Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India

by Snehalaya 'Home of Love'
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Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Rescue 615 sex workers & at-risk children in India
Getting ready for Diwali
Getting ready for Diwali

I hope this email finds you and your loved ones well, safe and healthy.

We are now entering our eighth month of lockdown in Snehalaya. While the restrictions in India are easing, the numbers of cases of COVID 19 continue to rise and we are remaining cautious, keeping our doors locked to visitors and restricting the movements of our staff and beneficiaries. Everyone has been amazing taking care and precautions and working without a break in all that time to keep our beneficiaries safe. Despite our efforts we did still have a minor outbreak with eight staff and older boys testing positive for Corona. By immediately isolating and treating them they were able to recover and we were able to contain the virus. If we all know anything from Corona, it is we cannot let our guard down, especially when protecting those who are immune-compromised, including our HIV+ beneficiaries, young and old!

With the mental health of many being impacted by the pandemic, our other main concerns are reassuring, supporting and keeping our beneficiaries and staff active and entertained. With the festive season of Diwali starting next week it is a particularly hard time for them to be separated from their families. Usually we would be planning family get-togethers, parties and celebrations with staff and supporters. Instead we are planning special lockdown activities that will safely entertain our whole Snehalaya family and help them to feel loved and valued, including online family meet ups and socially distanced activities.

It may seem like the world is a very grim place at the moment but every cloud has a silver lining and, in the spirit of the season, we would like to share some of our positive news.

Due to the restrictions of Corona virus many of our sex workers were unable to work to earn their living in their usual way. As we already have a program to retrain and support them into alternative careers we are really pleased to report that since the start of lockdown a total of 38 of our female sex workers have started new jobs and businesses, hopefully leaving the world of prostitution behind them for good!

As well as being able to provide daily workers with our usual range of support services and food and ration kits, we have also been able to provide them with emergency financial aid. With very few of the poorest families highly dependent on their daily wage and no savings for situations like this, this funding has literally kept starvation at bay. In many cases, the families, realising that such financial aid is not reliable or sustainable, chose to buy extra provisions to start their own food stalls. This will not only see them through the current crisis but will provides a foundation to build on once life returns to ‘normal’.

Country-wide restrictions on a maximum of 50 people who can attend a wedding has reduced the average price of a marriage ceremony, which over 500 guests normally attend, from around US$1000 to US$200. While this is good news for lower income families who are taking advantage of the opportunity to save their savings, it has also unfortunately significantly increased the number of child marriages taking place. Fortunately, our Childline team has leaped into action, locating and preventing 67 child marriages so far and ot other projects are supporting the rescued girls in a range of other ways.

With our children locked in, we have focused on developing their skills and have recently opened a new school library, beauty training parlour and skills development workshop where our beneficiaries can enhance their education and learn vocational skills.

Times may be extra tough for us all at the moment but, since day one, Snehalya has always tackled the challenges facing our beneficiaries head on, and we are managing the pandemic in the same way. It’s thanks to your support that we can continue to evolve our services to provide practical support to those who need it most. We will beat this together and I am as always truly grateful that we are in this together, thank you.

A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
Our new school library
Our new school library

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Rehab Center still in full swing during Corona
Rehab Center still in full swing during Corona

I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy as COVID 19 continues to spread across the world. As you may have heard, India is now the third most affected country and the virus is now literally on our doorstep. The good news is that the children in our care remain happy and healthy, largely thanks to champions for our cause like you.

As the headlines filled with the devastating impact of Corona virus, we were particularly worried for all of our shelter home children whose immune systems are compromised by living in an institution, but especially for those living with HIV who are extremely vulnerable during pandemics such as this. Fortunately, we were able to take immediate action to protect and educate all of our beneficiaries about the virus and the prevention its spread. As we watched the world lock down and self-isolate we also firmly shut our doors to prevent the virus reaching our children’s shelter. With no-one going out or coming in since the end of March, we are pleased to report there have been no cases of the virus so far. We have also been able to maintain some semblance of normality reducing the stress of on our children and their caregivers by maintaining as much of our regular routine as possible. 

With the early closure of schools we initially asked our own school teachers to provide a few hours of classes each day in collaboration with our staff. With the enforced isolation this was no longer possible and the task of entertaining the children has been placed on our caregivers shoulders. This includes morning exercise and cleaning routines. We have broken children into age-wise groups and scheduled activities twice a day, including creative, educational and physical activities and life skills, bearing in mind social distancing. We are also extremely grateful to volunteers who are conducting online classes for our older children and our school is now preparing to take over and deliver the state curriculum online.

