Education
 India
Project #14020

Send Mumbai Red-Light Area Girl to US University!

by Kranti
my quarter-life crisis photo :P
my quarter-life crisis photo :P
Dear Friends,
I hope you are all doing wonderfully, no matter where you are! I am in India right now and haven't been able to write an update because....well....I've been having a mid-life (quarter-life??) crisis. I'm sure many of you can identify with me! :) As you know, I took a break from university this past year to explore a little. My exploration took me through several internships....and also to several meditation retreats! And believe it or not, through all the introspection, I've actually found some answers! 
While at college, I had a hard time connecting to many things....sometimes my fellow students would spend hours creating elaborate legal and philosophical arguments about how someone should be punished if they knowingly gave someone HIV. While these classes were fun as thought experiments, I always struggled with how they could possibly help people who are truly affected by these situations. (For example, my stepfather gave my mother HIV...does this mean I want him in jail or want to see him punished? Isn't HIV punishment enough? How would punishment HELP him?) 
My midlife crisis was about exactly this....will my college education make me better suited to help my community? Or would these fun thought experiments lead me farther and farther from the ground reality of where I grew up? My time off helped me finally decide that the one thing I am truly, truly passionate about and committed to is working with my community. As a result, I've decided to leave Bard and attend a program at Watson University in Boulder, Colorado which is for social entrepreneurs. For years, I've had a dream of starting a cafe/community center in the red-light area to help the local kids get early access to all the things I never had in childhood. This includes computer and English skills, but also things like music, therapy, and meditation. 
I've decided I finally want to pursue this dream, and I'm attending the program at Watson so I can learn skills like creating a business plan, pitching to investors, working with stakeholders, etc. I'm incredibly, incredibly excited to attend this program, and I've received a 2/3 scholarship! So....please know that any donation you make from now on will go towards supporting my education in Boulder, not in New York. :) 
Please believe me that all of my crises have only helped me become more and more grateful for all of the amazing people I have in my life, including all of you, who have helped me throughout my journey of self-discovery. As with any college student, I've had a lot of things to think through, but I've finally decided that I am most passionate about working with the youth in my community. I know I'm also very privileged to have so much time to explore, and I can't thank you guys enough for making it all possible. I can't promise that I won't "disappoint" you, but please rest assured that I am doing my absolute best....to be the best student and the best person possible, and to spend my time (and your money!) in a way that positively impacts as many people as possible. :) 
Also, my stepfather passed away a couple weeks ago, which has not been such a struggle for me, but it has deeply affected my mother and my sisters, as well as the entire Kranti family. But this has convinced me even more that my community is where I want to dedicate my time and my life. Please do feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about my program at Watson. And again, THANK YOU for all of your ongoing help and support. When I look back years from now on how I got through college, please know that I will be thankful to each and every one of you for everything you've done for me, especially those of you who have never met or known me. (Insert something about may you be well and happy! :D)
Love,
Shweta
My Meditation Crew
My Meditation Crew
My Beautiful Meditation Center
My Beautiful Meditation Center
Travelling Himachal
Travelling Himachal
Moving into the new house.
Moving into the new house.

Global Giving,

Happy Diwali!! How are you? Hope everything is going great. My life has been pretty interesting; this whole year has gone by so quickly, and I spent most of it traveling. As you already know we started our travel with Semester at Sea to travel all over the world. And after that, I did a US tour with Kranti doing Lal Batti Express with the whole Kranti family.

I came back to Mumbai in late July, and we had to shift from our old house to a new one. It was difficult because we had so many memories with the old house... the craziness and the fun we had. The new one turned out to be a warehouse where all the clothes from the garment shops were stored. We had to clean it and paint it. In the end Kavita and I had decided to become professional painters because it was her and I painting the house and it looked professionally and beautifully done; at least that’s how it looked to us ;).

But I had to put the thought of being a painter on hold, because my internship with Ashoka Innovators for public was going to start in mid-august. I moved to Bangalore and started living in PG (Shared apartment). It was scary to start the internship because I had never worked anywhere. It was finally going to be very real. 

