Read our stories
Those who made their own path......
Before joining Shaishav I lacked confidence and spoke very quietly. I used to work in a bakery and a shoe shop during my vacation. Disnesh, a Balsena member, came to know about me and asked me to join Shaishav as a volunteer. Now, I realize that he had asked me to join Shaishav to bring me out from child labour.
I was an introvert. I seldom spoke to anyone in my class. Now, after volunteering with Tarunsena, Shaishav’s youth development program, I feel confident to make presentations at my college and engage with complete strangers on issues that are important to me. I speak with people without hesitation and I am confident that I can manage Shaishav’s computer center on my own. All these changes are possible because of Shaishav and Tarunsena and the life-skills that I have developed by working here.
My parents, especially my father, didn’t like my work with Shaishav, because I work with girls and women and people from different communities. He also wanted me to find a higher paying job. More recently, after learning about what I do and speaking with some of my peers, my mother and other family members have begun to support my choices. However, my father still doesn’t have complete faith in my work. Many of my classmates also tell me that I’m wasting my time by working for an NGO. I tell them that other jobs may give more money, but this job, working with children and youth, gives me satisfaction and happiness.
Now, I am a full-time staff member of Shaishav, serving as the Tarunsena Programme Coordinator and manager of our Area Resource Centre in Kumbharwada, Bhavnagar’s largest slum. I give vocational and life-skills training to youth in the area and run activities with children from Balsena. A few years ago, I was selected to participate in the Yuva Prerna Yatra (a national youth empowerment event) and was also recognised as an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society and as an Ashoka Youth Venture Fellow.
Now I have finished a Master’s in Social Work and now I am preparing for competitive exams for civil service. In the future, I will also continue to work hard to strengthen Tarunsena as a formal platform for youth development.
Balsena gave me a sense of childhood in an otherwise difficult time in my life. My parents worked very hard, but they often did not earn enough to feed my siblings and me.
I’m an introvert, but Balsena helped me come out of my shell. Soon after I joined Balsena, I loved it and became an active member. When I became a team captain, I learned valuable leadership skills as such as how to manage and engage an audience, how to be assertive and communicate effectively to avoid misunderstanding. Now, as a facilitator of Balsena, when I facilitate Balsena points, I try to use the communications skills I learned as a child with the children I work with. Treating them like equals, helps them feel more comfortable to speak their mind.
When I was a Balsena member, I attended a conference in Mumbai for 3 days, but my family would not allow me to go, for fear of my safety. In Balsena, I learned how to express my opinions and feelings. Having already spoken my mind in Balsena, I felt confident enough to explain to my parents how important this opportunity was. I also pointed out that because of personal safety training, I was strong enough to protect myself when I was away from home. Thanks to this, my parents agreed!
It was my first time to leave Gujarat and to meet children from all over India. I was scared at first, not knowing what to expect. But I really enjoyed it. I learned about problems that other children were facing in India, and was so inspired to hear how they were helping to improve their situations in their communities. I also had a chance to share information about Balsena and Kishori mandal, our gender empowerment program.
At 12 years old, I was nervous to present in front of people from all across the country, including very senior officials. It was even more challenging because I had to present in Hindi, my second language. I reminded myself that in Balsena I already stood up to speak in front of large groups of children and adults, so this presentation was just like speaking at a Balsena event. Remembering my leadership training gave me the courage to overcome my fears and give a good presentation. Now, whenever I am nervous or doubt myself, I remember this story, and it reminds me that I can overcome any challenge.
Balsena and Kishori mandal made a big positive impact on my life. All of Shaishav’s trainings, workshops, events and exposure visits taught me skills that I use in my everyday life, and now I feel strong and confident. What I learned in Shaishav helps me persevere through all the difficulties I face in my life. Now I know about child rights and what is being done to address them on a local, state, and national and international level. I understand the need for societal change, but more importantly, I know how I as an individual can bring that change. When I facilitate Balsena activities, and train girls how to protect themselves from harm, I feel like I am making a difference in the children’s lives. I feel this especially when everyone—children, volunteers, and other staff, call me “Didi” (elder sister).
Growing up, I was the sole bread winner for my family of eight. I used to earn money by selling food on the streets, doing plastic work, and diamond polishing. Dropping out of school after 6th standard to support my family, I was only able to continue learning through Shaishav’s community education centers. Despite family and work obligations, I was very active with Shaishav, taking on leadership responsibilities at the community education centers and serving as a Balsena council member.
At a National Consultation, my peers elected me to meet the president of India, Hon. Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, at Rastrapati Bhavan in Delhi. I asked the president why it was that poor children in India did not have access to quality schools. This experience showed me how important organizations like Shaishav are—for working so hard to bridge the education gap for all children in India.
