In Kalpana’s Words

5 04 2016

Kalpana is one of the wonderful people I worked with last year at Aangan. This is a very well deserved award. Congratulations!

The Aangan Blog

Kalpana at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016 Kalpana Mistry at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016

Aangan’s very own Kalpana Mistry has been selected as one of CII Foundation’s Women Exemplars for 2016. She was felicitated today (April 4, 2016)  in New Delhi and received her award from none other than the Finance Minister at CII’s Annual Session.  It’s a great honour and achievement, and we at Aangan are incredibly proud of Kalpana.

Here’s what Kalpana has to say about what this award and her work mean to her.

In Kalpana’s Words

Today I am just so overwhelmed. I feel a whole range of emotions many of which are impossible to describe.

Most overpoweringly, I feel blessed and fortunate that everything I have struggled for, worked for, everything I believe, every hurdle I have crossed, every hardship I have borne has been recognised and acknowledged. Being acknowledged is a very empowering feeling. I…

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On dignity, trust and giving children their voice

23 06 2015

Kalpana is one of the most dedicated people I know. She wrote an amazing post for Aangan about what it means to be a support person for children who have suffered serious harm.

The Aangan Blog

Kalpana, right, talking with 3 community members in Wadala, Mumbai. Kalpana, right, talking with 3 community members in Wadala, Mumbai.

I have worked with children for 25 years now. A lot of it has been with extremely vulnerable children – those living in slums, those from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds, those who have been victims of crimes or have suffered trauma, those who have ended up in shelters and children’s homes. Many of these kids witness and experience far more than any child should, at an age where he or she should be in school and their lives should be free of every worry other than maybe homework.

The right to life with dignity is a fundamental right of Indian citizens, yet dignity is a word often far removed from these children’s lives. For these children, and their families, the struggle to survive in their day-to-day lives is so fraught that quality of life is a distant, dim consideration.

Young girls…

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#ActNow for Child Protection

12 06 2015

I take the local train to go to work every day. The most heart-breaking part of my trip is Mahim Junction. In this particular area, every day I see half naked kids sorting through garbage. They do hazardous work to help their families survive poverty. They work when they should be in school. They work when they should be playing. They work in the scorching sun of Mumbai, and they will probably work as much during the monsoon.

An ILO 2015 report says “there are 16.7 million (5-17 year old) children in child labour in South Asia, (…), and of these 10.3 million are in the 5-14 year age range. The young, 5-11 year-old children, make up about one-fifth of all child labourers in South Asia.”

According to the same report, at 5.8 million children, India has the highest rate of child labour in South Asia.

And this is not India’s only problem. I do not want to fill your head with statistics but I strongly believe these are important:

  • 1 out of 3 children face bullying in Indian schools. 1 in 2 children say that they have experienced emotional abuse; 65% experience corporal punishment. More than 50% of the children using the Internet were either threatened or harassed online. By the age of 15, 51% of girls have dropped out of school.
  • Child migrants are estimated at approximately 15 million. Over 3.25 lakh children went missing between 2011 and 2014, at an average of nearly 1-lakh children going missing every year. ~1.2 million children were trafficking victims, prostituted & enslaved throughout the country, including via child sex tourism.
  • Around 53% of children report having faced a form of sexual abuse. Of this number, more than half are boys.
  • India alone accounts for one third of the child brides’ global total. 22.5% of girls aged 15-to-19 face physical or sexual violence, a majority of it within their own homes.

Do you feel powerless reading this? Most of us do. I feel powerless every day in Mumbai.

At Aangan, we are trying to empower people to act when they see a child in distress. With a focus on “Making schools safer”, “Saying No to child labour” and “Being alert to child sexual abuse”, the child protection specialists at Aangan have put together a list of actions normal people can take when they see a child in distress. These are simple things, simple things that can change the story of a child.

