Mumbai: Fifteen-year-old Sandhya Kamlesh Sahu is a persuasive communicator and she has put this skill to use for turning things around in Shivaji Nagar, a slum with dark, narrow lanes and open grounds—hotspots for sexual harassment and substance abuse.
The Class 9 student has her hands clasped behind her back when she shows people around. Almost like a professional, she methodically throws light on issues the children in the area are grappling with. And, it is not too long that you realise the girl is even a better doer. Sahu is part of the “Safe Communities for Mumbai project”, a programme by UNICEF India for protecting children in the most disadvantaged areas of the city.
UNICEF has partnered with NGOs in Mumbai to implement the project.
Sahu has been working with one of the NGOs, Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT) since she was 9. Standing in a lane, Sahu and her friends, aged between 9 and 16, engage in an animated discussion about alcohol and drug abuse among adolescents, the need for clean toilets with latches and well-lit roads. Their ‘didis’ (project coordinators) pitch in and share ideas to make their neighbourhood more child-friendly.
“It’s been six years with the CCTD… My friends and I have resolved to make everyone … at least here … aware of child labour, sexual harassment, their rights and drug abuse. We try to convince families that education is the most important thing for the development of their children,” she says.
“With the help of didis, we have made rapid strides in making the area safer for children, with focus on removing disparities in education and opportunities,” she says. According to Sahu, her group of 5-6 girls had a year ago conducted a mapping exercise to identify public places where adolescents and adults take drugs and alcohol. “Girls and women faced harassment at the hands of such men… We carried out the exercise and approached the local corporator,” she says. Sahu and her friends turned a “hotspot for alcohol and drug addicts” into a playing ground, residents of the area say. The ground, as big as a football field, has a kabaddi arena and a basketball court.