Trina Talukdar (one the co-founders of Kranti) works there, and offered me the internship. It was a relief to me to have someone I knew to support me, but everyone turned out to be very nice and very supportive! There is a 16 year old whom we all call Janu and we became very good friends. She helped me understand the concept of Ashoka and the work I had to do. It has been very helpful for me understand a lot about social sector and the kind of work has been happening. Ashoka looks for the social entrepreneurs trying resolve a social problem by finding different and new innovative ideas which are system changing and have a new approach. Ashoka also has a changemakers schools program where they find schools which are using skills and teaching students to become changemakers. It has been a great experience for a practical world, mentally and emotionally. 

The PG experience has been great; I have been living with three roommates, two of whom are sisters. When I was moving to PG I thought I would mostly to keep to myself, but it turned out to be opposite. The two sisters are adorable and very loving towards me. I would not want to go out, rather I would enjoy their company in our room. They have given me so much love, and they also took me to their village during Dussehra festival and they were so happy that I was coming. Their parents loved me too and I was very happy about going to their house.

I was in Himachal for a week for a photography workshop and that was a good time away from everyone to focus on myself. I have also been meditating the past few weeks and the experience has been great, because I have never felt so much at peace. I have had many self-realizations and it makes me want to improve and become a better person.

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful life.

Shweta

Kavita, Kranti
Kavita, Kranti's best painter, working her magic.
Kavita & I painting the staff room.
Kavita & I painting the staff room.
after the performance at FACEBOOK
after the performance at FACEBOOK

It’s a dream come true, Kranti’s U.S. tour. When Robin (Kranti’s co-founder) told me about her idea of doing a tour around the states with all the Krantikaris, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I seriously didn’t believe we could do something like that, but then I forgot it's Robin - she can pull off anything of course, even if that means no sleep for months.

All the Krantikaris had been working on a play, Lal Batti Express (which in English means Red Light Express) for months, and now it was time to bring it alive on U.S. platforms. I still remember sitting with Robin near the U.S. consulate and waiting to get all the visas. We had all our flights the next morning and were still missing few visas - we had no idea of how it was all going to work out, but I had faith, because this same thing happened to me two years back when I was first flying to U.S. I got my U.S. student visa 1 ½hours before my flight! In the end it worked out for the Krantikaris too, and the next day Lal Batti Express boarded the plane and took off for NYC.

I had been in NYC many times by myself, and this time everyone was there: my mom, my sisters, and the whole Kranti family. It was whole different experience seeing New York City with everyone and I loved it.

After NYC we travelled to DC, then Chicago. We LOVED deep dish pizza in Chicago (but NYC is still my favorite place ;) ). In these cities we performed our play and also went sightseeing. After Chicago we went to Yellowstone, where we got to go river rafting and saw hot springs - it is truly magical to see the things that exist on this planet. I am scared of water, but I dared to go river rafting because A) there is no option of not going at Kranti and B) Dar Ke Agge Jeet hai - facing fears only makes you stronger. After Yellowstone we went to San Francisco, and finally to LA. All these cities were great and I loved them.

The best part of going to all these cities is that we got to perform on very different platforms. In NYC we performed at GEMS, which works with trafficked girls in NYC. We got to share our stories with the people who had similar stories, and we felt very connected. In DC we performed in a juvenile jail where all the girls were our age. In Chicago we performed at the famous Field Museum on an open platform. People stopped by and saw our play, some laughed but kept going and had a wonderful experience. In San Francisco we performed at Google, can you imagine that? Google was something I had not even thought of, and it has its own Indian restaurant... I mean seriously, who has an Indian restaurant in their U.S. office?! The food was delicious. And you know where we performed next? Facebook! Those were the days I did not believe anything was real. In LA we performed at CBS studios; we also performed in a Hindu temple and it was beautiful.

My life on the Lal Batti Express was very exciting, it was an amazing experience for me and all the Krantikaris. Thank you sooooo much to everyone who donated to make this possible. We learned so much about the world and ourselves, and we got to teach others about our lives... all thanks to you!

housefull at the Chicago performance
housefull at the Chicago performance
Pride Parade in San Francisco
Pride Parade in San Francisco
at Field Museum in Chicago
at Field Museum in Chicago
The family that helped me board the ship from MX
The family that helped me board the ship from MX

I am writing to you aboard a ship, somewhere between Namibia and Morocco! As many of you know, this Semester I have been studying on the Semester at Sea Program, where I am travelling to 15 cities, 12 countires over 112 Days.

I want to start by apologising for this report being so delayed. We only have intermittent internet connection on the ship at a few ports. Although, before boarding the ship, I was worried about how I would stay for so long without internet, without email and calling my mother, I found that there are many advantages of not having the internet. There are no distractions from my classes, all the papers I have to write, and I can really spend time with the 600 students aboard the ship and make many great friends.