Here are some examples from the Aangan website:

  • Making schools safer” – Check that your child’s school has a Child Protection Policy. It’s a minimum standard to ensure a safe environment and that protective systems are in place to address issues like harsh punishments, bullying, physical and sexual abuse and harassment of all kinds.
  • Saying No to child labour” – Start at home – how old are the people who work for you? Go a step further – talk to your family, your friends, your neighbours, and your housing society. Tell them to say NO to child labour too.
  • Being alert to child sexual abuse” – Pay attention to your child and his or her responses to the people around. Don’t make reporting it the child’s work. Everyone who has contact with children must be alert to and must respond to the cues children send.

Child protection is not just the government’s business, or something that NGOs do because they are NGOs. India is not the only place on earth where really bad things happen to children. So let’s open our eyes, look around and take action.

Learn more about what you can do if you see a child in distress at http://aanganindia.org/actnow

Follow Aangan on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, regular people child protection stories, and more.

I am an iCats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”. This is how the name ICats came about. Global corporations can integrate the ICats Program into their leadership development programs to promote responsible leadership through first hand experience.

This post was originally published on the iCats Blog.





Hope

29 03 2015

What an amazing story!!!!

The Aangan Blog

Hope. On difficult days, I struggle with that word. To make sense of it when I listen to a 15-year old talk about how he thinks of killing himself so that the sound of the power loom he works at night and day will stop reverberating inside him. When Radha says she has nothing to live for anymore, because at 17, she’s already married, has a child, and been abandoned by her husband and family. When Owais, 13, draws himself up to his full height of four and a half feet and declares he’s a man because men work, and he also goes to work.

It’s moments like this that force me to look at whether change is possible, to question what it even looks like. How do you make impossible choices in desperate circumstances? Keep your head above the water?

The first time I met Shabana was a few…

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World Day of Social Justice in Mumbai

23 02 2015

20th of February 2015 was the World Day of Social Justice. If you would have asked me 6 months ago about this day, I did not even know it existed. But then, 6 months ago I did not know that in February 2015 I will find myself in India again, working for a non governmental organization that addresses issues such as human trafficking, child labour and hazardous work, child marriage and abuse. 2015’s theme for the World Day of Social Justice was Ending Human Trafficking and Forced Labour. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • “Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
  • Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
  • Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.”

I have been with Aangan for one week now . It was intense! In my third day I visited one of the institutions we work with in Mumbai, close to Sandhurst Road train station. I participated in a Shakti session and met 9 girls, 14 to 17 years old, who have seen way too much for their young age. While I was aware child marriage, human trafficking, child labour and slavery exist in our world, being so close to it was a slap in my face. I knew before I applied for my fellowship that Aangan is an amazing organization but how amazing it is I am just starting to see.

You are probably asking yourself what is Shakti? Shakti means “strength” in Hindi. It means becoming empowered and strong by getting the knowledge needed to act for your safety and future. To quote the description from the Aangan website about the program: “Through Shakti, adolescent girls are connected to a peer network; are supported and empowered to recognize risk and develop strategies to resist pressures of child marriage, dangerous work, and being pulled out of school; to access services; negotiate for themselves; articulate aspirations and take steps towards achieving their life goals.” Do you see now why I love this program already?

You will find on the Aangan website testimonials such as this one, who speak volumes about the impact of the program in disadvantaged communities in India: “Asha is my friend, we go to Shakti sessions together. When she came to me crying, saying her parents were forcing her to get married, I had to do something. So I went with other Shakti girls, spoke with her family and after much convincing, her marriage was stopped.”- R, 16, Varanasi

Women face danger, sexism, abuse and harm everywhere in the world. Too few find the power to speak up and defend themselves. In some communities the fault of being sexually abused is often placed with the victim, while the abuser walks free. The family is scared they will “lose face” so they don’t talk about it. It can affect the marriage prospects of their girls and people will ask if the act was somehow provoked by the victim. Other women have issues identifying risk, even physical abuse. They don’t know it’s illegal and when a family member is the abuser, husband or father, they are inclined to believe that the situation is normal. After all, the person that they should trust the most is the one harming them.

