“You should play with your friends, not your own children.”
Meet Vidya*, a 17-year-old student at Baale Mane, Shadhika’s partner in Bangalore, India. Baale Mane is a home for girls who have been abandoned, orphaned, or rescued from child labor.
Shown at center in the photo above, Vidya has lived at Baale Mane since she was a young girl.
On the brink of graduating and moving into the city for college, Vidya is at an age of transition. With a grant from Shadhika, Baale Mane launched a Life Skills course this past May to prepare the girls for this change. The course serves girls age 13 – 24 in all stages of transition. The Life Skills course has exercises to help the girls explore and understand issues ranging from sexual health, self-confidence, stress management, living independently, interpersonal relationships, and career planning.
In one such exercise, students were asked to write letters to their future daughters, full of their hopes and dreams and advice for them. In her letter, Vidya tells her future daughters, “You should play with your friends, not your own children.” What makes this letter all the more profound is that Vidya narrowly escaped child marriage herself. Less than one year ago, when she was just 16, Vidya was kidnapped from Baale Mane by her extended family who attempted to force her into an arranged marriage. They took her over 50 miles away to her home village. However, with help from her brother, Vidya escaped, and after several days, she found her way back to Baale Mane.
Baale Mane provides a safe and loving home for over 60 girls like Vidya. With Baale Mane’s support, these girls are preparing to live independently in a home they can create for themselves. Shadhika is proud to support Baale Mane to help young women like Vidya make this transition and realize this dream for their future.
After being a leader in ‘Snehidhi’ at CWDR, Indira* applied for, and was awarded, a Shadhika College Scholarship grant in 2016. She is now studying pharmacology at Ultra College of Pharmacy in Madurai, abo
Her family situation is challenging. Her mother is quite sick and her father’s wages are not enough to support the family. She draws her strength from her older sister who does domestic work in the mornings so she herself can attend college in the evenings.
Indira’s first year of college has provided her an opportunity to live on her own for the first time in a hostel with other students. Initially, her family and CWDR were worried about how she would manage, it is not common to live on one’s own during college, especially for a girl. But she has managed this transition well and is becoming more confident.
Like many of Shadhika’s other College Scholarship recipients, one of the biggest challenges for Indira has been that all her college classes are taught in English. In India, is it common practice for K-12 school to be taught in one’s native language – in Indira’s case, Tamil – but for college to be taught in English. This has created a large learning curve for many of our scholarship girls, an issue we are looking to address going forward.
Though Indira has struggled with English, she has been learning it quickly and even challenged herself to write her 2nd year essay to Shadhika in English. CWDR will work with her during the the summer and holidays so she can continue to improve her language skills.
In her 2nd year essay, she shared what it has been like to go to school this first year: “I am understanding my talents…I am a brave girl. Confidently, I can achieve something. I can talk well. No fear. I make all the decisions myself. I will face all the challenges and fight for my goal, whatever be the problem.”
From her college experience, Indira is beginning to understand how other people live and function in the world beyond her community. We look forward to watching her progress and sharing in her accomplishments during this next school year.
Before going to Uddami, Anu* was struggling with horrible circumstances in her home life. Her in-laws were abusing and beating her and Anu’s husband did not respect her. Her husband’s family did not support her wanting to further her education and forced her to drop out of college.
She decided to leave her husband’s house and move back home with her mother. Anu’s mother is a maid-servant and her father is not a part of their lives. At that time, Anu’s mother was also supporting Anu’s sister and Anu’s grandmother.
Anu and her mother felt lost and didn’t know what to do about Anu’s situation, but then a neighbor told them about Uddami. After having an interview with Uddami, Anu was selected to study there. She was very happy for the opportunity, but was apprehensive whether she would be able to learn computer skills.
Her apprehension quickly vanished as Uddami helped her gain more confidence. She successfully completed Uddami’s full course and then enrolled in Uddami’s teacher training program to gain even more skills. After graduating in 2014, she secured a job near her house as a receptionist at a dental clinic where she continues to work today. She is also currently interning to be a dental assistant. She helps support her mother and sister with her earnings.
Anu states, “Uddami taught me very well, that’s why I am able to handle my job properly. I have some colleagues that are senior to me and they are shocked to see me typing! Now they come to me to teach them how to do things on the computer.”
Since getting a job, Anu feels a lot more confident and realizes her worth as a strong young woman. She is back with her husband and receiving the respect she deserves from him and his family. Her in-laws now realize that educating a woman actually is the best investment a family can make.
While the ending of this story of Anu going back to live with her in-laws may not be what we view in the United States as a happy ending, in Indian culture marriage greatly defines a woman’s identity and oftentimes divorce is out of the question. Anu demonstrated immense courage bettering her life circumstances and educating her husband’s family on gender equality.
Aruna* is a determined and bright 20-year-old who is very excited about her future. Currently in the 3rd year of her Bachelor of Commerce degree, Aruna excels in all aspects of her new, independent life with the help and support from Baale Mane.
Aruna had a difficult start to life. Her parents both died from the HIV virus and her two younger brothers also died at a young age. At just 6 years of age, Aruna was taken in by her grandmother who forced her into child domestic labor and begging to help provide for them both. Rescued by the police at age ten, Aruna joined the Baale Mane family.
In the beginning, it was a struggle for her to adjust to life at Baale Mane. The death of her parents and siblings left her distraught and angry. She would not allow anyone to become close to her and kept her distance from the staff and other children. Having never attended school, Aruna was very nervous about it at first.