Later, I had the special honour of being the first child from Shaishav to go abroad, and one of the three children to represent everyone at a world social forum in Brazil. The next time there was an opportunity to send another child to an international event, everyone elected me again. I didn’t think it was fair for me to go again, so I said that it was time for someone else to have the opportunity.
Shaishav’s programs taught me more than any formal education ever did—the leadership skills and lessons about child rights helped me overcome many struggles in my life. One day, I was harassed by 3 boys while I was walking down the street. Remembering the skills I learned from the gender empowerment and personal safety trainings, I realized I didn’t have to take their abuse—that I could fight back! Instead of ignoring them and letting them get away with this behaviour, I scolded them and threatened to file a police report against them. They begged me not to, but I did it anyways, and they were punished. Even though one of the boys came from a powerful family and pressured me to drop the charges, I did not relent nor did I withdraw my complaint. Also, thanks to the personal safety and gender empowerment program of Kishori Mandal, I was also able to resist my family’s pressure to marry young, putting off marriage until age 20.
I first met the Shaishav founders, Parulben and Falgunbhai, when I was a small boy. I was cleaning plastic bags for a living and not going to school. My parents thought I could never go to school because I was handicapped, so they had me go to work instead. When Shaishav set up the first community education center in my neighborhood, I went every day. I enjoyed learning, and soon after, I felt ready to start formal education when I was 8. However, school officials did not allow me to join 3rd standard, and they placed me in 1st standard. The work was too easy for me, especially after all I had learned in the community education center. Disillusioned, I dropped out of school a few years later and went back to work. I continued to attend the community education centers though, because I very much wanted to continue learning even while working.
In the early days, before Balsena was even formed, Shaishav organized a leadership camp for the children near the beach. They had a treasure hunt game and told us there was a treat for each one of us hidden along the beach. There was one condition that everyone had to eat their chocolates together as a group at the end of the game. Some children found the chocolates earlier than others, and ate them before other children had a chance to find theirs. That meant that at the end of the hunt, several children were without chocolates. To solve that problem, I raised my hand and said, “I know we can’t take chocolates from someone else, but what if we choose to give them away? Then we all technically have our chocolates, right?” Soon after this camp, I was selected to be the first ever Balsena president. It was such an honour! I was the only president to ever have been selected unanimously by my peers.
I am currently working in the diamond polishing business, and I remain a constant supporter of children in my area. Whenever I see a child in trouble, I help them and connect them to Shaishav’s counsellors. I continue to support Shaishav staff when I can, especially at the community education centres. Even though I could not finish formal education myself, I still highly value the importance of education, and made sure that each one of my siblings and cousins started school at the appropriate time and that they completed their studies. I still carry with me the values I learned from Shaishav—I look out for the safety of others, I help out and speak out when I see an injustice, I don’t use illegal substances, and I view everyone in society—women and girls, people of different castes and religions, as equal.
Before I joined Balsena, I was very wild. I used a lot of bad language. I used to roam around, doing nothing, not going to school. I had no idea there was any other option. At one point, I realised I must change, and I thought Balsena would help. Some of my friends had joined Balsena, so I tried it out. When I first joined Balsena I felt very stupid compared to everyone else. They all seemed so clever. I hated this. Everyone else was going to school, and since I wanted to be clever too, I started going more regularly. Eventually, I made some friends at school. This is why I kept attending, as I was able to at least play and do a bit of learning at school. Sadly, I did not pass my 10th grade exams. However, other Balsena members and Shaishav staff supported me a lot, and with their encouragement I re-sat the exam.
I’m glad I became an active member of Balsena. Other members said to me I should become President. At first I said no as I was NEVER able to make presentations. I used to shake, tremble, even be in tears, but slowly I could speak a few small words. I was asked if I wanted to represent all the children of Gujarat at an interstate camp at Assam, and had to overcome my fear of speaking in public. We talked about difficulties facing children, and what we can do to lead better lives. My experience in Assam gave me more confidence and I decided to run for President of Balsena. In my speech I said I would set aside everything, even festivals, and focus on the work of Balsena. I think also my experience in Assam helped show other members that I was strong, and that I could represent and lead. I was successful, and now, I am proud to serve as the President of Balsena.
I am from the Koli caste. We are considered to be a low caste and work in unskilled labour like selling fruit in the street or working in factories. Other girls in my community are working in diamond factories, or as domestic workers. Some girls are able to go to school as well as go to work, but many don’t study and very rarely go out at all. I am unusual, and known as ‘the girl who is continuing her studies’. Girls my age in my community are not often married, but almost all of them are engaged. Thanks to what I learned in Balsena and the girls empowerment program, Kishori Mandal, I am resisting this now. I want to work with children in the future and keep studying. My parents let people come to ask for me to be married, but they have agreed they will say no until I am ready. They will choose the man but I will choose the time. I am considered to be the cleverest child in my family now and this helps me to choose my own future more than other girls.
