by Corinne Yank, GoPhil Communications Manager

In late February GoPhil travelers joined us on a Journey to India in which we spent quality time with regional partner programs. Along the way, we witnessed countless positive transformations taking place at the grassroots level – survivors mastering employable skills, boys challenging traditional gender roles in their own homes, girls speaking boldly of their rights to their communities, women lifting each other up, children being provided with boundless opportunities, and so much more.

At the same time, India is currently facing many challenges, including very worrying levels of communal violence. More so than ever, grassroots partners are providing essential services and support to some of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. All in all, we left India feeling very positive about everything they are managing to achieve.

We thought you would enjoy some highlights, stories and field updates from this recent Journey to India.

Preventing Violence at Shakti Shalini

Dr. Bharti Sharma spoke about Shakti Shalini’s holistic approach to addressing violence against women and girls, which not only supports survivors, but breaks cycles of abuse and exploitation by creating an entire ecosystem of empowermentin which women can thrive.

GoPhil travelers heard from women excelling in sought-after skills such as tailoring, computer technologies, hairdressing, and much more. One woman explained how, when she first arrived at the shelter, she would not even raise her head to look men in the eye. Now, she is confidently running her own notebook-making business, has paid off all her debt and is thriving. We met women who had previously rarely left their homes sitting in circles with other women, smiling, laughing, working together and supporting one another. It was clear to all that Shakti Shakini is providing them with an environment in which they can not only learn skills and recover from trauma, but also socialize, celebrate life and rediscover joy.

Recently, Shakti Shalini organized a self-defense class, which was enthusiastically attended by 30 women. During the class, one woman became overwhelmed by emotion and had to leave the room. She later shared that she wished she had learned these skills earlier, so that she could have protected herself before she was hurt. This story exemplifies the importance of prevention, which is at the forefront of all of Shakti Shalini programs. 

“We could treat victims of violence forever, but that isn’t enough. We must prevent [violence] from occurring in the first place.
• Dr. Bharti Sharma •

Creating New Avenues for Youth at SPID-SMS Center

At SPID-SMS Center, we witnessed children being provided with high-quality education, care and safety in a colorful haven that stands in stark contrast with the high-risk environment of GB Road beyond the walls of the center.

We listened to inspiring stories of children overcoming incredible odds – in fact, not one child from SMS has followed in the footsteps of their mothers trafficked into sex work on GB Road. Instead, they have gone on to pursue careers in education, social work, health, and more. We chatted with one of their eldest students who was dropping by SMS Center for extra tutoring for her upcoming exams and shared her dreams of becoming a teacher.

In over thirty years working on GB Road, where thousands of women are held captive and forced into sex work, Lalitha has only ever seen 60 women pay off their debts, free to return home. In contrast, there are over 50 children currently being supported by the dedicated SMS team, all on their way to a better, brighter future.

Preventing Child-Family Separation at TARA Outreach Center

Our last stop in Delhi was a visit with TARA Child Protection & Empowerment, which included a tour of the new, up-and-running TARA Outreach Center (TOC). The center itself is wonderful – two floors, with three classrooms on the main floor, one of which also serves as an office, a washroom, and a large open area for communal gatherings.

The theme of prevention ran throughout our discussions at TARA. Basanti, the new TARA director, explained: “We have noticed that there are many situations which lead to the placement of children in residential care that we believe could be prevented. Even if we know TARA homes are child friendly and protecting and changing the lives of children, those children are still separated from their families. It is trauma. We strongly believe that if we work toward prevention and family strengthening, we can prevent the placement of children. This is the mission of TOC.”

In case you missed it, take a look at our most recent TARA update with news about recent leadership transitions and impressive results from their 2019 Impact Study. 

“This is work that will take a very long time. That’s also the beauty of outreach – it works because people trust you, not because they are placed or forced to come. In just one year this program is already making a difference.”
• Basanti •

Celebrating Community Transformation with Vikalp Sansthan

In Udaipur, we visited the Vikalp Sansthan Counseling Center where we sat down with the core team to discuss updates, successes and challenges. Together, we then traveled out to a rural village to attend a gathering of community members, a large majority of whom were women and children.