However, with her piercing eyes and great determination, she soon became popular with her peers and teachers. She began to enjoy her newfound talents in sports, dance and extra-curricular activities. With extra tutoring and support from the staff, Aruna quickly made up for her lost years in education and graduated from secondary school with high marks.
Despite the odds, Aruna has blossomed into a mature and hardworking young woman who also wants to give back to others. She is very active in the community, teaching local slum children how to read and write, taking part in regular performances of traditional Bollywood and classical dances and the infamous Dollu Drum Dance on behalf of Baale Mane. Aruna was recently awarded the Procam and Star Sports ‘Believe Protagonist’ award in May! Aruna dreams of becoming a Bank Manager and hopes to continue on to get her Master’s degree after graduation.
“I still have the lingering smell on my nose… sweat of countless men I had to entertain… smoke of cigarettes… fragrance of Pond’s powder… abusive words that hurled on me like a hail storm… life was a never ending pain both mentally and physically.. a cycle that was never ending.. a life devoid of love, compassion and even a simple smile”.
Radha* was born into a large family in Rajasthan in Northern India. Her father worked as a seasonal farmer and made 8,000 rupees a year ($126.00 USD), which left her family starving for one meal a day. Radha and her siblings never went to school and lived without basic necessities.
One day a girl, Surmoni, returned to the village. She said she had been working as a “house maid” in Delhi. She told Radha that she could also work in Delhi and make good money. Because they trusted Surmoni, Radha’s family gave Radha permission to go to Delhi for work.
Radha left her family at 14 years old and went to Delhi with Surmoni. She says that she was terrified to leave her village and her family, but that she thought of her family’s pain and hardships and that compelled her to go.
After arriving in Delhi, Surmoni took Radha to place in the city where Radha was sold for five thousand rupees ($78.00 USD). Radha says she was then beaten and made to do the most humiliating work. She says she felt stigmatized and thought she could never go back to her family, so she took to excessive drinking.
Radha’s family hadn’t heard from her in three years, so they contacted a local NGO, Sahyog, to ask for help in locating her. Sahyog contacted STOP India and asked for help. STOP found Radha and rescued her from the brothel.
After giving her statement to the police, Radha was taken back to her village by STOP and began the process of rehabilitation. Today she works as an active community worker and is learning embroidery. She says, “Today I have the freedom to be what I want to be and am earning money with dignity.”
STOP India is one of Shadhika’s newest grantees. STOP is based in Delhi and seeks to end human trafficking through a multi-pronged approach. Shadhika is supporting their efforts to launch a handicrafts and textile business for 15 survivors, so they can become economically self-sufficient. The following highlights the impact of their work.
Priya* is an active member and leader of “Snehidhi”, the girls association run by Shadhika grantee, The Centre for Women’s Development and Research (CWDR). She is from the Kabalithottam slum in the Mylapore area outside of Chennai, a city on India’s eastern shore.
Priya lives with her mother, a domestic worker; her father, a driver; and her two younger sisters in a one-room house. Her father spends his earnings only on himself, so the household is run on her and her mother’s pooled incomes.
Initially, when Priya passed her higher secondary school examinations and wanted to go to college, her parents opposed it because they wanted to marry her off as soon as possible. But Priya was resolute in her desire to go to college and, with the help of CWDR staff members, she convinced her mother to let her pursue her dream. She is now enrolled in a Bachelor of Computer Applications course. CWDR and her mother’s employer are helping cover the costs of college.
Awake up by 5 am, Priya first helps her mother in the morning household activities, including fetching water from the public tap. Then she goes
with her mother to do domestic work, where they each earn Rs 3500 per month (about $56.00). From 2 pm to 6 pm, she attends her college classes. In the evening, she helps with dinner and chores around the house and then finally does her homework.
Priya says once she finishes her college studies and gets a good job, she will ask her mother to stop working and she will take care of her. She also wants to help her sisters get an education and jobs.
The Centre for Women’s Development and Research (CWDR) is one of Shadhika’s newest grantees. CWDR works in the slums and rural villages surrounding Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Shadhika supports CWDR’s anti-violence training for young men as well as their “Snehidhi” initiative. “Snehidhi” (“girlfriend” in Tamil) provides over 3,000 girls, ages 10-17, with life skills, vocational training, and self-defense training. The following highlights the impact of their work.
At 20, Safia* was older than the other girls when she came to a VACHA.
She and her one-year old child had recently returned to her parents’ home after spending two years with an abusive husband. She had been pulled out of the junior college she was attending and married off to a cousin, a common practice in her community. The man lived with his family in a small town in North India. He had questionable friends and a police record.
Coming from a very conservative family, her mobility had been restricted. She had not had any exposure to the real world apart from going to school. But she had a great enthusiasm for exploring growth opportunities.
At VACHA she received lessons in English, computer use and leadership activities and she participated in them sincerely. Within six months she was selected to be a community organizer for VACHA.
Today she has enrolled in a university, completed a certificate course in computers and is doing an advanced course that will qualify her for a better job as an accountant, perhaps at VACHA itself.
She continues to be inspired by her work and interaction at VACHA. She has even managed to convince her father not to marry her younger sisters off early and let them complete their education. Her family does not like the amount of time she spends out of home, but the fact she is now earning an income to support the family helps!
VACHA is one of Shadhika’s newest grantees. VACHA works in the ‘bastis’ (or slums) in greater Mumbai and provides after-school programs in English, Computer Training, Leadership Development, and workshops that promote gender equality for over 3,000 girls and boys ages 10 to 24
*names have been changed for security reasons