We had barely stepped into the two-storied house in a quiet residential suburb outside Mumbai when thirty pounds of pure energy flung itself on me. ”Good Morning”, she said. “Have you come to meet us?”
“Yes”, I replied, gingerly extricating myself from her hug. “What’s your name?”
“Muskaan!” As she slipped her hands into mine and dragged me upstairs, I couldn’t help thinking that a more appropriate name couldn’t have been given to the vivacious child. Muskaan means Smile.
Muskaan’s mother was sold into sexual slavery by her family and kept under the protection of her ‘keeper’. If she as much as stepped out of the brothel, her pimps sent spies after her. She’s accepted the fact that she doesn’t have a future outside the red-light district. The only thing that keeps Muskaan’s mother going is the determination to ensure that Muskaan does not follow her into the sex trade.
Not yet six, Muskaan has already witnessed horrors nobody should. She has spent many nights in drugged sleep under the bed where her mother plied her trade, often being sent out to buy condoms for a succession of ‘uncles’. The red-light area where she was born might have been the only home Muskaan ever knew.
That was, until her mom attended the counseling and support meetings organized by the Sahaara Charitable Society. She gradually learned to trust the people from Sahaara. She allowed them to take Muskaan to the Rehabilitation Home they run for daughters of women sold into the sex trade.
Now, Muskaan lives with 6-others in the ‘Anandalay Home’, where she attends a local private school. ‘Anandalay‘ literally means ‘the Abode of Happiness’, which it is. The girls live in an atmosphere of love and affection, under the watchful, yet compassionate eyes of a resident house-parent couple.
Anandalay is a place of laughter and joy, and seeing Muskaan and the other girls smiling and playing pranks on each other, it is hard to imagine the life they led before they came to there.
Despite the circumstances of her birth, Muskaan knows that she can be anyone she wants to be. Sahaara Charitable Society seeks out people like people like Muskaan, and “Gifts Dreams” to them.
Sahaara Charitable Society was founded on a simple belief: everyone has a dream. The only difference is that the poor and underprivileged don’t have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. In a society torn by inequality and injustice, Sahaara seeks to draw out the dream embedded in the hearts and lives of the underprivileged and creates avenues for their fulfillment.
Sahaara works with women who have been sold into the sex trade, providing them counseling, medical aid, and an opportunity to start over.
They run shelters to keep the children safe at night, and homes for women who want to leave the sex trade, along with the vocational training they’ll need to start a new profession.
Sahaara’s work extends beyond victims fo sex slavery to prisoners, many of whom are wrongfully detained, and blind women who are often abandoned by their families.
Back at Anandalay Home, after showing us their beds, cupboards, school bags and collection of pencils, two of the girls slipped on the masks that they had made in school, and posed for the camera. The masks were virtually featureless, except for the huge smile that cut across the stark white face. Though I knew that the smiles beneath the masks were as beautiful as the ones on them, that picture summed up the essence of what Sahaara stands for. Sahaara puts smiles back on the faces of people who are invisible to the rest of the world.
To help a child like Muskaan is easy. You can send them to school, provide school supplies, even provide them with their school uniforms, all for as little as $52 per month.
Or to read more about Sahaara Charitable Society and learn how you can Gift Dreams, visit their SeeYourImpact site: Sahaara Charitable Society.
Note: This post is a cross blog post with the United Way of King County.I saw a tweet from Larissa Long that said, “As a former single mom of low income, I’m a bit offended by #HungerChallenge posts w/ complaints about giving up lattes & organic food.” I responded, and after chatting for a bit, I invited Larissa to share her viewpoint on our blog. Here is her guest post:
I couldn’t pay my bills. I was a single mother of two children, one with a disability. I longed to qualify for food stamps.
That was 6 years ago.
I had a good job. I was a program director for a youth center. It was fulfilling, and the benefits covered the crucial therapy for my severely autistic son. But the pay for a rewarding job is, well…let’s say, meager.
I had to take a second job working as a cocktail waitress at a casino in the evenings. But it was the only way I could get by – and even that wasn’t always enough.
There were days when I wasn’t sure how to get to work because I had no money for gas. Where I lived, there was no public transportation. But the worst feeling was worrying about food. I made $50 more a year than the requirement to qualify for food stamps. To get by, we pretty much lived on tuna and Ramen.