We have actually been able to have some fun and introduce new activities thanks to more downtime! We are currently planning for a full day of activities to celebrate and promote girls education this Sunday, Malala Day. The day will kick off with a cricket game with boys hopefully knocking us for six while wearing saris! We have also introduced new activities such as Lego and table tennis (three of our former beneficiaries are professional coaches who have returned home for lock down) and have been organising fashion shows, dance competitions and so much more...

Meanwhile our sex workers, transgender and MSM communities also went into lock down leaving them with no income for over three months now. We have been providing food parcels, hygiene kits and other support. The plight of other daily wage workers and migrant workers moved us and we set up daily deliveries of food and essentials to residents and set up roadside help centers to offer relief to those making the long journeys home from our nearby cities. Our child and women's helplines have remained open throughout and were also at our roadside centers ensuring the women and children walking home were safe and healthy.

To date we have distributed over 10,000 food and hygiene kits, helped 4,600 migrant workers get home and provided food, water, health and hygiene kits, road maps and other support to over another 40,000 migrant workers.

Times and lock down are tough and the future remains uncertain but we are grateful for the resilience of our staff, beneficiaries and Snehalaya family whose support of each other is invaluable at this time. I look forward to end of this deadly virus when we can all safely be together again. Until then please do take care of yourself and others.

The long walk home
The long walk home
We literally helped truck loads of people
We literally helped truck loads of people
Staying safe
Staying safe
We have a whole new team of cooks
We have a whole new team of cooks

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School attendance is on the rise
School attendance is on the rise

Thank you so much for everything you have done to support our children, including many of whom are living with HIV,

As the chill of winter dissipates and the temperatures start their annual hike towards the high 40’s in degrees Celsius, our students’ determination is also on the rise as exam season is underway. While it may be getting hot outside our first ever batch of 10th standard students from our Snehalaya English school are doing a good job of playing it cool and taking their exams in their stride.

While we may remember our own exams with a shudder, these young people truly appreciate the value of education and obtaining the good qualifications that will sustain them through their futures. They are busy soaking up every opportunity to revise and review their learning, from personal study and after school classes to online Skype classes with volunteers in other Indian cities and the USA.

In a positive initiative we are also extremely grateful that the extra obstacles facing children living with HIV have been recognised with an extra hour allocated to them during their current exams. This is making a big difference to our HIV+ children who end up missing school due to medical check-ups and ill health. To help improve their health we have recently appointed a HIV expert doctor to our on-site hospital. Along with improved nutrition in our kitchen, thanks to advice from nutrition experts, we are hopeful our children’s school attendance will continue to increase.

We hope you join us in wishing all of our children luck in their exams!

In other news we celebrated a significant milestone a few weeks ago as our first ever HIV+ child was adopted. The two year-old has been living at our Rehab Center since his HIV+ mother, unable to care for him herself, gave him up for adoption. Having bonded with many of or other children and the caregiver responsible for him, we are missing him already but we are really happy to have met his new adoptive parents when they came to collect him a few weeks ago. We have since been sent photos of him as he takes to his new life in the United States.

This may be the first HIV+ adoption we know of in India, but we are confident it will be the first of many. We are grateful to the parents who saw beyond the stigma, the more children are accepted by adoptive parents the more the unfounded fears surrounding HIV will be reduced which will benefit all of the children living in our Rehab Center.

We are grateful to you for standing alongside us as we create better futures for our children by tailoring our support to their health requirements. Thank you for your support.

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Suraj & Sandip enjoy a visit from their uncle
Suraj & Sandip enjoy a visit from their uncle

As we shared with you a few weeks ago, Snehalaya is celebrating 30 years of empowering women and children this year. As 2020 approaches, we would like to share a little more on the impact of our 30 years of our work. Having started in 1989 by our founder taking two children away from the red-light areas for a few hours a day, we have matured into a well-recognised organisation providing life-changing impact at grassroots level. All 23 of our current projects seek to address the root causes that leave women and children vulnerable to exploitation and your support ensures we reach over 17,000 people each and every year.

Your support of our rescue projects funds many areas of our work and we want you to know just how far your valued donation goes. Our holistic approach has developed a diverse portfolio of projects the focus on the specific needs of our beneficiaries. Below are details of the year of some of the projects you have funded, the year they were founded and the total number of beneficiaries so far:

  • 1989 – Snehjyot, sex workers projects – over 3,500 female sex workers provided free healthcare, counselling, legal advice, alternatives to sex work and more…
  • 1992 - Rehabilitation Center, our shelter home for orphans, semi-orphans and children living with HIV/AIDS – 1,250 children aged 5-18
  • 2003 – Childline – over 9,000 cases, including sexual abuse, kidnap, runaways, sex trafficking, child marriage and labour and more…
  • 2010 – Snehadhar English Medium School – 450 pupils
  • 2011 – Snehadhar, our women’s shelter & helpline – 1,800 women and girls provided free healthcare, shelter, counselling, legal advice, education, vocational training and more…
  • 2016 – GKN Rehab Center – aftercare and independent living and support to continue the education and help find employment for 40 boys who have reached the age of 18 and are no longer legally allowed to stay in our shelter home

