Providing Life Skills to 300 Girls living in Slums

by Vacha Charitable Trust
Providing Life Skills to 300 Girls living in Slums
Girls taking lead in relief work
Girls taking lead in relief work

Dear Friends, We are hoping all of you are in good health and taking the needed precautions for battling Covid 19! The impact of Covid 19 has reported disastrous effect on each and every sector of human civilization. It has affected almost every section of the human population but it is needless to say that the people most adversely affected are the intersectionally deprived and disadvantaged. Most of our programme participants and their families belong to this section. Hence it was even more crucial for Vacha to work towards catering to their immediate need and survival following the unprecedented lockdown.

COVID relief work: Assessing the dire situation, we disseminated groceries and medical kits, making it a point to include sanitary napkins in each one of them. We have been undertaking the Covid Relief Drive from April 2020 to July 2021, thereby completing 16 phases of distribution which has greatly supported the participants and their families especially as many lost their jobs and daily wages in these difficult times. Even in these dreadful times, our girls have shown extreme courage, resilience and skills of collectivizing and leadership. From participating actively in our relief drives to assisting the community members, they have been very proactive. Additionally, youth from our communities conducted Vaccine Awareness drive in their community and virtually as well. To add to their efforts, Vacha carried out a vaccination drive for our staff, participants and their family members.                                                                                                               

  Virtual activities: In these terrible times, the education of our participants, especially that of girls has suffered a blow. With everything shifting to the virtual medium, the digital device seemed more real and alarming. Our interventions were focused on bridging this gap by devising methods like, providing community mobile phones, internet recharges, educational supplies taking sessions to orient the staff and the participants about features of the virtual world; all this was done prioritizing the wellbeing of our participants.

Class 10th results: In these unprecedented times, our participants have scored exceptionally well in their 10th board examinations which is a critical examination to gain admissions in colleges for higher education. Out of the collated scores, 88 girls and 16 boys appeared for their Grade 10th exams, out of which 24 of them scored more than 75%, 60 participants scored between 60% to 74% and 18 scored between 50% to 64% and results of 3 participants are held up due to some technical issues. We are happy to report that the highest score is 96% and 15 participants scored above 80% .

Mobile Library: Vacha believes that each and every child should be helped in inculcating the habit of reading. Library as a resource has always been a critical part of Vacha’s programmes. We did however shift it to the virtual medium for our programme participants as a response to the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020. We created an online repository of books, magazines, newspapers etc., to provide virtual access of books to our participants and also taught them to write book reviews. Participants were overjoyed to be a part of this virtual library program. We have now planned to extend and open our virtual library for everyone in the age group of 10 – 18 years. This will help us reaching out to children who have not had the access to books and engage with them to discuss books and review them together! We are looking forward to the relaxation of the lockdown measures to engage with our participants on site and conduct our activities in the Vacha resource centres itself. We are thankful for your continued support and encouragement which has helped us to overcome challenges and strengthen our efforts towards girls’ empowerment. Wishing all of you good health and peace!

Preparation for Relief Work
Preparation for Relief Work
Distribution of Sanitary Pads
Distribution of Sanitary Pads
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Gender Icon- Sonal Shukla
Gender Icon- Sonal Shukla

Dear friends,

Warm greetings from Vacha team. We hope all of you are safe and taking great care against the Pandemic. We are in a critical situation. Our Maharashtra State has 9 of the 10 worst affected districts in India. Partial lockdowns have already been ordered. We at Vacha have made preparations for going online and working from home but it will be difficult when our work is in 18 bastis (‘slums’). One of our community organisers is already hospitalised with a case of COVID 19. All hospital beds are full so admissions of new cases are difficult. We are in the process of providing technological aid to all staff members. It will be expensive but is much needed.

Despite the serious pandemic situation the programme participants have continued to organise special events like the release of their own newsletters and Women’s Day celebration actually or virtually as the circumstances permitted.

On the happier side, Sonal Shukla, Founder of Vacha and its Managing Trustee, has received two important awards this year. One is the Mahatma award for Social Good that she got on January 31, Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary, also known as the Martyrs’ Day, for her work on Gender Equality from an Aditya Birla Initiative non-profit (the Birlas were close to the Mahatma whose last public prayer was held at Birla House, Delhi) and another from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a major Germany based organisation that declared Sonal Shukla as the Feminist Icon from India for their Gender Justice Hub in Asia. More about the award can be accessed at . Vacha, a resource centre for women and girls, has also won two substantial prizes last year.

We are happy that Sonalbehn’s vision, hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice and her work as an activist, a writer and an initiator in Empowerment of Deprived girls are being appreciated. We are also happy we have been actively associated with her through Vacha’s programmes. We thank all of you for your support to our work.

