29 Jul 2013
This Saturday, Apne Aape Women’s Collective (AAWC) launched the first of a series of celebrations in honor of its 15th anniversary in the Greater Kamathipura area with a keynote speech from Hasan Kamal, a prominent Urdu journalist. The program featured the stories of our most successful alumni from Udaan, the girls’ program, including a junior chef at an international luxury five-star hotel and resort; Paru Dhanwade, an AAWC teacher certified by Nirmala Niketan Institute Of Social Work; and Shweta Katti, one of Newsweek’s 2013 “Women in the World: 25 Under 25 Young Women to Watch” for being the first girl from the red light area to attend an American university. The program also featured a group of women from Umeed, the women’s program, speaking on the positive impact of the livelihood program on themselves and their families.
"AAWC taught me and pushed me to be whatever I wanted to be,” said Dhanwade, one of AAWC’s first Udaan members. “I want to help these children find their dreams the same way that I was helped."
Udaan alumnus Katti added, "AAWC was a safe haven for me. It was a place where I could study, laugh, and make friends—a life that I had never enjoyed before. It made all the difference in my life."
An Umeed alumnus remarked, "I could never have done this without the help of AAWC. Now everyone calls me ‘Madam’ at my new job at the NGO, but not in the same way that I used to imagine the word ‘Madam’."
Another Umeed speaker and mother of an Umang child added, "I never knew I could change so much about my life—AAWC opened my eyes. I learned how to help myself and go home; more importantly I helped my daughter escape the red light profession. Now, I hear her speak in fluent English, and I am so proud of everything she is going to be."
Founded in June 1998, AAWC began as a single-room drop-in centre for women in the brothels near Falkland Road under the Umeed (“hope”) program. As the organisation developed, outreach workers realised that that the daughters of Umeed women were at great risk of being coerced into prostitution due to their extensive exposure to the brothel system and to their lack of educational opportunities. As a result, the Udaan (“flight”) and Umang ("joy") programs were launched in October 2000 and June 2002, respectively, to serve girls and small children living in the brothel area. In March 2011, AAWC opened a second centre in the heart of the Kamathipura lanes, significantly increasing its scope of services and providing, for the first time, an overnight shelter for girls at highest risk of being coerced into prostitution. Today, AAWC operates three full-service programs at two centres in the areas of education / empowerment, finance, health, recreation, and overnight shelter. Since its inception, the organisation has served more than 1,500 women, 650 girls and 400 toddlers.
"Watching this organisation grow since 1998 has been my most heartening experience,” said Sudarshan Loyalka, founder of AAWC. "I want to see these young children grow up and pursue their dreams, whatever these may be."
AAWC has been recognised locally and globally for its anti-sex trafficking and humanitarian efforts. Since February 2011, AAWC Director Manju Vyas has served as an honorary member of the Women and Child Welfare Committee (WCWC) of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). In March 2013, AAWC inspired Vodafone Foundation’s Red Rickshaw Revolution, a nine-day auto-rickshaw ride from New Delhi to Mumbai to raise awareness on and funds for the empowerment of women and girls in India.
Keynote speaker Kamal noted, “I have been attached to Apne Aap Women’s Collective since its inaugural ceremony in 1998. The success of all AAWC’s women and children hold a message: even the most suppressed section of society, if given its due, can contribute to the welfare of India’s future. I would like to thank AAWC for all it does for the community.”
“The AAWC members are quite amazing,” said Lalita Ramdas, founder of Delhi-based Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education and former chairperson of Greenpeace International. “I am very moved from what I have seen AAWC do for its community and humbled to see the mothers and their kids have a better life and future.”
Also in attendance at the celebration were Braphus Kaalund, Vice Consul for Political Affairs at the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai; Susan Laidlaw, wife of the Consul General for Canada in Mumbai; and representatives from partner NGOs like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), New Life Medical and Educational Trust (NLMET), Child Rights and You (CRY), Smiles32 Foundation, and Kranti.
Kaalund said, "It was great to see the ongoing work and success stories of the women of AAWC. It was especially nice to see girls achieving at all grade levels working to make a better life for themselves and their community."
About Apne Aap Women’s Collective
Founded in 1998, Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC) serves the women, girls, and toddlers of the Greater Kamathipura Area, one of the largest and oldest red light areas in Asia. By providing its members with the tools and resources to create a better life, AAWC seeks to empower women who have been trafficked into brothel-based prostitution and to prevent intergenerational trafficking of girls and young children who grow up in the brothels. Since its inception, AAWC has served more than 1,500 women, 650 girls and 400 toddlers. Learn more at www.aawc.in.