As well as providing support, all of the above projects also conduct outreach work with the mission of ensuring every woman and child in our district is aware of their rights in the hope that they will avoid the crisis points that bring our beneficiaries to our doors. Since 1989, we have welcomed over 200,000 people who have directly benefitted from our services and have helped them to turn their lives around. There are so many reasons they come to us and every story is unique but the one common factor is they eventually turn into a story of success. The ending of five year old Suraj and 11 year old Sandip’s story remains unwritten but we have high hopes for them…

The boys were orphaned when their parents died of AIDS-related illnesses. While Sandip is HIV+, fortunately for Suraj his mother was administered HIV medication during her pregnancy that reduces the risks of transmitting HIV. After his birth he was also given follow up HIV drugs and there was a huge relief when he finally tested negative.

After the death of their mother and father, their transgender uncle took on responsibility for the boys care but he also had to work, which meant leaving his nephews alone at home. Realising this wasn’t good for them he approached the local Child Welfare Committee (CWC), who recommended he enrol the boys in a local shelter home. The boys arrived at Snehalaya in June 2018 with few personal belongings, a small toy car, a pair of sunglasses and a small bag of snacks. Their uncle clearly loves and misses them but as he lives close he has lots of opportunities to visit the boys on his days off, bringing them their favourite foods and taking them on short rides around the grounds on his motorcycle.

Both boys are gregarious and soon made friends, quickly becoming very popular. Sandip is very sensible and still a little shy, playing the role model, guiding and keeping a brotherly eye on his younger sibling. He is also very kind and has befriended one of our other boys who is deaf, quickly learning sign language to play and communicate with him. Suraj is a cheeky chap with bags of energy which means he never quite manages to sit still. He’s also a real character and recently played a policeman in one of the films our children wrote, directed, filmed and acted in. He took the role very seriously practising his marching and serious face so he was ready for action when the camera started rolling.

We would like to thank you for supporting and enabling us to be able to take in so many children like this lovable pair and hope you continue your journey with us to see how their story unfolds. For now, they and all of our children are looking forward to Christmas and their annual visit from Santa Claus. We hope they and you have a very merry festive season.

Help us win prizes - donate now
Help us win prizes - donate now

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Two siblings whose mother is a sex worker in the red light area of a small town in Ahmednagar district were admitted about 6 years ago in our Rehab Center. Initially when these children stayed with their mother, they  had nowhere to go especially in the evenings and late hours of night when many women in this area were engaged in sex work.

Snehalaya’s social workers who worked in this area often saw these kids. Their school and studies were getting hampered and the boy was gradually getting attracted towards some bad vices due to peer pressure. Their mother was also worried for the little daughter. She talked with the social workers about her troubles. She was informed about our residential center for such children; she agreed to send the children there to ensure their safety. 

Both of them came to us and started their life anew. Kiran continued his studies till standard 10th. After which he expressed his desire to learn some trade so that he could become financially independent and help his mother. He started his training at a well-known Unisex salon chain in Pune about 6 months ago. Kiran seems to be a born artist and he took to the art of haircuts & hair styling just like a fish to the water. He has very creative hands. The owner of the chain is amazed at how quickly he is picking up and tells us that he will be an expert in this profession soon. Meanwhile the Snehalaya team has also convinced Kiran to continue his studies simultaneously.

Kiran’s sister, Suma got admission in one of the well-known schools in Ahmednagar. The sports teacher recognized her talent and advised us to encourage her to take up ‘Judo’, a type of martial art. She has been playing since last 4 years in the team. Just a few months ago she won the district level championships and was selected for the state level matches. She has recently represented Ahmednagar at the state level. She is in 9th std now and aspires to continue her studies and sports simultaneously. Suma dreams to be in civil services in the future.

Snehalaya can help children of Sex workers like Kiran and Suma to explore new opportunities by providing the much need shelter, food, clothing, counseling, education with safe and secure surroundings only because of the precious support which we have been receiving from you all. Join us to rescue such children from the vicious cycle of sex trade and trafficking and ensure a great future for them. Help us stop second generation prostitution!

Snehalaya wants to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support and for being part of our family. You are making the difference by helping us to continue with our life changing work. If you are interested in volunteering please visit the relevant page of our website as linked below.

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Organization Information

Snehalaya 'Home of Love'

Location: Ahmednagar, Maharashtra - India
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Snehalaya
Project Leader:
Joyce Connolly
Ahmednagar, Maharashtra India
$207,199 raised of $255,450 goal
 
2,432 donations
$48,251 to go
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