affected families. We had originally expected to cover 300 girls but your generosity made it possible to reach out to hundreds more. It also enriched other ongoing programmes with girls. Here is one of our last reports before we move on to another project to cover many more girls provide opportunities for them to grow and become active and productive citizens.
Newsletters: A newsletter was published by girls in 15 of the 17 bastis (‘slums’). Boys were actively supportive in four of the areas. In some cases newsletter no. 12 was being published by the youth. Girls’ editorial collectives, fund raising and sales groups, typing volunteers and others in each ‘slum’ area worked excitedly to bring out their special newsletters on August 15, the Independence Day. The next issue will appear on the Republic Day on January 26.
Photography Exhibition: Documentation of their reality by kids themselves is encouraged. A group of girls decided to work on the issue of safety in public spaces for themselves for this. They photographed places where they feel uncomfortable, insecure or scared held an exhibition. Pictures of male hang outs, gambling spots, broken street lights, paving and gutter tops were displayed and received good media coverage. A newspaper cutting appears at the end of this report. Boys hang out near a public toilet for women and girls were removed consequently. Vacha was also selected to be covered on International Girls’ Day by the prestigious Times of India.
Health Issues: Vacha’s health related activities cover two aspects. One is a course in health through sessions and the other is visits to health centres and public clinics and hospitals and sanitation departments. Unfortunately, the spiraling food prices are increasingly depriving the poor, and especially girls among them, of adequate nutrition. The costs of small nutritional inputs that Vacha gives during workshops etc. have also climbed from INR five for a packet of peanuts or fruit to ten and now fifteen. It is beyond the organisation’s capacity to cover hundreds of girls in this matter. The inputs are now occasional on special days.
Vacha girls are strong on sanitation issues. They work actively with Right to Pee (demand for clean and adequate number of public toilets) campaign. Girls had organized street plays on issues of sanitation in bastis and highlighted their problems. They also worked with local leaders and sanitation department to have garbage removed from their areas. Such initiatives contribute towards raising their self esteem.
Your Support to the project of Life Skills Training of 300 Girls in Mumbai has helped us create resources for trainings and campaigns. Many organisations approach us now to learn our strategies and appreciate our initiatives. We even received a major award for our work on life skills for girls. In this work, we had to surmount traditional prejudices against girls’ education and leadership to form safe spaces in their neighbourhoods where sessions could be held to facilitate them in active participation in civic life. Girls learnt to use computers, cameras and even Right to Information (thru supportive adults) as well as developed some capacity to speak English. They visited area resources and sources of Life Long Learning. Over 98 per cent of girls have remained in High School and over 60 per cent have even joined junior college/ Higher Secondary centres. But India is a very large country. We need to work in many more slums and develop further resources and replicable models for empowerment of adolescent girls, the future good citizens and workers. This is essential for women’s empowerment in India.
The current project is coming to an end. With your support and good will, we wish to work with more girls in a new centre for girls’ training in life skills. It will assure continuity and regularity in trainings and workshops for girls who are poor and live in slums in Mumbai and nearby places. We request you to contribute generously to our new project ‘Girls Centre in Mumbai for Life Skill Training’. The link is http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/life-skills-training-annually-for-poor-girls-in-mumai/
The following is a postcard from Neeharika Tummala, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in India and Bangladesh, about her recent visit to Vacha Charitable Trust.
Although I could not go to the field, I had a fantastic opportunity to meet with the founder and the executive team, but also the four of the young bloods of Vacha who run with implementing several of these programs in their respective geographic blocs.
All of these ladies are from the communities themselves and have gone through the Vacha programs in some way or the other. Even though they couldn’t speak in English, it was remarkable as to how confident, insightful, organized and bold these ladies were. Our group conversation flowed from topic to topic as we talked about various campaigns that they have organized, the response from members in the communities, what they do in the face of pushback, what their vision for the future is and what their views on the effectiveness of Vacha is.
I got to hear stories of the campaigns that they have organized such as inspiring kids to make a film in their community around Garbage and the beach, or organizing a signature based campaign to raise awareness around issues and to fight for change in their community. Another example was raising awareness on the Right to Information Act and how community members can access information, understand their rights and complain to the right channels if they face corruption in things like access to ration of food. When asked as to if they ever face pushback in the community or if they ever get scared, they talked about several instances where sometimes it is tough and they do get pushback, but that they also work extensively with the entire community and they do manage to get that support at the end.
What impressed me is their ability to execute Vacha campaigns with the confidence and skill that any urban MBA graduate would have. The ladies grapple with training kids, raising awareness, outreach, running various campaigns and they seem to do it so effortlessly whereas even running one campaign is a large undertaking for many others. These ladies are also success stories of Vacha and proof that it works! Power on Ladies!
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