I remember one day in particular when I went into the cupboard and there were only condiments. I started to cry. I had a few dollars ($5.00 to be exact) to last for two more days. I had a choice to buy food or buy gas so I could get work the next two days. I knew I had to go to work because I couldn’t afford the day off and I knew if I did call in sick this dilemma would come again in two weeks. I loaded my kids in the car, went to the gas station and got $4 in gas. I took the extra dollar with me to the grocery store and bought a bag of tortilla chips. We literally lived off of chips for the next two days.
Many people in Seattle have taken on the United Way of King County’s Hunger Challenge. They’re living on only $7 a day – the amount of food stamps an individual would receive if they were considered low income. But for me, and many others who have been — are still in — a real life Hunger Challenge, living on $49 a week in food stamps sounds like a luxury.
I have read many blog posts and tweets chronicling the day-by-day “struggles” of people who’ve never been hungry and are participating in the Hunger Challenge for one week of their lives. To be honest, I found some of the posts offensive. Many people were complaining about the loss of their daily lattes and organic yogurts. Others were stating how they may have to cheat because it’s impossible to live off of that amount of money (isn’t that the point of the exercise?). I almost felt as if they were looking for sympathy for themselves.
Now, there are many very heart felt blogs pointing out how many people have to decide between eating and paying rent. Because I was one of those people I started to go back to the days of my struggles and realized how blessed I really am. Even though times were hard I was still very lucky. I had friends and family near by to help with childcare and a friend who took me in when I lost my home.
And I’ve been able to work my way out of that situation. Today, life is good. I have three healthy children, a great husband, nice home, a good job and food to eat every night. I am so grateful for everything I have.
I work for a wonderful organization called SeeYourImpact.org, and part of my daily work is getting food to people who are in even more dire straights than mine. Unlike in America where people are given resources like medicare and WIC, families across the world face an incomparable struggle to make it on their own. We partner with organizations (like United Way) to provide simple solutions, such as providing school lunches to children in southern India (which helps with immediate food security) and school fees in Guatemala (a good education provides food security for generations to come).
I don’t want anyone to feel that pain in their stomach from not having anything to eat, and I especially don’t want that for a child.
I’m glad the Hunger Challenge is giving people an opportunity to experience a life they’ve never had to (and hopefully will never have to) live. People struggling to get by don’t need sympathy. They do need your empathy – an empathy that hopefully leads to action. Consider donating the money you’re saving on food this week to help someone who’s Hunger Challenge won’t end on Friday. As someone who has briefly walked in their shoes, I can’t tell you how much your gift will mean.
And remember. The next time you buy your $4 latte: 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. I promise you’ll get an even richer satisfaction if you round up and invest that $10 elsewhere.
First things first…you probably want to know what Twestival is? Twestival was started in 2008 by a group of four Londoners who met through Twitter. The first event brought over 250 participants who decided to make Twestival all about charity.
Now, Twestival is celebrated every year in cities all over the world, and SeeYourImpact.org’s hometown of Seattle is one of the cities that garners the most participation and funds raised for non-profits.
This year’s Twestival Seattle will benefit FareStart.org, an organization that teaches culinary skills to homeless and disadvantaged individuals.
We’d love for people to come out and join the cause. And if you want to say hi, we’ll have a booth where you can drop by, learn more about our organization, get a free giveaway, and talk to us wonderful employees.
The event takes place on Thursday, March 24th at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle from 6-9:30pm. We’re excited to join this fun event and are looking forward to many more in the future. For more info or to get your tickets (so you don’t miss out on our lovely table, it’s a site), visit the Seattle Twesitval website.
The 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday left an estimated 10,000 killed and 450,000 homeless. Continued threats of nuclear meltdowns increase the risk of destruction. Now, while suffering the loss of loved ones, survivors are struggling to find shelter, water and food to survive.
They need our help. While SeeYourImpact.org is not taking donations directly, we recommend donating to our partner organizations, World Vision, United Way and Give2Asia. They have offices on the ground in Japan and provide both immediate and long-term relief to disaster survivors.
Other non-profit organizations including Mercy Corps and Save the Children are also providing direct, on-the-ground support. American Red Cross also offers you the opportunity to donate $10 directly from your phone by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
What else can you do? Crowdsourced crisis mapping is one of the most effective new technologies to help disaster survivors. In response to the earthquake in Japan, Google’s people finder helps you locate loved ones. Meanwhile, Ushahidi’s crisis map helps you find those trapped in the rubble or locate emergency aid stations. The key to making these technologies successful is spreading the word.
Other innovative companies, including Zynga, the world’s largest social gaming company, has set up ways for people to purchase items through games such as Farmville, in hopes to raise their goal of $2 million to support the survivors. Motion Portrait is donating 100% of iPhone app sales from its 12 games to Japan disaster relief.