I am taking classes on Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Theater. My classes are really very interested, mostly because we learn these subjects in the context of the countries the ship is docking at, and we go and  do field trips to cultural and historical sites in these countries. I feel like I understand what I am studying really well because I am seeing these live examples in front of me, and I am learning in a way that I will never forget, because I have been to these places, met these people and have spoken with them. 

As I got the Presidential Scholarship to attend the Semester At Sea Program, I had to conduct 8 workshops for the students on the ship about Sex Work and Gender Inequality in India. I was very nervous about these workshops. The students who would come to my workshops would all be my age or older, what could I possibly teach them or share with them to keep them interested? But I have conducted half of the workshops already and they are going great! I show videos of plays we have performed at Kranti, and at every workshop we discuss a different nuance of stories from the Red Light Areas in India, like child sexual abuse, children of sex workers not getting admitted in school, or sex workers not getting health services because of the taboos associated with them. Before I started the workshops I used to think oly 2 or 3 students will show up, but actually so many students come that some of them have to sit on the aisles!

PS - I shaved my head! It seems to be quite a fad at Kranti, as 4 Revolutionaries have already shaved their head. How do I look?

Boarding the bus to go to Mexico to board the ship
Boarding the bus to go to Mexico to board the ship
With Revolutionary Kavita, also on SAS, @Mauritius
With Revolutionary Kavita, also on SAS, @Mauritius

Links:

UN Award
UN Award

Happy New Year to everyone!!

I had forgotten to mention that I got  UN Youth Courage Award last September. It was a great feeling.

It’s been an exciting year for me. Sophomore year is a challenge but I had so much fun with my suitemates, two of whom were Indians, which was great. This year I found myself become more comfortable at Bard and with American culture. I was happy and excited and got closer to my friends from last year.

The whole semester was challenging but wasn’t impossible to get through and I had my amazing friends to spend time with and to have some fun. I also participated in the biggest event on campus, “Cultural Show at Bard”. I had danced on Bollywood songs with my south Asian friends and it was so much fun. It reminded of Kranti and how we all used to turn the lights off and dance to our favorite Bollywood songs.

Do guys know Sheetal is here?? If you don’t know then you should probably Google her :P. She is quite famous for getting into a drum school in Washington, D.C. She is not just famous but also one of my closest friend from Kranti. Having her here is the best thing that could happen this semester. Having someone from back home and who is close to you it’s great. I am in D.C. with her right now. I got here when I was done with my fall semester. I visited her almost every single break this term. When we hang out we talk in our language. It is Hindi but it’s little different. It’s so much fun when no one around us understands us. I am so glad she is here but I am also sad that I am going to leaver day after tomorrow.

Yeah, I am doing a semester abroad. Do checkout semesteratsea.org it is an amazing opportunity for students to study and explore the world. I won’t believe I am going to be on a ship for four months the whole semester. We’ll be travelling to 12 different countries. No one in this whole world can understand how excited I am and my love for travelling. Yes there are 600 people who are going on this ship but this is different for me. I had never ever in my whole life had imagined this was possible. This is another dream come true for me. I had applied for Spring2013 before applying to Bard and I had also gotten in but couldn’t get my passport on time. But you know there is a saying in Hindi, “Jo bhi hota hai acheke liye hota hai.” Which basically means,”Whatever happens, happens for the good”. And it’s true at least in this case because if I had been on Semester at Sea in Spring2013 then I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to sail with my sister, Kavita. That’s right- another great news; she is sailing with me on SAS Spring2015. It couldn’t have gotten any better sailing with a person I have always talked about staying together with. And this time I also got full scholarship for the program. Seriously what else do I want? This is perfect.

I just can’t wait to start my journey. And I have also started a blog to keep everyone updated on Kavita’s adventures here’s a link to it http://travellingbarefoot.blogspot.com/ if you are interested in readingJ.

I hope exciting things are happening in your lives too.

Shweta

Ready to Sail Semester at sea
Ready to Sail Semester at sea
With Sheetal in NYC
With Sheetal in NYC

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Kranti

Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra - India
Website: http:/​/​www.kranti-india.org
Kranti
Project Leader:
Robin Chaurasiya
Mumbai, Maharastra India

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