From sheltering one abandoned girl, to providing education and livelihood training for over 10000 women in Kadapa, the story of Aarti Home is inspiring.
Interview by Aparna Vedapuri Singh
Why are so many girls killed in India? Is saving a few girls enough to stop the cycle? What makes families, including mothers, abandon their girls? P.V. Sandhya is the founder and President of Aarti Home, an organization in Kadapa that has been giving deep thought to the problem of the missing girls of India.
For 20 years now, their work in the field has been devoted to not just sheltering abandoned girls, but empowering vulnerable women and girls through livelihood programs, with the holistic aim of ensuring that no mother is compelled to abandon her child. In this inspiring interview, Sandhya tells us about how she started and where the deep roots of the problem lie. I believe it is a fitting interview to publish on October 11th, the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child, especially with this years’ theme being girls’ education.
You started Aarti Home when you came across an abandoned girl child. Most of us who see such distressing events do not react to them. What pushed you to get involved?
P.V.Sandhya: I had the desire to educate a few orphaned girls long before I finally started doing it. I used to feel incomplete and had this sense of ‘I need to do more’; especially, since I was witnessing a lot of gender discrimination around me. Social issues things like dowry debts, female infanticide and not educating the girls in the family affected me badly. There was a local saying at the time- “Educating a daughter is like watering the neighbour’s garden.”This angered me! I knew things had to change in a big way for the society to change their attitude.
One day, a woman who washes clothes for a living approached me and informed me about a three year old girl who was abandoned on the roads by her father after he killed her mother in yet another case of domestic violence.That girl could have been one of my daughters. I was outraged and brought the girl home.That was just the beginning.
What were you like as a child, as a girl, as a young woman? Did your interest in the larger world around us and its problems exist even then, or how did it come about?
P.V.Sandhya: I was always aware of the inequity and was disturbed by it. Like many of us, I used to take small steps – helping children in my college etc. My big moment of truth came when I saw a girl abandoned on the street. With the help of my family and a few friends, we started Aarti Home and 1 became 100.
I would like to know a little more about girl children and abandonment. Is it primarily babies, or is there a gender bias even at an older age? Why?
P.V.Sandhya: In India, a lot of the social and cultural practices play a big role in setting a low value for the life of a girl. The dowry system plays a big role. This custom has made the daughters a big burden to their families. A girl child is hence discriminated at all stages of her life:
– At the fetal stage, there are attempts to abort the pregnancy though identifying the sex of a child in-utero is illegal in India.
– If a baby girl is born, she is treated as a liability from birth and is discriminated against when considering basic needs like nutrition, health care, education, clothing and security.
– She is married off young and has no power in the family. Many a time, she is abused and has no standing in the society.
– She becomes a mother who rejoices in having a son and does not want to have a daughter as she sees her daughter’s future to be bleak since she doesn’t know any different.
Abandoning of the girls happen at all ages. The decision to abandon happens when the family feels they cannot afford to take care of the child any longer. It might be right at birth or anytime during the life of the child. Loss of job, bad health, death of a parent or any other instances that cause financial hit on a family is mostly when the family makes the hard decision to abandon the child.
What have been the biggest challenges with your work? What gives you the most satisfaction?
P.V.Sandhya: Our biggest challenge is finding support for the work we do – funds, people. But, I get to see life transformations and that gives me the most satisfaction.
We have seen an abandoned child transform into a confident software professional and a submissive daughter-in-law become assertive about her rights to keep her daughter. We have seen women become agents of change. This gives me the energy to keep moving forward.
This year’s International Day of the Girl Child (Oct 11) has the theme of girl’s education. What are some of the ways in which our readers can support your work in this area, or any ways in which we could all contribute to this cause?
P.V.Sandhya: Under the VFT umbrella, we have multiple institutions/programmes that serve to provide education for the girls and women. Your readers can donate in the form of:
– Money – multiple sponsoring options are set up for all range of funds
– Goods – stationery for the school, books for the library, computers, furniture etc
– Time – volunteer to help with administration, education, awareness programmes, giving exposure to the children to different possibilities out in the world
The various programmes are:
Aarti Home and Sandhya’s journey is inspiring, especially when we consider its humble beginnings – it’s also a reminder to all of us that no effort is too small to matter.
More about Aarti Home:
*Photo credit: Sandhya PV
Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas
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