From Kamathipura to Teacher With AAWC
When people think of Mumbai’s red light district, Kamathipura, rarely do they think of the many children who call Kamathipura home. Born into an environment of negativity and hopelessness, children are often sentenced by the accident of birth to continue the cycle of intergenerational prostitution or to engage in child labour. These children grow up without positive role models and no ambition for the future.
Meera* was one of the many children who grew up living in the Kamathipura area. As a child, Meera never dreamed that she could aspire to be more than her surroundings. Upon meeting her, now, it is difficult to imagine that she comes from such a difficult background. However, the transition from an angry and confused child to a calm, patient and caring woman was not easy.
From a young age, Meera was accustomed and indifferent to the routine violence, drugs and sex work around her. At eight years old, she did not attend school on a regular basis. Rather, she spent her days playing with friends on the streets. She also worked as a domestic worker in people’s homes to supplement her family’s meager income. At home, there was no structure or support. Next door, there was only oblivion; she remembers seeing adult neighbours use drugs and alcohol every day.
“It was a common practice for adults to take the children for their evening gathering,” she recalls. “It was during one such night that the police arrested my neighbour on account of drug charges that I realized the gravity of living in a drug peddling area, along with other illicit activities.”
Meera says she and the other children she knew were always angry and would often pick fights with people irrespective of age or gender, mimicking the abuse they witnessed among the adults around them. As a coping mechanism, she peppered her speech with bad language, befriended a bad crowd, and lost all focus on her studies.
Until she heard about the Udaan program for young girls at Apne Aap Women’s Collective.
At first, Meera was hesitant to attend. But the program’s fun activities were tempting. She tentatively participated, never imagining that AAWC would have such a positive impact on her life. Eventually, Meera became a regular participant in the Udaan program, receiving counselling and support. She was able to play and learn in a supportive environment; she blossomed in the Udaan haven, safe from her chaotic, outside world.
However, as she grew older, Meera felt increasing pressure as the sole source of income for her family. When she failed grade 10, she decided to leave studies and work permanently as a domestic labourer or in a lottery club. Once again, AAWC intervened and extensively counselled Meera to help her realize her potential. Meera went on to attend a yearlong teacher’s training program, becoming a certified Balwadi teacher despite her family’s opposition. She was subsequently hired as an AAWC teacher in its program for toddlers. Later, when she saw other girls completing their studies, she was inspired to complete her formal schooling by giving her 10th grade examination and attending a short counselling course.
Today, five years after she first joined an AAWC program, Meera is pursuing her graduation while continuing to working at AAWC. She has now been associated with the organization for five years.
Meera is now a successful teacher, mentor, and leader as well as a well-educated and confident young woman. She is happy to be able to give back to the children of the red light community by using her own experiences as a tool for social change. She serves as a guide and positive role model to other young girls; with an understanding of the circumstances they come from, she is better able to assess and comprehend their needs. She encourages the children to think that if she can overcome her circumstances and make a better life for herself, they can too. Meera’s story is an example of how a positive change in one person can benefit an entire community and generations to follow. She hopes that the girls enrolled in AAWC’s programs will follow her footsteps and find their way to a brighter future.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.