An extremely devoted team is leading the efforts of The Akshara Centre towards their vision of establishing a gender-just and violence-free society. In the ideal society that they envision, women have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential; and their rights are respected and secure. I sat down with three members of their team to understand their work better; and was left in awe of their work and the unbelievable scale of activities this small team of 15 manages to pull off!
Higher education of women forms a key of what Akshara does. Simply because education and awareness of women’s rights, which was the basis on which the organisation was founded, is not enough to pull women out of poverty. This is a lesson the organisation learnt along the way. Empowering women through skills or higher education instead would help them get jobs, earn a living and be truly independent. In this endevour, they began Computer and English trainings. They also provide financial support for higher education to girls who need to pay for the same themselves.
Known as the “Empowering Dreams Program,” it currently helps 120-150 girls, aged 15-24 years, living below the poverty line. After complementing their respective courses, scholarship participants (as well as others from the poor communities) are invited to attend a variety of workshops and programs, designed to enhance their employability skills. These programs cover topics like gender awareness, gender equality, violence, sexuality, self-identity, sexual harassment, voicing their opinions at home, and their rights. They also covers legal assistance, communication, study tips and assistance, team work leadership, event management, CV writing and career guidance. Phew!
Akshara today is a well-recognised organisation among slum communities. Most girls come to the center after learning about it from a friend/relative from the communities who has benefitted from its efforts. Equipped with life skills and qualifications, past beneficiaries have entered the workforce in the fields of teaching, Journalism, flight attendance, Fashion Designing and as social workers.
Like 22-year-old Anuradha whose life took on a completely new course after she came in contact with Akshara. Growing up in one of the Mumbai’s largest slums, she shared with me, “I would not have been able to study further as my parents could not afford the fees. My stammering stopped me from going out and talking to people and job interviews were out of the question. Akshara had faith in my abilities and I got a scholarship as well as encouragement. Their workshops gave me self-confidence and gradually I have been able to overcome my stammer and even my shyness.” It is thanks to Akshara’s efforts that her dream of working as an accountant was realised.
Anuradha is just one of the many girls whom Akshara has helped stand on her own 2 feet and become contributing members of their families and society. This organisation is truly empowering women by helping them achieve their dreams!