Change the world — empower girls

Updated: Oct 08, 2014, 19:37 PM IST

As International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2014, draws closer, we speak to girls who have been empowered by various organisations.

Seeta Kumari, 21, Educate Girls

I was married at the age of 14, but I continued to live with my parents till I turned 18. My parents always wanted me to be educated and independent. When I moved to my in-laws' house and expressed her desire to complete her 10th grade through an open university, I faced disapproval and rejection. They called my father and asked him to take me home, if I didn't part with my dreams. My parents supported me and when I got back home, I applied for Class 10th (though I am yet to complete it). When my in-laws heard about this, they came home with members from the Panchayat and threatened my father. But my father refused to give in. We had to bear the consequences—we were not only slapped with a fine of Rs. 12 lakhs, but we were also ostracised from the community. My father and I have filed a case against them in the court; it has been two years now and we are still waiting for the verdict. In the meantime, I joined Team Balika (of Educate Girls) as a community volunteer. , For the past two years, I have been promoting the importance of education for girls, in my village, and bringing out-of-school girls back into school. I have managed to enroll about 25 girls in school. There have been instances when I have stopped child marriages by informing the local administrative authorities and media. I have met Kiran Bedi and I aspire to be a brave IPS officer, like her. I want people to know that by educating a girl, do ghar ka naam roshan hoga—ek maayke ka aur ek sasural (you are going to be the pride of two homes: your maternal houses and your in-laws' house).

Educate Girls

Catalyst: A research analysis from the Ministry of Human Resources Development, which showed that Rajasthan has 9 of the 26 worst gender gap districts in India for girls' education.

Modus Operandi: Educate Girls systematically challenges structural, cultural and socio-economic barriers through a combination of community mobilization strategies and child-centric learning and teaching techniques. It is building a cadre of village-based youth leaders to work as champions for girls' education and catalysts for school reform. Team Balika works in the schools as well as village communities spreading awareness about girl child education. It boosts enrolment, retention and learning outcomes for all girls.

Outreach: Schools in Pali, Jalore, Sirohi, Ajmer, Bundi and Rajsamand.

Achievement: The team has closed the gender-gap in Pali district, which was considered to be the worst in terms of gender-gap, within a span of three years.

Future Plans: They plan to close the gender-gap in 15 districts (4.4million children), beyond Rajastan, in India, by 2018.

You can help by: taking up the Vodafone campaign to click selfies and upload your pic on their website. 1 selfie=educating 10 girls, donating and volunteering.

Jyoti Krishna Kadam, 17, Aamcha Ghar

"My mother left me here when I was 2.5 years old. She wanted me to be educated and live a respectful life. This place is like home, sometimes I feel it's even better than what a home can provide. All the girls here are loved and respected.

I am happy that I can speak fluent English. It makes me confident. I don't fear speaking in public. Our teachers and founders have taught us etiquettes and brought us up with discipline.

Our founders, Susheela and Anthony are our parents; we call them 'mom and dad'. I look up to my dad. He is an all-rounder; he has answers for all my questions. I wish to be like him.

When I grow up I either want to be a Hollywood singer or an air hostess. I love Hannah Montana. I keep singing her songs all the time.

Aamcha Ghar is a happy place for me and my friends. We love it here."

Aamcha Ghar

Catalyst: In 1995, Agatha Susheela Dias and Anthony Dias rescued a sexually exploited girl from the Mumbai Street, only to discover that no institutions would take her because she was not an orphan. Girls were denied admission in homes if they had a single parent, despite the fact that the single parent often worked all day, leaving the girl to fend for herself or in the care of sexually, physically or emotionally abusive relatives.

Modus Operandi: Aamcha Ghar provides a residential home for orphaned and semi-orphaned girls from the streets of Mumbai. It focuses on early intervention, rescuing and rehabilitating young girls from the streets.

Achievement: When possible, Aamcha Ghar also provides counseling and economic guidance to girls' parents or relatives, with the ultimate aim of stabilizing the family environment and improving economic status so girls can be re-united with their families. provides English Medium formal education for younger beneficiaries as well as children of local fisher folk families

Future Plans: Find funding to construct new classrooms, implement school bus service, start scholarship programme to fund the college tuition for pupils who complete 10th standard.