After finalizing Shakti, girls are able to:

  • Identify risk
  • Articulate safeguards and strategies about how they might prevent dangerous situations and keep safe
  • They have educational and vocational aspirations
  • They found support to cope with situations of gender discrimination, abuse, oppression, atrocities
  • They demonstrate negotiation skills around 3 key issues: child marriage, pressure to drop out of education and hazardous work
  • They can identify positive role models for school/work
  • They have the confidence to speak up and participate in family/home decision making
  • They have at least one person to confide in
  • They can affect change for community and self

You can read in the Shakti 2013 Impact Report how the girls in Hardasapur, Patna brought change in their community in a very unexpected way. Water is one of the things I always took for granted. The girls in Hardasapur had to take 3 trips a day to get water home. This was stopping them from attending school regularly and many of them had to drop out of education. Nobody wanted to hear about their dreams and aspirations. Their contribution to their families was to bring water and do the household chores.

During the Shakti sessions they realized a hand water pump in their community would change everything. The girls wrote an application, gathered signatures and approached the Ward Commissioner with their request. Sounds easy, right? But it was not! They faced a lot of ridicule from the community members, after all, they were “just girls, what could they do?” But the Ward Commissioner was impressed. The girls made sure to follow up with his office and, soon after, the pump arrived and it was installed. The girls could now go to school and their respect within the community grew. And this was just the beginning!

Another eye opening experience last week was participating to a training on India’s POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, held by Majlis Legal Centre. They are “a group of women lawyers and social activists committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights.” But more about this in my next blog!

I am an iCats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”. This is how the name ICats came about. Global corporations can integrate the ICats Program into their leadership development programs to promote responsible leadership through first hand experience.

This post was originally published on the iCats Blog.

Small seller in the train from ‪Mumbai‬ central to ‪Bandra‬ He was no more than 7. I hope he has a family who loves him and takes care of him. Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour as estimated by ILO! Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation!

Small seller in the train from ‪Mumbai‬ central to ‪Bandra‬ He was no more than 7. I hope he has a family who loves him and takes care of him. Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour as estimated by ILO! Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation!





Another new beginning

24 01 2015

I am sitting in my childhood bedroom, wrapping my head around what is coming next. The walls are no longer pink and the many faces of Leonardo Di Caprio no longer stare at me. I’ve been a huge fan of his since Baz Luhrmann’s Rome and Juliet, after which my bedroom had his face on every wall. My books are still here, but the old dark red couch was thrown away long ago, a new smaller version taking its place. It almost does not feel like my room anymore. But I digress!

I am super excited and of course also worried. I am leaving a job I truly love behind to move once again to India, this time in Mumbai, for ~11 months. Last time I was in India, while I was walking towards my plane, I made a big cross sign and told myself I will never come back again. I really did! Sometimes I am a believer.

India was hard on me the first time around, although it gave back a lot. What was really bad? Dengue fever. What was really good? A bunch of really wonderful people I am still in touch with and I can’t wait to see again, plus a series of professional skills I built my career on. You could say I could get those anywhere, but the truth of a matter is I feel I had my real start in India, learning from the best and understanding what I really like doing… and its more than communications🙂 #clubempower

So here I am, waiting for my visa to be ready, looking for a place to stay in Mumbai, reading for the 5th time the website of the organization I will be working with, thinking about communications strategies, child protection policies and another new beginning. When I saw the JD, it was love at first sight. I applied right away and after I accepted their offer, I spent 3 months having doubts, wondering if I am doing the right thing. Those doubts were completely wiped out last week in Klosters, when me and my fellow fellows met for a 5 days preparation program.

Europe is safe, its cozy, I feel very appreciated in my current job, I am surrounded by friends. But asking myself every day if “is this it?” for me signaled a problem. Coming from AIESEC, I do ask myself constantly if I am leaving up to my full potential. Most of the time the answer is NO. While I don’t really care about job titles and money, I do care about being the best version of myself I can be. And lately I did not feel as if I was. First world problem indeed.

So here I am ready for a new journey, a new challenge. Ready to embrace the unknown, work hard, learn new things, give back, embrace chaos, live each day to the fullest. A new adventure.

