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
Sangeeta still lives & works in a red light area
Sangeeta still lives & works in a red light area

We are excited to announce that with your support we are planning a new programme to help rehabilitate even more sex workers to leave the profession. We will be offering an expanded vocational training and education programme and extending the reach of the sex workers able to access it. Instrumental to the succcess of this will be our outreach and peer educators who, like Sangeeta, completely understand the challenges as they themselves come from and still live in the communities we exist to serve.

When Sangita’s husband died when she was 39, she found herself alone and with no other support available was drawn into prostitution. It gave her the money she needed to live but at the expense of her own self-respect, safety and health. Sangita had become part of a community pushed into the sex trade due to financial crisis, a high-risk group oppressed equally by society, law makers and the government which has to fight for basic rights. Even those brave enough to try to leave prostitution and start a new life are so shunned by society that often they find it easier to return to sex work.

As a female sex worker in our district, Sangita soon heard about the work of Snehalaya to reduce STIs and control the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst sex workers, their clients and partners and sought our help. In 2007, seeing her potential, our Assistant Director convinced her to work with us as a Peer Educator. She immediately started encouraging sex workers to attend regular medical check-ups and HIV and STI tests and conducting activities to raise health awareness and social entitlements. Within a year, she was appointed as a field officer. At first, she found managing the reporting, planning, outreach activity, talking in public and to government officials, whom she had previously been in conflict with, a challenge but she confidently overcame them, finally leaving prostitution to work full time with our project where she has convinced many other FSWs to become peer educators.

She says: “I feel lucky to have been able to break away from the profession and that the women in the sex worker community, my ex-colleagues, have accepted me and made my work easy. I also feel proud of being the first women from this community to be selected as a Maharashtra State field officer and attend the 17th International HIV/ AIDS conference in Mexico as a representative of India, the first lady from the Indian female sex workers community to do so. It was the experience of a lifetime, giving me a sense of achievement… of being someone with a purpose in life.

“I never wanted to be in the profession that circumstances and financial problems pushed me into. Snehalaya offered me a way out by helping others in my community to lead a better life. After 10 years of creating awareness about health and hygiene i'm happy to report all sex workers now insist on using condoms, attend regular health check-ups, second generation prostitution has stopped and many women have left prostitution and make their livelihoods in tailoring, fashion design and embroidery. I personally conduct tailoring classes and run an institute for women who want to start anew and refer their children to shelter homes and schools diverting them away from the hardships of the brothels and slums.”

Sangita has received many awards in recognition of her work, is a member of various district committees and has played a key role in decision making at Snehalaya as a member of our board of trustees since 2013. Like you she believes in supporting women and girls to aspire for more in life and is there to offer her own experience and the guidance required. Thank you - you are helping the Sangeeta's of the future believe in themselves enough to take the leap, leave prostitution and aim higher. 

Pravin led Sangeeta to a happier future
Pravin led Sangeeta to a happier future
Distributing saris to Sangeeta's community
Distributing saris to Sangeeta's community

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Three couples tied the knot
Three couples tied the knot

As the year draws to a close we would like to thank you for choosing to support Snehlaya and wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. For many, this time of year is all about family and as a supporter of our work we would like you to know we consider you a member of our extended family, which includes those who have been orphaned, abandoned or rescued. Like any parent we want our children to have a safe, secure and happy life when they leave the family home and below you can read just a few examples of how, with your support, we do our best to ensure this. make sure you also watch the video below to hear our Christmas message to you.

Happy ever after

We’ve been a festive mood right from the outset of December as we celebrated our bride and groom interaction programme for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) during World AIDS Week. We know that one of the biggest challenges of living with HIV is the attached stigma, particularly when looking for a suitable marriage partner, which is why we offer this unique match-making event. This year more than 300 people, including several of our own beneficiaries, registered for our programme with eight couples finding their perfect match, bringing the total number of marriages we have arranged in this way to 38.

Among our newlyweds is Sania who was orphaned as a young girl then left with distant relatives when her sisters married. Aged nine she started falling ill repeatedly and when tests showed that she was HIV positive her relatives forced her to leave their home and move to Snehalaya. Here she completed school and a fashion design course and turning 24 was keen to start the next chapter of her life so joined our marriage programme. There like everyone else she had the opportunity to share her hopes, interests and what she was looking for in a partner with the potential grooms. She caught the attention of a man who she was also interested in and after spending more time with him decided he was the one for her. His family and our womens’ shelter team then made the necessary arrangements and within two weeks they were married in a special ceremony at our head office. Sania has now moved to start her new life with her husband and we are looking forward to seeing how she has settled in when we visit her for another wedding reception in a few weeks.

Family ties

Her departure was emotional as she said goodbye to the home and family she has known for so long but we will continue to keep in touch with her to ensure she is living happily ever after. She will also be invited back to our annual Snehamelava reunion held each November to welcome our past beneficiaries back on to campus. Organised by our women’s shelter project immediately after Diwali celebrations, a very family-focused time of the year, we’ve been holding it since 2012. It’s lovey to see and hear from our past students, including those who have married, moved for work or to continue their studies or returned to their own families, and find out how they are doing now they are adults.