“It is clear that the idea, ideals and pedagogic principles that govern the Vacha programme are shaped by three great socio-political movements aimed at transforming society. These include, Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Basic Education. interpreted by the later Gandhian who initiated the Sarvodaya movement of socio-political transformation of the country after Independence; Paulo Freire’s participatory action research and ; the feminist pedagogic praxis. “(Quote from Vacha’s external evaluation report, 2019)

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A panelist speaking on girls' education
A panelist speaking on girls' education

Hello friends,

We hope you have had a good Thanks Giving Holiday despise the current stressful times. Our team wants to report about a series of webinars we had that were in a way Of the Girls, By the Girls and For the Girls. (Curtsey Abraham Lincoln). We had had enough of webinaring that was happening around us. Big names in the field or even outside it would address the girls, at times in English, a language that poor girls are not comfortable with. On the other hand, the Vacha team believed that this is the time to listen to girls’ experiences and perception on how Covid 19 had impacted them in the areas of Education, Health, Violence and Agency. The panel consisted of only those experts who had been working at grassroots level and of girl leaders who had been active in community work and regular in our online classes and interaction. The audience was made up mostly of girls in various NGO projects and in undergraduate courses in colleges. Over 30 minutes were set aside for questions and inputs by girls in the virtual audience. There were actually 3 webinars spread over 3 days for two and a half hour each. The first day started with trepidation as the girl participants were spread over several states of India and they were not accustomed to speak online in a seminar like structure online. But they picked up the next day and the last day was the best. The topics covered were from family relationships and girls’ early marriages to child labour and girl sex workers. One girl leader from U.P. shared her experience of stopping a child marriage and the problems she had faced, one girls from Mumbai talked about the NGO supporting their community had continued with mobile library in the forced holiday due to Covid 19. Vacha girls talked about their own agency in decision making and how they had undertaken dissemination of aid in a discipline manner and started study classes for 6 year olds who should have started their Class 1 in school and who, due to poverty had not had any pre-school education. We cannot put webinar pictures here as each girl has her full name in front and their identity would be unduly revealed. We may, with their permission, publish them in our final report. We are sharing pictures of some field experts here.

With thanks and regards,

Leaflet dissemination on International Girls Day
Leaflet dissemination on International Girls Day
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Distributing Textbooks to girls in bastis
Distributing Textbooks to girls in bastis

Dear friends,

Warm greetings from Vacha team. We hope you are well and taking care. Pandemic COVID 19 has spread everywhere.  Three women in of our team and their families got the virus. There was one serious case but, thankfully nothing untoward happened. The rest were quarantined and two families have come through from it. We keep our fingers crossed because none of the kids we work with has been infected so far. This is amazing because many live-in areas that have high incidence of the pandemic. Mumbai heads in the patient count in India as does our Maharashtra State. We have mentioned earlier that 60 percent of residents in Mumbai live on 6 percent of the land. These are very poor families of migrant workers who have, over the years settle down on a hill, at the side of a creek or in what used to be old villages in Mumbai. The homes are of 100 to 200 sq. ft., have dark narrow lanes, public toilets for all and generally.

The pandemic has created terrible situations. Many have gone back to their poor villages from where they had come to evade poverty. People staying on have lost their jobs as maids, waiters, fruit and vegetables sellers, drivers, shop assistants and more. Participants in our Girls’ Empowerment Programme have shown their leadership by taking on dissemination of grocery in a disciplined way. For 3 months no public transport was available to visit bastis (‘slums’. Some of us sneaked in to contact girls and spend time with them for emotional support and counselling. However now, with fast rising number of cases, we remain in touch with every single participant over telephone for providing emotional support, ‘hand holding’ and discussing immediate problems and find solutions. The govt. has declared substantial free ration of 5 kilo wheat of rice to all Below Poverty Line (BPL) families holding a proper ration card. Our problem has been that not all poor families have ration cards either because it is with their extended families in their villages or because they had not fully grasped the cards’ importance. We give them at least 2 to 3 kilos of rice, 2 kilos of Lentils and pulses are provided to each family as also 2 kilos of oil and sugar and soap and sanitary pads for hygiene.

All schools, including the State managed school for the poor, have their classes only through internet. Most of the families of girls do not have smart phones even. Where they have, 2 or 3 children cannot attend their classes as they are at different stages in school. Vacha’s curriculum for the youth – mostly girls – has also been digitalised. We have been requesting funds for buying Smartphones at least. We have bought some through a donation but we are going to need more.  We are also buy in data packs for our students so that they can access school classes and also Vacha’s digital classes. No books or stationary has been provided by poor schools. Vacha managed to get text books and stationary for all. Primary schools of Municipality used to provide learning materials, uniform, shoes and more. All of it is totally stopped. Students also used to get a mid-day meal that is no longer available.

We and our girl students are working hard to survive. Unfortunately we are not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our hopes are still alive because digitalising our curriculum and provision of survival material will help us through this dark period.