At the gathering, several girls participating in the Vikalp Sansthan Sports Empowerment Program confidently spoke to the crowd about volleyball and their rights. A young boy read a poem about gender equality. An elder each made a speech, remarking on how much happier his wife and daughters are since beginning to work with Vikalp Sansthan. Usha spoke fiercely to the value and power of education.

Overall, it was a joyous celebration of progress and community transformation, full of inspiring stories, dancing and smiles.

For a more detailed update on Vikalp Sansthan’s various programs, check out our NEW blog post which features some very inspiring stories and case studies.

Catalyzing the Fight for Gender Equality at Equal Community Foundation

At Equal Community Foundation (ECF) in Pune, we learned of the ever-growing movement to engage boys and men as advocates for gender equality. In 2019, ECF was working with over 5,000 boys, and through integrating the Action for Equality curriculum into more and more schools, they plan to reach 8,000 boys by 2022 and 10,000 boys by 2025.

ECF’s transformative Action for Equality program starts by building understanding and awareness among the boys, followed by practical skill building, and eventually action within their own families and communities. Project Raise, supported by GoPhil community members, is currently aiding 50 organizations across 8 states, collectively engaging more than 6,000 boys.

After catching up with the ECF team, we heard from several ECF community mentors who shared stories and challenges of their time spent in communities. Next, we traveled into low-income migrant communities and met program participants, alumni and parents. The boys’ mothers expressed their gratitude for the work happening at ECF and spoke of dramatic behavior changes they have seen in their sons. We observed a session led by one of the mentors that centered around what nonviolent actions they can take when they witness gender inequality taking place around them.

For a powerful example of individual transformation, check out this recent VICE article which interviews Putage, a 24 year old ECF program alumni and fledging gender equality activist in Pune.

“When men understand the issues of women, they understand that women actually exist.”
• Anjana, Senior Programme Manager •

Please note that URGENT FUNDING of $855 USD is needed for Equal Community Foundation’s 2020-2021 Grant Cycle, so that they can continue their fantastic work through Project Raise.


Self-Sufficient Women at AVANI Women & Child Rights

Last, but certainly not least, we spent a full day in and around Kolhapur with Anuradha, visiting several core AVANI programs. First, we spent time in the brickyards at one of AVANI’s 60+ day care facilities, where we visited with the teacher, students and several mothers. Looking around the brickyards and spotting the many obvious hazards, it was easy to understand why these centers are so needed and appreciated – ensuring children spend their days safely in the classroom, rather than working alongside their parents.

We also visited one of 22 waste-picking communities supported by AVANI, where we were greeted by 50 or so women sitting under a shaded cover in the middle of the street. The women sang songs about empowerment and the need to break the chains of slavery, with their children in their laps and men standing around the periphery watching. Their strength was palpable. In total, AVANI is currently working with 3,200 women in waste-picking communities.

In the afternoon, we made our way to a waste sorting facility and plastic recycling center where we met some waste pickers and learned about the sorting and recycling processes. The services of these centers are in high demand; the government is currently requesting about 70x as much plastic as they’re producing at present. There is so much room for this program to grow and the momentum is astounding.

Finally, we visited AVANI women’s shelter, where we discussed their Self Help Groups and met some of the participants. Overall, we continue to be astounded by the vast and diverse programs and movements spearheaded by AVANI.

To learn more about AVANI’s impact, check out these stories that Lydia gathered during her visit with Anuradha in February.

Thank You!

Once again, thank you to everyone within the GoPhil Community who supports partners in India and for helping to advance these groundbreaking movements. Also, a very special thanks to those of you who joined us on this journey. We hope connecting in person with our partners was as impactful and inspiring for you as it always is for us.

We invite all of you to join us on the GoPhil Travel Journey to India in 2021 to see this incredible work for yourselves.

Finally, if you are able to make another contribution to keep the momentum alive, you can do so using the button below. We would be incredibly grateful.