Providing Life Skills to 300 Girls living in Slums

by Vacha Charitable Trust

Chanda is the leader of a youth group called Star Kids. This is an off shoot of Vacha’s educational programme for girls from deprived families living in slums. “We hold meetings, have discussions on community issues and plan action. We run a youth library and conduct games.”, she says.
Chanda’s father died when she was one year old. She is 16 now and has two older brothers. The father had migrated from a village in Uttar Pradesh and made a home in one of the more poor areas at the back of a slum in Santacruz in Mumbai, Maharashtra. It is a small room of barely 120 square feet where she lives with her mother and two brothers. They use a public toilet. The mother has raised the children by selling bananas on the roadside. She has also turned part of the home front in to a small shop space and rented it out. Currently no rent is coming in because they had borrowed money from the tenant that needs to be paid off. The oldest brother had a job in a garment making unit but that has closed down. So he is now jobless. The other brother is doing first year in an undergraduate college.
Despite all these impediments, Chanda is generally quite forward looking in life. She enjoys the workshops on photography, street theatre etc. conducted by Vacha Trust. She went through an emotional crisis recently. She had passed her class 10 examination after which students have to apply for admission in junior colleges for classes 11 and 12. Education for girls at this level continues to remain free. Chanda did not get admission anywhere in the initial rounds but then she got into one of the best colleges for class 11. Her mother refused to let her take admission in this college because it was at a distance and she did not want her daughter to have this long commute on a daily basis. Chanda was very keen and insisted on accepting the seat. She was beaten up but held on to her demand. Finally, with intervention from Vacha’s community organiser, the mother agreed.  A compromise was reached. Chanda is now able to attend a fairly good and upcoming college not too far from where she lives. It is her ambition to acquire good qualifications and extricate her family from the circle of poverty.
Your support will help Chanda fulfil her aspirations. On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), we appeal to you to donate generously to champion girls like Chanda acquire a good education as well as the soft and hard skills necessary for a productive life in the 21st century.
As part of the International Women’s Day campaign, we request you to kindly DONATE on

8 March   from   12:00 AM   to   11:59 PM   EST
8 March   from   10:30 AM   to   9 March   10:29 AM   IST
8 March   from   05:00 AM   to   9 March   04:59 AM   GMT.


Pic credit - Liz Oxhorn (PWB)
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 :-)


Pic credit - Liz Oxhorn (PWB)
Pic credit - Liz Oxhorn (PWB)

Neha is the oldest among 4 siblings, 2 of them are boys. A 17 year old, she has a low paid marketing job. She is to take her 12th grade board examination through a correspondence course. Her father is a driver and the mother works as a housekeeper in a private company. Currently she is living with her grandparents in the same locality as her parents due to a problem. Her parents have imposed several restrictions on her after she fell in love with a boy. They would not allow her to go out, either for work or for lessons and Vacha classes. Her mother wants her to be married off right away. Strong and determined, Neha refused to be bogged down by the circumstances. She had no option other than leaving her parents’ home and moving in with her supportive grandparents so as to retain her focus on work and education.


About Vacha, Neha says that Vacha’s teachers and social workers are the only ones who have stood by her through thick and thin. Anything new and experimental stimulates Neha. She joined Vacha’s program of girls’ empowerment in 2013 and has continued ever since, despite her parents’ protests. Sexual harassment and restrictions faced by girls are some of the community challenges that Neha has consistently worked on. The boys in her community used to leer and make vulgar comments to harass girls. Neha, together with others in the Vacha program, began focusing on sexual harassment issues. Awareness on the ill-effects of sexual harassment was created through rallies and street plays. Next, was the campaign to ensure more community toilets are built. Currently substance abuse, a societal evil here, is also her concern.


Neha’s Social Message to girls across the globe is

The window of opportunity is when girls are young. If prompt action is not taken now, the opportunity may never come again. Girls may be married off early and may lose this moment of recourse.'


We hope girls like Neha will inspire you to donate towards our cause of Girls’ Empowerment. In this festive occasion, please share Neha's narrative with friends and family to support our work and for Vacha girls to have a better life.



This is the time to remember all kind and generous people who have supported our work with poor adolescent girls living in slums of Mumbai. We also now work with boys in some of the communities and share resources with them as they too are poor and, with a sensitisation program, they can support girls and women from their families and communities. We will be sending  you a report about our outreach and awareness programs with various sections of the communities. With support from people like you we are now active in 20 communities. The total number of adolescents, mostly girls, is  4422 and in a rural district adjoining Mumbai and aconnected by railway are 201.  We reached  987 adult women and 496 men. These parents, teachers and govt. officers were contacted and involved in issues affecting adolescent girls.

Now this festive season we are joyfully  reaching thousands  more through fun fairs with accent on health, education and equal status of girls.

We hope you will visit us some day and see for yourselves how your donation reaches communities and girls' are empowered and how donations help us attract more donations and grants.


Thanks and regards,
Sonal Shukla


    Saleha with Girl Participants and their Siblings
    Saleha with Girl Participants and their Siblings

    Meet Saleha, one of our team members. A free-spirited young woman, she hails actually from a conventional Muslim family. She wears a burkha because that is her tradition but also, she says, because it gives her mobility to go out. ‘Why argue about this when there are so many other non -traditional things I want to do?’ she says. And those she does. Like stepping out of a bad marriage she was forced to undergo. Like getting involved in community work where she is involved in empowerment of poor girls from many different communities.


    Saleha had approached Vacha centre in her locality to see what we were doing. She got interested and wished to become active in our programmes. Today she is in charge of an entire centre in one of the more poor slums in Mumbai. Her work is so good that the main priest of a local Hindu temple who had been against giving us access to the temple space for our work has now voluntarily given us permission to use that space.


    Though Saleha is chirpy and enthusiastic about her work and new initiatives, her life has been sad and her problems are not yet over. Eldest of 5 children, she was married off while not yet 18 and she had to go and live in a village. Her in laws were oppressive and the husband a vagabond. He used to be violent with her and sold off her jewellery to support his bad habits. She left him and returned to her parents with a young child. The father kept goading her to go back but she resisted the pressure. She got counselling and support from Vacha but filing for divorce was her own choice. Her husband did not agree to it and would not respond to summons from court. In the meantime he got arrested on a murder charge.  


    He came to Mumbai when on bail and again pushed for reconciliation but within the same old structure of rural joint family where she would get no support if he was again violent and abusive. She did not go and the court granted her divorce. But it would not be valid under the separate law – Sharia - applicable for Muslim marriages in India. But her husband died suddenly. In one sense she is free now, free from him at least. She is looking forward to completing her studies and be able to support her child.


    Saleha had reached her 20s when we met her. We meet many victims of violence and injustice like her in different communities, some of our community organisers have also had suffer in domestic situations a lot. They become role models for others as these young women have learnt to deal with problems that look unsurmountable at first. Our project of Girls’ Empowerment is a preventive action as it equips girls with education and life skills so that, when older, they are not trapped in to similar or comparable situations.


    During this festive season of giving, please lend your support for Vacha’s work to continue in poor communities and for our team members like Saleha to pursue their work regularly and effectively. We are forever grateful for your generous contributions through GlobalGiving.


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    Organization Information

    Vacha Charitable Trust

    Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra - India
    Website: http:/​/​
    Project Leader:
    Sonal Shukla
    Mumbai, Maharashtra India
    $35,532 raised of $50,000 goal
    430 donations
    $14,468 to go
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