Supriya Yewale, 20, SNEHA

Because of Sneha, I have the confidence to stand on my own feet. Whatever I learn here—health, hygiene, nutrition...—I go home (Chirag Nagar, Ghatkopar) and teach my family too. I got married at 18 and my in-laws initially did not want me to study further, but with the help of the Sneha counsellors, I convinced them to let me study. I completed 12th standard and signed up for first year degree college at Yashwantrao Chavan Open University. I have also registered for a diploma in MSc IT. I tried out for the police entrance a little while ago but couldn't get in because I'm 154.5 cm (half an inch shorter than the cut-off 155 cm). I really want to join the police academy. I'm going to try again.

Kajal Yadav,17, SNEHA

Then there is 17-year-old Kajal Yadav whose mother—the sole breadwinner in her family—was not too keen on letting her continue studying as she already had two elder brothers and a sister who were sitting at home, "besides girls get married and go away". But Kajal was determined to study and with the help of her Sneha counsellor convinced her mother that she would be a breadwinner one day too. While she finds inspiration in Savita, a dance teacher she admires and intends to be popular dancer herself one day, she is currently studying Commerce in SK Rai College alongside, pursuing a diploma in her Msc IT, as well as a Basic Beauticians Course. She's not clear what she wants for the future, she no longer "bows her head and walks when the local boys tease". She's bold enough to speak up should they step out of line. As bold as she has become, she tells us that the happiest moment in her life "would be if my mum loved me as much as she loves my brothers".

Afreen Vahul, 17, SNEHA

17-year-old Afreen Vahul who opted out of school after the 8th standard is no longer "just sitting at home". The sombre-looking girl, who just happens to be good mehendi artist, is now learning tailoring and hopes to becomes a tailoring master someday and tutor other kids in tailoring. She is hoping to get a machine of her own in a few days. She has three younger brothers and a sister, whom she sends off to school tiffin et al before she attends her tailoring class.


Catalyst: SNEHA was formed in the 1990s when neonatologist Dr Armida Fernandez treated a six-week-old baby who had been raped, and realised it was important to go beyond treatment.

Agenda: Empowering women and girls with information and resources to build healthier families and be catalysts of sustainable change.

Modus Operandi: Its programme to prevent violence against women and girls involves community outreach programmes as well as working with government and public systems to reinforce their role in providing social, civil and economic security and create a supportive co-system for women. The objective is to improve attitudes, practices and behaviours related to maternal, child and adolescent health, gender discrimination and gender-based violence. It also supports survivors of violence.

Outreach: Operating primarily in Ghatkopar, Dharavi and Kandivali it targets maternal and newborn health, child health and nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and prevention of violence against women and children.

Achievements: The Mumbai-based organisation has reached out to 5,250 girls over the past three years.

Future plans: Using technology to track and intervene in violent situations. A three-year pilot project— currently underway in Dharavi—will soon be implemented in Ghatkopar and Kandivali, to sustain youth engagement through resource centres that ensure comprehensive counselling, educational and medical services for adolescents and youth.

You can help by: Donating or volunteering to mentor girls and help them acquire life skills.

Nalini Rammanohar*, 13, who wants to become an Army officer, when she grows older, to protect our nation from all evils tell us, "When I was in the 8th class I was in a Municipal school and I didn't understand English at all. My sir used to scold me a lot and I would often cry. The teacher of Apne Aap visited our school one day and she spoke about the activities that AAWC is engaged in. I was inspired but scared too. However I took the chance of visiting AAWC class and enjoyed myself a lot. From then on I have been a regular student here and have seen an improvement in my personality and confidence. The quiet and silent me has become one who loves to chat and spend time with friends now.

Mrigha Dutta* had "neither been to a school nor anywhere out in the locality. Since I stay in the red light area my mother always sheltered me and kept me at home. It was the teacher of AAWC who visited my home one day told my mother about AAWC and also got me admitted in Wilson school( Class 1). From then on I've been attending school and the tuition and various vocational classes of AAWC. My confidence level now has increased so much that I don't fear anybody now and feel completely in charge of myself". She wants to become a dancer and a good human being and looks up to Shweta Tai (ex-Udaan beneficiary Shweta Katti, not studying at Bard, New York)

Priya Pujari *, 14, "was an extremely shy and introverted girl when I joined Apne Aap. Neither was I interested in studies and nor the extra-curricular activities here. Now I feel after being a part of this organization for nine years, I have only excelled in various fields. My leadership qualities have developed and so has my self-esteem and confidence". The various activities like diya painting, bead jewellery making etc make me happy. Her ambition is to become a Teacher and her role models are Manju Ma'am (the CEO of Apne Aap) and Shikha teacher (The Udaan Program Manager).

