Pic credit - Liz Oxhorn (PWB)
Shaheen, Farheen and Nausheen, three sisters, were encouraged to join the Vacha programme by the principal of their school in the community of Malvani slums in Mumbai. Apart from receiving academic inputs, they have also worked on publication of girls’ newsletters to highlight their fight against the issues of sanitation and sexual harassment. Lewd comments by boys, assaults and rapes of minors, kidnappings are rampant in this locality. Their mother objects to Burqa, the Veil, and says that if mindsets are not changed, crimes can be committed under a Burqa as well. This is a rare break girls have in life.
19 year old Shaheen is in the first year of an undergraduate degree program. She wants to complete her education, work and become independent so that she can have enough savings to pursue a variety of study courses. Farheen, 16 years in age, is in her 10th grade. Her confidence, leadership, negotiation abilities, stage presence and skills to deal with authorities have improved immensely after joining Vacha. She wants to be an actress but her mother strongly resists this idea. Nausheen idolizes the police didi (literally older sister but also used as a term of respect) who patrols this beat. Hence she would like to grow up to be a police woman. All the three girls would love to play outdoors but unfortunately none of them is allowed to go outside unchaperoned after 4 PM for safety reasons. Academics and future career are of prime importance to them.
Poor sanitation in this area makes the residents extremely vulnerable to infectious diseases. The water mafia has a big presence here and this very essential commodity has to be bought at high prices by the poor. This area has what are called illegal hutments on the outskirts erected just using asbestos and tarpaulin sheets. These are demolished time and again but spring back. Open defecation is a curse here with no imminent solution. The sisters live here.
Shaheen, Farheen and their father have been suffering from TB for over 2 years now. Nasreen, the oldest sister, has been recently cured of TB and her marriage is scheduled in early 2018. Shaheen and her father in fact have MDR TB, multi-drug resistant TB. The father is also a diabetic. Drugs for TB treatment are expensive and not always available at the government run primary health centres (PHC). Vacha field facilitators have to put up a stiff fight at the PHC at the behest of patients. Superstitions and myths associated with TB aggravate the problem and need constant intervention to be dealt with.
In the empowerment programs, Vacha supports the education of Shaheen and Farheen. Vacha is able to provide nutrition and medical support at least to Farheen. Let's usher in 2018 by pledging support to eradicate contagious diseases like TB in such neighborhoods. If this read has intrigued you, please share it with your near and dear ones to bring in cheer all across the world :-)