My Last Week

This is my last week here in India and my time is ending much the same as it began in June; wet! Despite the crazy weather that has caused flooding throughout the Western Indian region, I have been able to get quite a lot done in these past 7 days.  This has included celebrating the festival of Ganapati, the famous Bombay holiday honoring the Hindu god Ganesh; visiting the village of Rapar in the Kutch region of Gujarat where I lived for 1 year, and finally visiting our last partner organization Asha Sadan. Asha Sadan is also part of the Maharashtra State Women’s Council (MSWC) which is the same parent group that runs Foster Care. However, unlike the population that Foster Care works with, the girls at Asha Sadan are a bit more unique, as seen from the campus itself. The campus is housed in an old jail and resembles a compound of sorts versus just a building. Upon entering the office area it is clear that the expansive compound is meant to give the girls a sense of safety, which I learn from the staff is much needed based on their upbringings. As with other partners, the girls at Asha Sadan are not all orphans, but instead have been taken away from their families by the government for many different reasons.  These reasons range from being sexually trafficked or victims of familial incest to dealing with domestic violence or being a street child. Since all the girls are technically under the protection of the Mumbai city government, the stories that we hear are all confidential and I am quickly told that no pictures of the girls’ faces are allowed to be taken. Ms. Jaia, the superintendent of Asha Sadan, speaks very frankly about how important the work they are doing is. “These girls that we take in are the ones that are completely forgotten. No one wants to work with them because they are considered damaged, so they quite literally have no one else.” After the meeting with Ms. Jaia, Fatima and I meet with the girls and gather our routine data. Accompanying us during the meeting with the girls were two Asha Sadan teachers who thoroughly explained to us the unique education system in the home. Unlike the other partners I have met with, the girls here do not attend outside schools, instead they are part of the Open Education System which is a home school program of sorts. Since most of the girls that come to Asha Sadan are older and have very low literacy, the home has to start the task of making up the many years of schooling they missed and get them to a point where they can pass their 10th and then subsequently 12th standard exams. This mean that there are no grade levels as such but instead the girls are broken into sections based on their proficiency when arriving at the home. It is while I was meeting with the girls that I realized how well the Open School System worked. During my interaction with the girls in the section that corresponded to the 10th thru 12th standards, I was pleasantly surprised with how much they could converse in English and their ability to read and write at grade level. I could not help but think how just 4 to 5 years before, these same girls would have been considered illiterate and now, they can be compared with any other 19 or 20 year old. Based on the positive interaction I have now had with the staff and girls at Asha Sadan, I can truly say my field visit to India is done. As I left the home I was sad to know that my trip had come to an end, for it has truly been an amazing experience being able to see all of the work the partners have been doing to encourage empowerment of girls throughout India. However, I feel comforted to know that the work Commit2Change is supporting and creating allows all the great partners I have met to continue to live up to our vision of transforming the lives of orphan girls through the power of education. Until next trip, phir milengae.