Hemangi Pathak*, 14, only heard about AAWC when she was eight years old. "The teacher of AAWC had come to my school and spoken about the activities of the organisation. I had no interest in any extra-curricular activities and competitions, but when I started receiving prizes for my performances and participation, I felt encouraged. Now I have high self-esteem and walk with my head held high". While playing different sports makes her happy, she wants to grow up to be a doctor. Khade Sir (her PT teacher) and her mother are her role models.

Sonia Lamba,* 12, Apne Aap Women's Collective (AAWC)

I, Sonia Lamba, now in Udaan, has been associated with the AAWC since I was very young. I have been living at the night shelter facility for the past three years. I love staying here as I've made friends with all the other students. I feel nice when I'm here. I have learnt several things with the help of the teachers and staff during my stay. I can recite tables, I can read properly and I can talk confidently. What I love the most at AAWC are the activities we regularly engage. I love doing "masti", singing and dancing and want to become a dancer! I want to become like Katrina Kaif when I grow up!

10-year-old Kavita Ghosh, an Udaan beneficiary, who has been staying at the night shelter for the past three years has learnt to speak in English at AAWC. "What I most like about this place is the craft activity by Susan Ma'am. I want to grow up to become a doctor and help others in need. My role model is my mentor, Shalini didi. I want to grow up to become like her".

*The girls names have been changed for confidentiality

Apne Aap Women's Collective (AAWC)

Catalyst: Apne Aap Women's Collective (AAWC) was founded by Sudarshan Loyalka in 1998 on Falkland Road, Khetwadi, Mumbai to address the plight of women trafficked into brothel-based prostitution. The Udaan (flight) program took off in October 2000 to prevent second-generation trafficking. In June 2002, toddlers were included through the launch of the Umang (joy) program.

Agenda: Providing resources for a better quality of life to empower women who have been trafficked into brothel-based prostitution and breaking the cycle of intergenerational prostitution among their daughters. Services include pre-school tutoring, school enrollment, nourishing meals, a healthy and hygienic environment, medical facilities, career counselling, extra-curricular activities, boarding placement, daycare and night shelters.

Modus Operandi: Equipping girls to pursue aspirational professions and genuine socioeconomic mobility.

Outreach: Kamathipura and Falkland. As of March 2014, AAWC has helped around 505 girls. At present, it is looking after 75.

Achievements: AAWC has helped more than 2,800 women and children. Its alumni have earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees and entered professions ranging from accounting to social work and teaching... Till date, no alumni have entered prostitution and they report a 99% annual pass rate in school exams.

Future plans include: Reaching out to a wider beneficiary base within Greater Kamathipura; expanding to scattered red-light areas within Mumbai, where women beneficiaries migrate; starting a shelter home for women, children and girls on the outskirts of Mumbai.

You can help by: Donating, partnering, interning, running, fundraising, volunteering...

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Tejaswini Tanaji, 14, Nanhi Kali

Langdi, races, kho kho, judo, karate... I was always into sports, in fact I came first in karate last year, and focused on studies too. My parents support me in everything. They were happy to make me join Nanhi Kali because they are usually busy running the mess from our and are aware that the school is quite lenient till the 4th Std. They were glad that I would get extra help for English and Math, in the company of friends, and that too within school premises. Though English, Marathi and Science remain my strong points, I've improved in Maths. For the 9th, I've taken private classes as Nanhi Kali doesn't covers all subjects. But classes have too many students, so if I sit behind, it's difficult to follow. Whereas, Nanhi Kali teachers give us personal attention. When we go wrong, they push us, "you can do it". Most of all, Nanhi Kali has given me confidence and exposure. At an international kids festival in Hyderabad, which showcased movies on children different countries, I was given an opportunity to be part of the jury with other dignitaries. Now, I'm not afraid to speak in front of a crowd.

