When people look at me they are quick to assume that this small little girl isn’t much of anything and because I am small they quickly correlate my physical characteristics to me being weak and helpless. Some people think that because I am a girl I can’t be stronger, faster or smarter than my male counterpart. Imagine what it is like to be told all your life “you can’t do this because you’re a girl.” Well that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard and frankly, it has never been a good excuse. Seeing more and more people fighting for their right to education, health care and jobs, and the fact that many are voicing their support for gender equality and freedom for all human beings to exercise their right to liberty and happiness, makes me excited and even more fiercely determined to fight this backward way of thinking.
I grew up all over the country, calling Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Eugene (and then Philadelphia again), my home at some point. My family moved around because my mom was always “looking for the next big thing,” which meant leading companies, launching fly-off-the-shelves Star Wars games and eventually going on to create her own company from the bottom up in San Francisco. I grew up with an exceptionally strong, motivated, smart and fierce mother (and father), who showed me what it looked like to be a successful, educated and empowered woman in the modern world. I am so fortunate, and eternally grateful for this, because I know in my heart I will get there someday too - but this is not a universal truth for young women. There are millions of young women in the world being held back by outdated cultural views, double standards and unequal access to necessities like health care and education, and this is something I want to change.
We have watched our organization grow a tremendous amount since Mamta School's inception in 2012 and since our official recognition in December 2013. We are humbled by the continuous support and love we have seen as we break through the barriers of social inequality and strive to touch more lives every day. This past year has been filled with a roller coaster of ups and downs, new bonds, lessons learned and great successes.
We landed in Gujarat, India early on December 16. This is Aahana's fourth official trip to India and we're excited to be here together as a team! In the short four days we've been here, we've already seen the impact Aahana has made along with the reality of the vision and mission of our organization. We're excited to have you join us as we work to further provide impact to more communities around this region.
About six years ago, on my first visit to India I saw children younger than myself, maybe seven or eight years old, on the streets. They were homeless and dirty with ratty clothing barely holding together. The market area was bustling as I walked from shop to shop. I was approached by a young boy around 7 years old who asked me if I wanted to buy one of his handmade necklaces. My mom and I felt so many emotions for him, wondering if someone fed him at the end of the day or if he had someone to even look after him. His clothes were torn up and he looked so sad.
Meet the Aahana team member behind our branding and graphic design, Stevie Guarino! After being approached to join the team, Stevie said she was thrilled, “I’d really been wanting to get involved in some type of start up, but on top of that Aahana is something I completely believe in. So between the mission, and the organization itself, it was a really unique opportunity that I was honored to be able to be a part of.” Stevie is currently a Custom Design major in promotion and special events management at Drexel University.
I have grown up living a life where the majority of the things I want to do- I am capable of doing without a second thought. Going to India and stepping foot into Mamta School made me realize something I had not been able to realize in the 19 years I've been living. What I realized is that it does not take money and time to get things accomplished- you just have to have the will power to get it done.
Yesterday, we decided to visit Mamta School one last time. The kids will be doing a performance at a local show tomorrow, so they decided to do a rehearsal show for us. As the kids performed the play and their dances that they had worked so hard on, I was taken aback to how far they have come. How far Aahana has come!
Despite their difficult backgrounds, the kids live everyday with a smile on their face. As we were leaving, Mamta School's principal, Jayantikaka said, "Their difficult lives before Mamta School are unrecognizable. It is as if they have covered their pains with nothing but happiness".
His statement has stayed with me and made me realize Aahana's impact on these children is great and will grow to become greater day by day.
Usha has talked about family quite a bit in the past few days. Yesterday I was on my laptop, catching up on some work I needed to get done. Usha was close by, watching me, and waiting to listen to music or lean more about computer. I told her to give me some time so she picked up a newspaper and started to try to read it. A few minutes later, I asked if she wanted me to help her learn to recognize a few letters in the Gujarati alphabet. It was a slow start, but she picked it up very quickly. Within 30 minutes she could recognize and write a few of of the letters.
About two days ago, I met with a few of the girls I mentioned in my blog post last year (Check out the blog post here). Unlike other young girls in their community, Manisha and Parul have supportive parents who encourage them to go to school. The sisters are in 5th and 7th grade and attend school every day. Their father told us that he will be sure to educate his daughters because he does not want them to have the hard life he had. Their friends, Kajal and Puja are also in the same boat. Their parents have hopes to have them complete middle school and then move onto high school.