From defeat to empowerment: a day in Mumbai

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My time in Mumbai has taught me so much already, but today I learnt an important truth- that travel isn’t always pretty, comfortable or tied up in neat little package. Mumbai has challenged me, at times broken my heart but then lifted me back up again. I have become accustomed to the permanent film of sweat that has settled on the face, as well as the resilience required to push on despite the challenges that come with volunteering in Mumbai.

Today, after feeling defeated by the harshness of the city, my day took a turn as we set out on the streets of Dadar to approach Urja, one of the organisations involved in Atma’s acceleration program. Being involved in a women’s empowerment organisation is the space I am really passionate about and I see myself working in, so I knew that the meeting would be right up my alley. What I wasn’t prepared for was how utterly uplifting it would be!

Urja works to rehabilitate women that have suffered inconceivable tragedies, from human trafficking to domestic violence. Many have fled their homes and ended up at Dadar, a major train station from rural villages. This is where Urja steps in to offer these women shelter, safety and prospects for a good life. Urja has close connections to many of the train operators and this is how they come in to find women struggling, often having fleed their homes due to restrictive families. Urja focuses on working with women from age 18 onwards too late 20s, as women over 18 are often neglected when it comes to finding support.

Visiting Urja was an incredibly enriching experience. What was meant to be a fifteen-minute meeting with Urja, turned into an hour of drinking chai and chatting about their work being done for the women. The infectious energy of the founder of Urja, Deepali was so humbling to soak in.

A moment that was so awe-inspiring was when our group was given the chance to be introduced a woman that Urja was working with, who had suffered at the hands of trafficking from her home in Nepal. Initially, she was very shy to chat with us but as we spoke with her about our lives in Australia she really opened up and showed us her calming energy. Despite facing so much adversity, she was so inspiring and we had a meaningful conversation. Urja is working with these women in a number of ways, from life skills and confidence building to finding employment. A part of the organisation that really resonated with me was that not only are Urja trying to find job prospects for these women in the short term, they are actively pursuing the women’s passions and dreams for a career that will be truly satisfying for them. For instance, one of the women is passionate about hair so they are helping her get this accreditation, and another woman is interested in becoming a personal trainer. This was something that both Lauren and I could completely relate to as we both currently work in hospitality but see this as a stepping-stone to our career. We shared a great conversation with Urja staff about pursuing our dreams and truly working towards the career we want.

Urja also works with family counselling, to build back relationships, and ensure that these women will be safe to go back to their families, not only in terms of their physical and mental safety but also their overall quality of life. Many of the family situations they flee from are toxic as they are very restrictive on the women and limit their sense of agency, job prospects, life choice, and ability to lead a fulfilling life, chase their dreams. A part of Urja that I really liked was the fact that they offerongoing support to women. They are not seen as alumni once they have landed on their feet, but instead, a lifelong relationship is fostered between Urja and the women.

I left feeling energised, inspired and truly looking forward to engaging more with both the staff and women of Urja. We are putting the finishing touches on the vocational workshops of communication, self-esteem and team building, which we are facilitating over the weekend.