And until I am leaving, had to move my date from the 31st of Jan to 11th because of visa issues, I am ready to learn a different kind of skills🙂 My mum will teach me how to cook. Today she and my dad made bread. He prepared the dough, because he has stronger and bigger hands, and she added cheese and olives to the mix, and “popped” them in the oven. The result is below🙂 Later today we will be making “sărăţele” and “cornuleţe”. I will get my hands “dirty” and feel worthy to eat the result at the end…

Cheers to new beginnings!

#Homemade #bread

Homemade bread with olives and cheese





Kuala Lumpur – Big City Lights

13 12 2014

The fact that we caught our flight to Kuala Lumpur was sort of a miracle. I never left a hotel room faster. It went something like this:

Me: “Alex, what day is today?”

Alex: “September 12”

Me: “I think we lost our flight!”

… and we were suddenly in a running mode. Threw everything we could see in our backpacks, did the fastest check out in history, thank god we had the airport ride included, the driver was kind enough to speed for us and we went speeding through check in and passport control, all the time laughing like two crazy girls on the backpacking trip of their lives.

We were super excited. I’ve heard a lot of good things about KL and I was curious and eager to explore it in the very limited time we had available. We landed at 11:45 am and soon we were in the city. We were staying in a guest house,  who lured us with good backpacking prices, a double room with a “shower” and AC. Now when I look back, I feel like laughing, but when we arrived, the only thing we could say to ourselves was “we won’t stay here long anyways so it does not matter how terrible this room is!” I mean, I lived in quite some places, washed myself out of a bucket in my first days in Ghana, I don’t even want to remember how the first flat I lived in India looked like… so its safe to say I am a seasoned traveler, but that “bathroom”!?!…

We were out of there as fast as possible🙂, ready to meet the city. Food was the first thing on our minds so we stopped in a street corner, with red plastic chairs, cold beer available and yummy smell all around. The food was great, we really enjoyed it. I like eating street food everywhere I travel. I feel intimidated in fancy restaurants and I don’t see the point eating in places full of expats. The more locals I see gathered in a place, eating, the more I want to eat there.

After our meal, I also found Bakkwa. Rach always brought some for me from Singapore, and when I found it in KL, I was very very excited. It was delicious, so I was all set for a day of walking around. We had the right shoes, right sunscreen and the right attitude🙂 We started in China Town and we made our way walking to the crafts market, the Sultan Abdul Samad building and a few other touristy places. Both Alex and I love walking but I wouldn’t say  KL is the right place for it. It is crowded and I forgot how much I dislike crowded places. The city just didn’t resonate with me. We left the Petronas Twin Towers for the evening, and now I don’t even remember why we wanted to see them. They are an important part of the KL concrete jungle. Lots of lights, lots of people taking pictures and trying to fit the tours in. We left in a hurry, as we wanted to have dinner and we spotted some really nice street corners with satay, fresh fruits and more red plastic chairs.

Next day we went to see the Batu Caves and the Botanical Garden. So much for exploring non touristy paths!

At Batu Caves Alex had a funny encounter with a scheming little fellow. He went really fast for her biscuits but left her the water bottle. I was quite entertained and so was Alex🙂 We watched him running afterwards from his mates, trying to be selfish. He wasn’t very successful I’m afraid.

My favorite place was the Botanical Garden. Just my kind of place, green, almost empty, the perfect place to take a walk and forget that there is dust and traffic a few meters away. It was a perfect ending to our trip to KL, even if the trip did not end there. But I prefer to remember it this way🙂

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The KL city sign – the touristy thing to photograph and then go home and edit🙂

We had our first meal here... duck duck duck!

We had our first meal in this street corner… duck duck duck!

DSCN4313

A spot of green in the concrete jungle🙂

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

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Our own Satay Corner

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yum

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Big City Lights

2014-09-13 13.47.30

Candles at Batu Caves

Steps to redemption maybe?

Steps to redemption maybe?

2014-09-13 14.29.13

We did not climb…

DSCN4357

Alex being robbed🙂

I never did this in India... there's a first time for everything!

I never did this in India… there’s a first time for everything!

Women's wagon

Women’s wagon

Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

And my favorite spot in the entire KL :)

And my favorite spot in the entire KL🙂

One last tea before our departure

One last tea before our departure… in a bookstore of course🙂








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