36 Hours with the Slum-Girl Whisperer

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I am Aarti Naik.

I am 26 years old. And I live in the Mulund West area of Mumbai, India, in a slum with my family. I share a house with my mother, Pushpa, my father, Dattatry (they have been married for 50 years!) and my little brother, Rajni. My elder sister, Sachin, got married a few years ago and moved away.

All of my life, I have struggled to continue my education, but it has never been easy due to my family’s lower socioeconomic condition. After making jewelry for three years for nine rupees a day (about 15 cents in U.S. dollars) and accepting what money my parents could give me, I saved enough money to pass the 10th standard exam and go on to college (Yashwantrao Chavan Mararashtra Open University). I expect to graduate in two more years.

I am not the only girl in my slum community with a problem around education. Slum girls often become school dropouts and enter the vicious cycle of violence, low self-esteem and poverty. Once in the cycle, most of the girls cannot complete their schooling, and they mainly end up doing domestic work or not working at all.

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In 2008, I set out to reverse these circumstances for myself and other slum girls. I received help from Ashoka’s Youth Venture to conduct basic educational classes for girls of primary school age. The program started with six girls and has since blossomed into a social enterprise called *SAKHI for Girls’ Education with approximately 100 girls. 

What does this learning look like? Sound like? Smell like? What are my days like? Keep reading on the following pages to see for yourself. And remember, I am only a slum girl from Mumbai, who for some reason believes that she can make a change for her slum girls.

Thank you for your kind support!

womens day

(*Note: Sakhi means a female friend who inspires, guides and supports.)

Friday 6:30  a.m. My day starts.

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My home is one main room with a small space for the kitchen. My father sleeps on a cot, my mother and I sleep on the floor in front of the cot and my brother sleeps in a room we built on our roof. It’s a small space, but we are able to accommodate all our things in this limited area.

When I wake up, I help my mom with breakfast. Usually, we have hot tea and milk and chapatis (flatbread or roti). Sometime we eat pohe (pressed rice with spices like mustard seeds, turmeric and onions) and rava (semolina), too. We do not have a table – there is not enough space to put one in our small room. So my mother and I sit on the floor, and my father sits on his cot when we eat. Sometimes I take breakfast alone, because I need to move ahead early to do SAKHI work.

IMG_20140508_123120 Aarti Naik's Mother

(My Mother!)

Then I go and get in line at the common toilet facility. All the girls and women in my area go to one place for the toilet and the men and boys go to another. There are eight toilets for the 70 or so girls and women who come every morning, but only five are in good working condition. We bring our own buckets to wash with because there are only two buckets in the facility. And since we sometimes face water shortages, most of us also bring water from home in our buckets. Sometimes there is also no electricity in the toilet area, and that’s when we see rats. And I have a big fear of rats! You should hear me screaming loudly when I see one!

There is always a big queue of girls and women. So everyone has to wait for her number. It takes me about 20 minutes from arriving to returning home.