There are many ways to help. After you donate, don’t let your giving stop there. Spread the word and encourage others to get involved.
My 3-year old daughter is at the stage in her life where she asks for everything she sees. She has no concept of money (or even time). When a gift-giving occasion arises, our only challenge is sorting through the 50 requests she’s made over the last week. I am trying to teach her thankfulness. But like many parents, I find it’s not an easy task at three.
I wish I would have met Joni and her son, AJ, years ago. For his first birthday, Joni isn’t asking for one of those gifts where our children wind up finding the box it came in more exciting than the gift itself. She’s asking for the gift of giving.
AJ would like to change 20 lives.
What prompted this generous idea? Joni told us, “AJ was baptized in January and received a ton of wonderful toys, clothes etc. He doesn’t need more stuff, nor do we have room for anything more in our house, but I still wanted people to be able to give something in his honor.”
AJ’s birthday isn’t for a few weeks, but already, Joni has seen lives changed, “It’s so fun checking each day and seeing how many children we’ve been able to impact! I get excited every time a new donation comes in.”
AJ’s family chose to help children in Latin America, where AJ’s birth family resides, “We adopted AJ at birth and even though his birth mom lives in Eugene, Oregon, her parents, AJ’s biological grandparents, come from the Oaxaca region of Mexico.”
I am so excited that AJ’s parents are so generous. If you would like to help AJ change 20 lives visit his campaign page. Thanks to his mom’s efforts, AJ will grow up learning there are people all over the world with needs far greater than his own.
If you’re interested in joining our group of pilot campaigners (that’s right – Joni is pioneering something that is top secret for now), email us. We’d love help you setup a fundraising campaign that shows your friend and family the lives they’ve change.
Twelve year old Deepak is a scholarship student at one of the top private schools in Pune, India. Not only does he consistently top in every examination, he is cheerful and inquisitive and a delight to have in class. No wonder his teacher could barely recognize him when she saw him begging on the street one Friday.
In ten years the situation will be different. With a mint fresh degree in engineering in his hand, Deepak will get a well-paying job working for an international company.
He will move his family out of the slum where his forefathers have been living for generations, and into a well constructed house. His family will break out of the poverty that has plagued them for centuries, and find their place within the middle class. But, to pursue that dream, Deepak has to beg today.
What the Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC) is doing with Deepak and 200 other children like him is nothing short of revolutionary. There are no protest marches or long speeches. The Army is not out on the streets, and neither is the traditional or social media focusing on them. But there is a Revolution going on.
The children belonging to the Waghri and Sikligar communities who have lived in acute poverty for centuries are being given the tools by which they can move themselves and their families out of poverty.
AIC started by getting the children from these two communities enrolled in private schools, and by providing after school coaching to enable them to keep up with the schoolwork. But they soon found that it was not enough.
Most of the children come from families which cannot afford to feed them more than one meal a day; often not even that. The acutely under-nourished kids kept falling ill, and could barely concentrate on their studies. AIC then started providing three healthy and nutritious meals a day to all the children in its program. Attendance shot up, and the children’s grades improved dramatically.
An absence of basic healthcare was the other problem plaguing the community, so AIC set up a Health Clinic to treat both children and adults. In addition to treating common illnesses, and providing immunizations, the Clinic is also authorized by the Government as a partner in treating tuberculosis.
To ensure the birth of healthy children, the Clinic started providing comprehensive ante natal care, upto and including delivery. In addition to conducting monthly check-ups and providing nutritional supplements, AIC also offers free meals if the women do not have enough food at home. The health workers also provide counseling to expectant mothers like Jalkaur, who is pregnant with her fourth child.
With primary healthcare taken care of, AIC found a new roadblock. When a family is not able to afford even one meal a day, it is hard to resist the temptation to pull their children out of school, and put them to work.
AIC started conducting vocational training courses to enable women to supplement the family income by sources other than begging.
Sapna may have been forced to drop out of school, but with the money she earns from tailoring, she can ensure that her younger siblings graduate from high school and get well paying jobs. Adult literacy classes and English speaking classes, so parents could keep up with their children.
Sapna, Deepak and Jalkaur are the unlikely foot-soldiers of a slow and steady Revolution which, in ten years or fifteen, will move communities out of the acute poverty they have lived in for generations.
Some Revolutions are not enacted on a stage for a global audience to follow, but the support of people like you will ensure their eventual success.
To read more about Ashraya Initiative for Children, and how you can be a part of the Revolution, visit their site – Ashraya Initiative for Children.