3 Mar 2014
Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, wife of the Governor General of Canada, visited AAWC on Saturday during Canada’s nine-day State visit to India. The event inaugurated AAWC’s new Kamathipura centre and was comprised of an orientation session regarding AAWC’s programs and impact, an interactive session with alumni and current members, and a round of games with the Udaan girls.
Her Excellency’s delegation included Jinny Sims, Member of Parliament; Wai Young, Member of Parliament; Elisa Paloschi, Director/Producer of Eyesfull; Dr. Peter Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada; and Susan Laidlaw, a weekly volunteer at AAWC and wife of the Consul General for Canada in Mumbai. They were welcomed on behalf of AAWC by Ashika Mehta, President; Manju Vyas, Chief Executive Officer; Sudarshan Loyalka, Founder; Namita Khatu, Program Director; and Elizabeth Tang, Strategic Consultant.
Mehta led the orientation session by discussing the many challenges that affect the red light community and the three programs conducted by AAWC to address these challenges: Umeed (“hope”), for women in brothel-based prostitution; Udaan (“flight”) for daughters of Umeed women (ages 6-18); and Umang (“joy”), for toddlers of Umeed women (ages 2-5). In particular, she emphasized AAWC’s 100% success rate in preventing the cycle of intergenerational prostitution among graduates of the Udaan program. Her Excellency expressed delight upon learning that Udaan alumni have each earned a Bachelor’s degree or even Master’s degree and that they have entered mainstream professions, including accounting, hospitality management, luxury cuisine, nursing, retail, social work, and teaching.
During the interactive session, Her Excellency spoke to five AAWC members about their personal stories and the impact AAWC has made on their lives. One Udaan alumnus, 22, is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in social work while working as a full-time teacher at AAWC. Another, 27, was married at age 16 due to economic necessity when her mother passed away from AIDS but is now pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. The third Udaan alumnus, 26, holds a Master’s degree in Commerce and is an accountant for a large retail brand in Andheri. The first Umeed woman proudly described learning how to sign her name for government documents like her voter card, PAN card, and ration card and the optimism she has for her daughters, who were placed by AAWC at an English-medium boarding school. The other, an Umeed alumnus, shared how she graduated from AAWC’s vocational training program and left the red light area to work at a garment factory. Her Excellency expressed her sincere admiration of these women for their inspiring accomplishments in the face of obstacles and thanked them for sharing their personal stories with her.
Finally, the Canadian delegation participated in a lively games session with the Udaan girls. The girls sang songs in Marathi and Hindi, gave their guests a set of decorated greeting cards, and delivered thank-you speeches in English. Her Excellency presented the girls with toys and educational games and signed a collage with the following message: “Your service makes your love visible.”
About Apne Aap Women’s Collective
Founded in 1998, Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC) is an anti-trafficking organisation that serves the women and children of Kamathipura, the red light area of Mumbai that is also one of the largest and oldest red light areas in Asia. By providing our members with the tools and resources to create a better quality of life, we seek to empower women who have been trafficked into brothel-based prostitution and to prevent the cycle of intergenerational prostitution among their daughters. Since 1998, we have served more than 2,800 women and children. Our alumni have entered mainstream professions like accounting, hospitality management, luxury cuisine, nursing, photography, retail, social work, and teaching. Learn more at www.aawc.in.