We are deeply thankful to all donors for supporting us in these terrible times.


Yagna Parmar

Distributing Smartphones to girls
Distributing Smartphones to girls
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Vacha's intervention with girls during COVID-19
Vacha's intervention with girls during COVID-19

Dear friends,

Some of you already know what Vacha is doing with participants of our Girls’ Empowerment programmes in bastis in Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli part of Thane district. All ‘slum demolition’ programmes are off currently and that is a relief. Of the 18 basti centres in the areas covered by Vacha, we have distributed grocery packets to 15 bastis and 683 families so far. Each packet contains 5 kilos of wheat flour, 5 kilos rice, 3 kilos pulses or lentils, 3 litre oil, 3 kilos potato and 2 Kilos onion and 4 soap cakes. This is for a fortnight. We did planning and made preparations in initial period of lock down and began distribution from March 30. Some of the challenges we have faced are as follows:

  1. Most of the grocers do not accept payment by cheques and insist on cash payment.
  2. Prices keep increasing constantly.
  3. Shopkeepers run out of stock due to hoarding by those who can afford it.
  4. Other residents in the area resented that only Vacha girls and boys and their families were being supported.
  5. Due to frequent curfews and lockdowns so Vacha team found it difficult to visit the bastis, at times.
  6. Difficulty in transferring cash due to total unavailability of public transport.
  7. Every single stationery shop is closed so we could not get notebooks and paper for girls to do interesting things at home.

Despite this Vacha team has taken risk and covered as many centres as possible. The trust board appreciates this and is grateful as well as concerned about the team’s own safety from infection. They have been frequently told not to stretch too much and take care but they feel committed to girls and their families and valiantly go on. If there are instances of positive cases or community transmission, they will be immediately withdrawn. All of them use masks and gloves and girls and their parents are encouraged to have masks. A parent comes along to help the girl carry the grocery home.

Solutions and Happy Moments:

  1. Vacha team has taken risks and covered as many centres as possible in 4 days from March 30th to April 3. The process will continue for two more days.
  2. Each community organizer and coordinator is in touch with all girls for emotional support and counselling. Each office level team member remains connected to the special programme under CORONA threat and works on budgeting, fund raising and management from home.
  3. There is a serious problem of transport. Local buses, trains, metro, taxis and 3 wheeler autos are not working. However, we got help from a journalist husband of a team member who had a curfew pass and who helped us send salary cheques and other materials to team members in his van. Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal officers provide their vans for grocery distribution.
  4. Girl leaders and some of the male peers in gender programmes in bastis have been amazing. They maintain names of those who receive packets and deal with grocers and local residents, if any problem arises. They also remain connected with other girls in the group for any contingency and keep their morale up.
  5. Most of our funders have offered support in general and approved spending even though exact budgets could not be made. They have also been kind and permitted spending in basti centres that are not even under their own project grants.
  6. Friends and strangers are giving small but much valued donations for our current basti work.                                                                                                                         

The case of Shelar Chowk:

While grocery distribution in most places was peaceful, it was also painful as many more wanted the packets but we could give them only to our programme participants due to paucity of funds. At shelar chowk, a basti with sizable number of poor Scheduled Castes (formerly called untouchables as they cleaned dirty toilets and skinned dead animals etc.) along with settlers from other States we had practically a riot on our hand. Despite presence of 3 police inspectors and 5 police constables and support of the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation, we had to withdraw after distribution of only 25 packets. Currently the rest are kept in an apartment of a coordinator’s uncle and we are strategizing for reaching out to the remaining participants. It may become necessary to give just cash to the remaining 43 participants. Only grocers and chemists can keep shops open so the amount will have to be spent only on useful things.                                                                                                                       

The case of Netivli:

Netivli Is a village turned slum in process of fast development in nearby townships. It has attracted poor workers from at least 5 different States. We could not reach there as there was a curfew. Today no one could step out for basti work. A quarantined man had surreptiously come out to attend a wedding festivity where, it seems, over 300 people were present. The event itself has broken strong lockdown and the COVID 19 positive man has put many in danger. There is total curfew now as individuals who have interacted with that man from the wedding celebration are being located and contacted for testing.  Netivli in any case was under a local curfew yesterday. We will visit it again in a couple of days.                                                           

A big Thank You to all of you for being with us and caring about intersectionally deprived girls in these stressful times.

We hope you are taking adequate care and remain safe from CORONAVIRUS.

With best wishes and regards,
Vacha Trust Board and Vacha Team

Girl Leaders in bastis distributing grocery items
Girl Leaders in bastis distributing grocery items
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Organization Information

Vacha Charitable Trust

Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra - India
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @VachaTrust
Project Leader:
Sonal Shukla
Mumbai, Maharashtra India
$50,938 raised of $75,000 goal
945 donations
$24,062 to go
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