This year, as always, our founder, trustees and staff were there to welcome them home and hear about their successes. It was also an opportunity for the visitors to meet up and share their memories with their Snehalaya siblings and to update the staff that offered the guidance and support on how they are now achieving their dreams and in some cases introduce them to their own children, all of whom are warmly welcomed into our extended family.

Among those returning this year was Maya who is our first beneficiary to follow in the footsteps of many of our staff to complete a Masters in Social Work. Her initial motivation was to work with us when she graduated but during her studies she realised she could offer more by first learning from other NGOs and social work organizations and she is now working for Sampark, a charity for women and children in Mumbai. Among those she caught up with at the reunion was her younger sister Meena who is currently completing her own studies with a degree in commerce with the hope of becoming an accountant. It was lovely to see them both and all of our other 'children'.

Thank you for all of your support in 2016, we wish you the best for 2017 and hope that you you have enjoyed hearing from your Snehalaya family.

Family portrait
Family portrait

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Pramila and Prajekta are the best of friends and the 17 year olds already have quite a history together. They both come from very poor families and met at a government hostel where they had been admitted in the hope that they would be better provided for there. While the institution provided the basics, the prison-like atmosphere prompted the duo, along with six other girls, to break out in the dead of night over a year ago.

While Prajekta ran to a nearby aunty and uncle, Pramila found the 30-year-old married man she had been having an affair with before she entered the home. The 15-year-old moved in with her lover, who is father to a 13-year-old, where she lived until she was found by her father six months later.

He promptly returned her to the hostel and filed a rape complaint against her ‘boyfriend’. The other six escapees had returned to their families and given that they had found it so easy to slip out of the hostel unnoticed a district judge ruled that it was not a safe home for these vulnerable girls. He issued a court order that they be sent to one of the best homes available, with a reputation for keeping its beneficiaries safe, happy and secure, that home was Snehalaya.

Pramila and Prajekta moved to our Rehab Centre three months ago and have settled in really well with Pramila taking to the stage at our recent Ganpati Chaturthi festival to sing in front of our other 250 children. As her heavenly voice drifted across campus it was impossible to tell that she has lengthy and potentially traumatic legal actions to face in the not too distant future. Fortunately our counsellors and staff are well trained in this area and have been helping her prepare. It’s thanks to their support that when her parents, fearing recriminations in the community they are all from, suggested she drop the case and instead become the second wife of her ‘boyfriend’, she was adamant that they proceed and he face justice.

For now she is fully committed to her final year of school and hoping for good results which will help her to become a police officer and help others like her who are taken advantage of by older men. 

It's thanks to your support that we have built the reputation we have for providing safe care for vulnerable girls like these. On behalf of all of our children, thank you for chosing to help us.

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Thanks to you, Anjali's future looks bright
Thanks to you, Anjali's future looks bright

Thank you for all your support in changing the destinies of marginalized children and women. Although we aim to help all those who need our assistance, the foundations of Snehalaya are based on rescuing children and women from the hardships and exposure of living within red light communities in our district and beyond.

Breaking the cycle

While our younger children have recently returned to school and our older children are making their final preparations to start college next month, we have been conducting outreach visits to sex workers to offer their children a safe and secure home and education. As a result, we have recently welcomed another 28 beneficiaries to our Rehab Center where they have also been admitted to our English Medium School.

We firmly believe that education can help break the cycle of exploitation and violence that goes hand in hand with prostitution. With your continued donations we can ensure those within our care are given every opportunity to complete their studies and progress to college and university, opening up more choice in their own futures.

The results

Therefore, we are very proud to announce a 78% success rate for our 10th Standard students this year. A special well done to Sonali who received top marks overall. She has overcome her own personal challenges whilst completing her studies. Recently, while undergoing routine medical treatment, it was discovered she was HIV+. She was admitted to our Rehab Center to receive specialized care and support and, thanks to an intense programme of counselling and emotional guidance from our caregivers, she is adjusting well to her new home and diagnosis. She is now focussed on completing her studies in commerce and the future your support is providing her. You’ll also be pleased to hear that we achieved a 100% pass rate for our 12th standard students who are now busy preparing to start college.

Fighting for education

As part of our ongoing support to girls and women we have joined the year-long campaign, Students Stand #WithMalala (SSWM), a collaboration between Malala Fund and Participant Media, to empower the next generation to raise their voices for all girls’ rights to 12 years of free, safe and quality education. Since our launch in November we have shared Malala Yousafzai’s story and campaign with over 27,000 people. On 15 June, our Rehab Center children added their voices to the campaign, taking part in our showcase to celebrate the conclusion of our roadshows within Ahmendnagar District. They performed three dances highlighting the hardship women worldwide face on a daily basis.

One of our newest admissions, a brave young woman called Anjali also took part in the programme by sharing her own story. Anjali and her parents were tricked into an arranged marriage with a violent husband. Three days after the wedding she managed to escape and fled over 120km back to her parents' house in one of the villages we were screening the Malala documentary. Inspired by the film and Malala’s personal story, she came straight to our office where, thanks to your donation we were able to offer to support her to complete her studies. She is now looking forward to her new life at college training to become a social worker.

