Apne Aap,for Kamathipura’s women

Down a decrepit lane in Khetwadi,on the first floor of a municipal school and in a newly refurbished room,sits Manju Vyas.

Written by Shashank Shekhar | Published: February 16, 2009 4:14:45 am

From the HIV battle to updates on individual lives,this newsletter’s reports are an attempt to discuss battles faced by women in sex work

Down a decrepit lane in Khetwadi,on the first floor of a municipal school and in a newly refurbished room,sits Manju Vyas. At a glance,the room appears to be part of the school’s administrative set-up,but it is from here that Vyas runs Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC),in support of women whose lives are in some way affected by Kamathipura’s flesh trade.

While the objective of her foundation is to be a source of solace and support towards underprivileged women and especially those affected by the brothels,a major focus area of her organisation is to equip ‘sparrows’ or daughters of women in commercial sex work with vocational skills and support them to break out of the vicious cycle.

Another focus point of Manju’s AAWC lies in giving these ‘sparrows’,usually between the ages of six to 17 or 18 years,an educational environment at a formative age so as to decrease school drop out rates.

Also,in order to create bonhomie among AAWC’s beneficiaries and to spread knowledge of the recent developments of the group,the organisation has come up with a quarterly newsletter. “Every quarter we come up with a newsletter which talks about issues ranging from recent developments on the HIV front or recent happenings in the lives of our women,” says Vyas,a Kashmiri by birth but married into a Mumbai family. “There are many things happening around which is important to this community apart from happenings in the lives of our women. We try and put them all together in the newsletter for them,” says Vyas,who founded AAWC in 1999 after volunteering to teach English and computers to the children initially. “As a volunteer teacher,I observed their lives closely and saw that they had been literally forced into the profession and therefore I set up the organisation,” she says.

“The horrific attacks on Mumbai have left our city tangled in a cobweb of emotions. At AAWC,we have held discussion forums to help our beneficiaries cope with the trauma caused by the terror attacks,” reads the editorial from the newsletter’s end of 2008 issue. “A ‘sparrow’ got married this quarter. She was placed in a shelter home and married the brother of a colleague at work who works in a multinational call center,” reads another bit of news under the title ‘Sparrows Update’.

Similarly,there is information on most aspects of the community’s life under headings such as Women’s Update,Medical Developments,Political or Legal Development,Workshop on AIDS Awareness and even poems written by children.

According to Vyas,her organisation currently supports 48 sparrows and another 34 young children who come to AAWC’s kindergarten. Overall,the organisation has supported about 700 women,165 girls and 85 children below the age of five years as beneficiaries.

According to her,the organisation does fall short of funds since they do not take up governmental work,but donations come through small and medium corporate houses along with some friends and relatives’ generous gestures.

On a personal front,what keeps her going is the unconditional love and support that she gets from the women and children. “It’s soul satisfying,” she says. “What I’ve learned through them is much more than what I have given to this organisation.”

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