When I was 5 years old, my mother passed away. Soon after, my father remarried. Since then, I have lived with my grandparents. Before I joined Balsena, I was at home most of the time, I didn't go out much and I hardly had any friends. I was very withdrawn and lacked confidence. When I heard about Balsena, I really wanted to join. It was an opportunity to make friends.
My experience in Balsena was very good for me. I was part of a group, made friends and was able to learn about issues affecting me and my community in a place where I felt safe. I learnt about my rights which I had no clue about before. I also remember learning the negative effects of child labour.
Unfortunately, when I was 12, I failed my school exams. I started working as a salt pan worker and my family did not allow me to go to Balsena. The work was extremely difficult, and when working, any wound I had took so long to heal. For over a year I struggled in this work. I knew I wanted to do more with my life, and I remembered what I learned in Balsena…that education was a right, and that I could and should fight for it. I convinced my parents to let me go back to school and stop working. Now, I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree while I also mentor and counsel children who are facing child labor, dropping out of school, child marriage, and substance abuse.
When I was 18, I joined Tarunsena. It’s Shaishav’s program for youth and Balsena alumni who mentor current Balsena members in addition to continuing to carry out the mission of Balsena in their communities. Tarunsena helped me be part of a team and a movement where we work together, collectively, to support each other. More importantly, we actively work to defend the rights of others too. In Tarunsena, we see it as our job to fight against child labor, child marriage, substance abuse, and other social problems, not only avoid them for ourselves, but to create change for others too. A big issue remains the harassment of women's and girls in our communities, so one of our priorities is trying to create a friendly and safe environment for women and girls. We do this ourselves, spreading the message of equality and tolerance in communities and leading by example. If I have a daughter, I would want her to live in a safe environment, free from harassment.
I was a regular member of Balsena until 7th standard, when my family moved to a remote village outside of Bhavnagar in search of work. In the village I would labor in the hot sun picking cotton every day. I would watch my friends and neighbors walk to school while I was working in the fields, but I thought I should focus on working to support my family. When we finally returned to Bhavnagar, I had fallen too far behind my classmates and wasn’t allowed back in school. I had no other choice but to go work full time in a factory polishing diamonds. In that time, I rejoined Shaishav as a volunteer through Tarunsena, the youth development program. Other Shaishav volunteers, staff, and Tarunsena members encouraged me to go back to school, reminding me of the importance of education. So, I started studying every night after coming home from the diamond factory.
With Shaishav’s support, I passed my 10th standard exam and was allowed back in school to continue my studies. Now, I’m finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. I also worked as a staff member at Shaishav, and help children with academic enrichment so that they feel confident enough to continue in their studies rather than go to work.
I’m really passionate about social work, and I used to volunteer at a local hospital and help community members out in any way I can. I’m inspired by the impact of Shaishav’s programs, so I started a similar work in my village to support the children, especially the ones who are working instead of going to school. I used to support social programs in the village, where substance abuse and child labor are major problems. My family asks me to get a higher paying job and to get married, but I resist, stating that I want to wait until I accomplish my goals.
Shaishav taught me how to be self-reliant and take matters into my own hands. When there’s a problem, I set out to fix it. Last year, my elder brother passed away from cancer. I think it’s unjust that there is no hospital serving people with cancer in my area, so I am planning to do something about it.
I first joined Balsena when I was a child. After 8th standard I changed schools and lost contact with Shaishav, but after high school I rejoined us as a volunteer while studying at university. I’m very curious about how things work—especially computers and other electronics. I like to learn all the technical details on my own, then I train Shaishav staff and children with what I learned.
I learned a lot from Shaishav about empowerment and fighting for the rights of others, and I apply it in my everyday life. In my family, I advocated for my two sisters to postpone marriage until they completed their studies. Both sisters are now in college, the first girls in our entire family to pursue higher education.
When I was in Balsena, and as a volunteer working with Balsena, I did a lot of door to door visits, meeting with families to encourage them to send their children to Balsena. The parents would often laugh in my face, asking “what do you know? You’re just a kid!” I tried not to let this bother me. I would remember leadership and public speaking skills training from Balsena, then would go on to successfully persuade the adults to allow their children to join us. I promised I would take care of their children while participating in Balsena, and I did. Community members seemed impressed, and I came to be known as a respected figure at a young age.
Now, I am supporting my family of five, and I work as a watchman in a nearby village while I complete university. I still come to volunteer at Balsena points and other Shaishav events whenever I can. In the village where I work, I volunteer at the local schools, teaching the children all the games and activities I learned from my time at Shaishav. I dream of one day working with Kalpesh, a fellow Balsena alumni, to run an organization similar to Shaishav in the villages surrounding Bhavnagar. In the meantime, I am looking forward to graduating from college and am hoping to secure a government job to support my family.