Pallavi Ikke, 14, Nanhi Kali

It's been seven years with Nanhi Kali now, my parents approached them when they had just started the initiative in our school. They understand and teach us like big sisters. They have given me charge of behaviour in our Nanhi Kali club because everyone listens to me, even when I grow up I want to be in the police force like my father. Look at social ills and number of rapes cases! For this I'll have to take the MPSC and UPSC exams after the 12th. When I am not studying, I usually help my mom out at home, listen to songs or draw. I love drawing. In fact the international kids festival at Hyderabad, also had an animation course. Aware of my fondness for drawing, teachers encouraged me to take it up; we were only taught the basics because were there for merely 7-8 days, but I really enjoyed it...When I am with the Nanhi Kali teachers, I feel like I'm at home.

Nanhi Kali

Catalyst: Anand Mahindra 's belief that most social and economic ills in our country can be alleviated by empowering the girl child through education, translated into Project Nanhi Kali in 1996. It is jointly managed by K C Mahindra Education Trust and Naandi Foundation.

Modus Operandi: Nanhi Kali provides material and academic support to girls. We take an extra study class before or after school to bridge the gaps in learning and enable the girls to reach their grade-specific competency level. In recent times we have formed a Nanhi Kali Club, in which students take charge of attendance, behaviour, activities as well as health and hygiene. In this way not only are we able maintain discipline and focus, but also give the girls a sense of ownership. We expose them through several events, including IPL to broaden their horizons, teach them better planning, organisation etc. and so that they don't feel intimated or overwhelmed by large scale events. All of this results in better confidence, knowledge and skills. The team also sensitizes parents and the community on gender equity. Parents and government school teachers are an integral part of the delivery mechanism.

Outreach: 98,000 girls across Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.

Achievement: We started by supporting girls for primary education, but now support girls even for their secondary education. The dropout rate has gone from the national average of 50% to 10% in our project areas and 85% of the 10th-pass Nanhi Kalis that we have been able to track are continuing their education and some are even self employed.

Future Plans: Reaching out to 500,000 girls and expanding to more regions.

You can help by: Supporting the education of a girl child (Std.I-Std.V) — `3,000 annually.


Catalyst: Dasra was formed by (formerly New York-based) investment bankers Deval Sanghavi and Neera Nundy in 2000, when they realised they could transform the lives of millions of Indians by applying private sector principles to the public sector. Research they undertook in 2011 revealed that despite evidence that adolescent girls had the power to transform society, corporates and philanthropists were not contributing to this sector. So, in March 2013, the Dasra Girl Alliance (DGA), a five-year, $14 million initiative was launched in collaboration with USAID and The Kiawah Trust to empower adolescent girls and address the healthcare needs of mothers and children. This year, the Piramal Foundation joined the Alliance with a commitment of `15 crore.

Modus Operandi: Dasra brings together knowledge, funding and people to address social problems, at scale. It supports organisations after rigorous research—mapping all the organisations in a given sector and screening them based on program impact, management team, lives touched and ability to scale.

Agenda: The Dasra Girl Alliance seeks to empower a million adolescent girls and improve health outcomes for mothers and children by 2018. It expects to direct nearly `150 crore to this sector, engage 750 stakeholders and support the impact of 150 innovators.

Outreach: Dasra works across India through scalable high-impact organisations, including the Naz Foundation, Sarathi, Educate Girls, Aangan and Lend a Hand India that have helped nearly 2 lakh adolescent girls in the last year.

Dasra has also enhanced the leadership capacity of 24 organisations that reach out to over a million adolescent girls through its DSI Leadership Program, an executive education program for sector leaders.

Achievements: Highlighting issues in the adolescent girls sector and making it one worth investing in amongst non-traditional players–corporates and Indian philanthropists. Over the last 18 months, Dasra has directed `42 crore of funding to non-profits that improve the lives of adolescent girls in India. Dasra's Girl Power Awards recognize innovative programs that improve adolescent girls health, education and life skills.

Future plans include: Building a sustainable ecosystem around adolescent girls through a multi-pronged approach—creating awareness amongst Indians about how focusing on adolescent girls can help break the poverty cycle; building the organisational capacity of strong non-profits so that they can impact more lives faster; directing more funding from corporates and philanthropists to this issue.

You can help by: Funding as well as sharing your skillset.

By- Averil Nunes, Pooja Bhula, Rama Sreekant

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