Round Earth Media

The Girls of Janata Vasahat BY LYNETTE LAMB

March 4, 2010

front of busFrom Pune, India, here is Lynette Lamb, a Minneapolis editor and writer (she’s the blond at the far right in the photo). Many of us wonder what we can do to help alleviate some of the suffering and tragedy in the world. The importance of this began revealing itself to Lamb when she and her husband adopted two daughters from China. Here’s Lynette to explain what she was doing with those adorable girls in India:

As I was walking through a park one hot day last week in Pune, India, I spotted three flawless purple water lilies blooming in an algae-choked pond. There could be no more perfect metaphor for the ASHA girls of Pune’s Janata Vasahat community.

ASHA (Action for Self-Reliance, Hope, and Awareness) is a Pune NGO dedicated to helping girls and women. The girls’ group meets weekly in the courtyard of a Hindu temple in Janata Vasahat, a slum community that lines the hill below the city’s famous Parvati temple.

Group members are 10- to 16-year-old girls who live with their families in one-room 8×8 cement or tin houses. Their parents earn $40 to $100 a month working as domestic servants, factory workers, and seamstresses. Many families are recent transplants from surrounding rural areas who have come to Pune seeking work.

NishatASHA social workers meet weekly with the girls to teach them about health and nutrition and to encourage them to stay in school. They are working against great odds, for there are huge cultural and financial pressures to marry off the girls at ages 14, 15, or 16. Indeed, 16-year-old Nishat (photo left) who excitedly showed us her drawings, is already in the marriage market. She glumly passed around the fancy photographs of herself that are even now being shown around to prospective bridegrooms.

But there’s hope for girls like Nishat. ASHA has paired with the U.S.–based NGO Orphan Sponsorship International to provide financial sponsors for 30 ASHA girls. The $25 a month sponsorships go a long way towards supplementing meager family incomes. Just one year after the OSI sponsorship program was implemented, the ASHA girls are already more self-confident and hopeful for the future. Just as encouraging, many more of them are staying in school and studying for the 10th or even the 12th standard exams; some are even planning to attend university.

dancingI visited these amazing girls last month during a visit to Pune. I sponsor a lively, intelligent 12-year-old named Shridevi, now in the seventh standard. (Shridevi is in the center of the photo at left.) Shridevi lives with her two sisters, brother, parents, aunt, and grandmother in a tiny cement house. Her sisters are also part of ASHA. Theirs is a warm and happy family, whose parents are committed to seeing their daughters complete as much education as they can.

Watching Shridevi direct traffic during a photo shoot or dance with her friends on a culture park outing, I saw the colorful, energetic, commanding presence of a talented artist and a true leader. It’s a privilege to be a small part of her life. (In the photo below is Shridevi, in braids, and her family outside their house.)

ShrideviUshaAnitaParentsHouse1Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote in their most recent book, Half the Sky, “We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”

For Shridevi and her friends—Pooja, Yasmin, Fatima, Gauri, Laxmi, and all the rest—gender equality can’t come soon enough. These are beautiful, hopeful girls blooming despite the difficult circumstances in which they’ve been planted. Let’s help them continue to flower.

–Lynette Lamb

The Ahsa girls did a journal exchange with some Northfield, Minn. high school girls. The photo shows them poring over the journals which Lynette returned for them to keep.


All photos are by Nick Hindman, executive director of OSI.

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