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.