Anjali says: “If a 12 year old can do all of this for her education, I can fight for mine too. Thank you for your support in helping me to take back ownership of my life and education.”

Read more about our campaign to stand #withMalala here.

Flying the flag for girls' education
Flying the flag for girls' education
Our 12th standard students celebrate their results
Our 12th standard students celebrate their results

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Holi provided a welcome break from exam revision.
Holi provided a welcome break from exam revision.

Mortality at all time low

We have amazing news! Thanks to your support we are incredibly happy to say that for the first time in our 27-year history we have completed the financial year without enduring the heartbreak of reporting that one or more of our beneficiaries has died as a result of HIV or AIDS. This is the lowest our child HIV mortality rate has ever been.

You should take credit in knowing that your support has directly enabled us to make some simple but significant changes in the support and care we offer. Thanks to you, we’ve been able to improve our Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART), introduce more exercise into daily routines to delay beginning drug treatment and adapt our menus introducing more vitamins and nutrition from our farm grown produce. Also very importantly our record-keeping to monitor beneficiary development and identify any issues earlier has been improved.

Healthier longer, fitter and stronger

Although the introduction of organic food direct from our Himmatgram (find out more about our farm project here) means we now know what is going into our food, following consultation with a dietitian we are taking further steps to increase fruit, nuts and dairy into our meals whilst continuing to reduce salt and sugar intakes. This is important, along with regulated meal timings, to maintain the effectiveness of our ART medication.

We all know that exercise is good for you and the children here love to take part in recreational and competitive activities. On top of traditional Indian games such as Kabbadi, we’ve introduced football and volleyball. Being active is not only good for the body, it’s good for the spirit. Most Olympians couldn’t match the pride that our Balbhavan children experienced when they swept the board with 80% of the prizes at our Inter-sports day.

Educating for Empowerment

We believe it is our responsibility to equip our children with the life skills they will need to stand on their own feet once they leave our care. Living in the World’s largest democracy we know that educating them on their rights to have their say on their lives and environment is essential. Therefore, we are proud to announce the inauguration of our Child Parliament.

Following consultation, our children, with support and guidance from a Bangalore NGO with a similar initiative, created their own government structure and held independent elections. All 11 dormitories now have a Chief Minister and a Cabinet made up of Health, Education, Cultural, Sport, Law and Opposition Ministers, who each have two helpers, ensuring that everyone has a role to play.

The Chief Ministers, Cabinet and full Parliament all meet separately, twice a month, consulting with their constituents to bring forward matters for wider discussion or the attention of our staff. The children are absolutely loving being able to have their say and air their issues openly and we are learning so much more about how we can better support and develop them. With dedicated representatives able to directly discuss issues with those experiencing them, they are also finding their own solutions to problems and we are reaping the rewards with radical rises in school and exercise attendance.

It’s inspiring how seriously they take their personal development and education and for the past few month many have been studiously revising for their State Board exams. We have 17 children currently taking 10th standard exams and eight their 11th standard. We are expecting great things from them and to help them achieve this we arranged Skype meetings with an educational counsellor from Mumbai and guest lectures and motivational talks from exceptional local teachers. Some also took mock examinations giving them invaluable to build their confidence. They will receive their final results in June.

This commitment is why we already have 34 students currently enrolled in college and once exams are over we are planning visits to further and higher education institutions so our 10th and 11th standard students can investigate their own career choices. You can read more and support our education programme here.

Priya says thank you in becoming a local leader

One former beneficiary who realised her career dreams is Priya, who devastatingly lost both her parents to HIV. Staying with relatives in a small village near Ahmednagar shortly afterwards, she also fell sick. Lab tests confirmed Priya was HIV+ and suffering from tuberculosis. She was outcast by her own family and villagers, her schooling was stopped and everyone started telling her that she too would die soon.

Priya was shattered, not so much at the thought of death, but at being unable to fulfil her ambition of joining the Police. When we heard her tragic story we reached out to her, bringing her to Snehalaya for medical treatment and some much needed emotional and moral support. We encouraged Priya to continue her studies, providing books, tuition and physical training, so that once she passed the state exams she could compete with other candidates to qualify for Police training.

Priya is India’s first known HIV+ policewoman, setting a great example for the many other boys and girls at Snehalaya who are studying hard to achieve their own career dreams without discrimination. With your continued support we know we can create many more role models like Priya.

Many thanks for staying a constant support to Snehalaya so we can continue to improve the lives of all of our beneficiaries and, like Priya, ensure they acheive their ambitions.

Priya's Police Passing Out Parade.
Priya's Police Passing Out Parade.
The children take turns to prepare Sunday dinners.
The children take turns to prepare Sunday dinners.
Our Child Parliament represents all ages.
Our Child Parliament represents all ages.

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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
$211,019 raised of $255,450 goal
 
2,489 donations
$44,431 to go
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