Providing Life Skills to 300 Girls living in Slums

by Vacha Charitable Trust
Providing Life Skills to 300 Girls living in Slums
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.

Sincerely,

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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Soap distribution in community centres by Youth
Soap distribution in community centres by Youth

Dear friends,

I hope all of you are doing well and fighting CORONA 19 successfully. Best wishes from Vacha team for this.

On our side we were very excited as all the Women’s Day programmes with participants in Girls’ Empower project were going very well. There were Fund Days for mothers and other women in their families, competitions in dance, street theatre, essays on topics like ‘That day I was very angry’ or ‘Why I love my friends’ etc. so that girls’ learn to express themselves in many ways. The entire team had also been working for celebration of 30 years of Vacha on March 17 but the COVID 19 struck before that. We had to cancel all that we had planned.

 For social distancing the community organizers have had to keep away from bastis (‘slums) which are very crowded and have poor sanitation. The community organizers and the coordinators keep in touch with every girl and some supportive boys on cell phone and are there for them in case of emergency. They also emphasis on the necessary care that must be taken for personal safety and for stopping spread of CORONAVIRUS. However, in the midst of so much poverty and crowded living it is difficult for them to observe the necessary health care. All that we have been able to do is to distribute soap and one week grocery in bastis in the adjoining district of Kalyan-Dombivli where the residents are even poorer that most bastis in Mumbai that we cover. 94 per cent of Indian workforce is in informal sector. Our girls’ fathers and brothers are daily wagers or often run small unregistered shops, handcarts with goods, drive three wheelers with passengers, contract workers without any security in small factories and so on. Most Hindu women from more conservative Northen areas of the country as do Muslim women from several parts stay home or do home based piece work. In one large area inhabited mostly by a Maharashtrian  dalit community (formerly treated as untouchables and still considered very low caste, in the very structured Hindu caste system, despite positive discrimination by the State) women work as maids in for middle class families. The CORONA 19 situation is in its initial stage. Worse is expected. Attempts are made to have strict lockouts and warnings that are not yet fully successful.

Your continued support keeps our morale up as usual.

With many thanks and best wishes to survive in best way during this world crisis.

Vacha Youth performance on women's day
Vacha Youth performance on women's day
Elocution competition
Elocution competition
Girls sharing their struggles
Girls sharing their struggles
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Season's Greetings 2019-20
Season's Greetings 2019-20

 

Dear friends,

Season's Greeting and wishes for a great 2020 to all peaple with world peace.

There cannot be peace with so many people below poverty line with girls deprived of education and health. All of us at Vacha thank you especially for reaching out to help such girls that Vacha works with in bastis (slums) in Mumbai and a neighbouring district. The govt. has a programme of slum demolition in which the old and  legal residents are given small apartemnts of 200 to 300 sq. ft. for a family in  newly constructed builings. The same poor families shift to such SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) buildings. There is practically no orientation and training for a different way of life for the residents.  Families are often very big and they can no longer use the outside space that they did in the original hutment colonies. At times there are even goats inside that they used to tie outside home. The best part is they now have toilets inside the apartment. This helps girls because they need additional access to privacy during menstruation period. The old SRA buildings can be in bad shape due to bad construction and lack of repair work. 

The gorls' situation does not change because of the same old mindsets of there mostly migrant families who bring their ideas from their villages in backward ideas. Noone, not a single organisation has gone in to girls' problems and needs in these housing projects. Vacha has extended its work to cover deprived girls in SRA buildings where they have said in our initial survey that safety is an issue for them. We will continue updating on this work when we report on this project. Work in bastis is going well and the kids are in a great celebratory mood. Christmas and New Year have become part of social life at all levels in Mumbai.

Sincerely,

Yagna Parmar

Co Director

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Organization Information

Vacha Charitable Trust

Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Sonal Shukla
Mumbai, Maharashtra India
$47,649 raised of $50,000 goal
 
864 donations
$2,351 to go
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