Peak Yoga Studio hosts benefit for Colorado-based nonprofit helping women in India
if you go
What: Benefit for Shadhika, a Colorado-based nonprofit that provides funding to organizations in India that work to empower at-risk girls
When: Friday, Sept. 25, 7:15-9:15 p.m.
Where: Peak Yoga Studio, 256 Dillon Ridge Road, Dillon, second floor
Cost: Donations accepted
At 14 years old, Radha left her home in Northern India to travel to Delhi for work. Radha’s father, a seasonal farmer, only made around 8,000 rupees ($126) a year, and was having trouble providing for his large family. When a girl Radha knew returned to their village and said she had been working as a house maid, Radha’s family gave her permission to follow the girl to the city for a job. After arriving, Radha was promptly sold to a brothel, and it was three years before her family heard from her again.
This is one of many stories told through Shadhika, an organization based in Denver that provides funding to locally controlled nonprofits in India that work to empower at-risk girls. Fortunately, Radha’s story is one of its successes, as her family eventually found her through STOP India, an organization that seeks to end human trafficking, and one of Shadhika’s newest grantees. Radha now is an active community worker and is learning embroidery.
On Friday, Sept. 25, Peak Yoga Studio in Dillon is hosting a benefit to support Shadhika and highlight the issues of gender inequality in India. Kim Burnett, president and CEO of Shadhika, will lead a Q&A discussion with Medhavinee Namjoshi, coordinator for the Learning Community for Girls’ Empowerment in Mumbai, discussing the challenges women and girls face in India and why it’s important for the United States to be involved.
“A lot of times what I hear is that people are saying, ‘Why should I care about what happens to girls in India halfway around the world?’ And I think more and more what we see in research — everybody from the International Monetary Fund to the UN to the World Bank — is that issues with poverty and justice are really what fuel terrorism and global violence,” Burnett said.
WORKING FOR WOMEN
Shadhika works to raise funds nationally for projects in six major cities in India. The 501c3 nonprofit supports women-led organizations that work to empower women through education. Its mission seeks to “break the cycle of poverty and address gender inequality in India by investing in the education, empowerment and economic self-sufficiency of girls.”
Research has shown that some of the best ways to address poverty and injustice is through investing specifically in girls, Burnett said.
“Girls grow up to be mothers, and data has shown us that every year a girl gets of additional education, she will increase her earning power by 20 percent,” she said. “(Research shows) that if a girl grows up and has a job, she will reinvest that into her family — 90 percent of it into her family — where men often spend it on themselves. There are all kinds of indicators that have shown that the bang for your buck, if you will, by changing the trajectory for an at-risk girl, is really profound. Not only for her and her family but for her community and for many of the global movements that we now see.”
Shadhika currently supports just over 500 girls and just under 200 boys. With a focus on education, the girls are sent to middle and high school, something many of them wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. The organization has a scholarship program to continue their education in college, where they are studying to be nurses and teachers, Burnett said.
“I’m getting to know all of their stories and seeing how, by the fact that we are supporting them, they have a drive to do something with their life, and we are really able to make that happen for them, just through a small amount of support and by believing in them, telling them they matter,” she said.
The young men Shadhika supports, she said, go through anti-violence training, to become feminists and learn to respect women.
TAKING ON ISSUES IN THEIR COMMUNITY
Namjoshi, who will be speaking at the benefit, works with Vacha, a women’s rights organization that advocates for improved rights for women and for building strong women leaders, as well as a generation of male feminists. Vacha, which means voice, is one of Shadhika’s grantees, and has been around 25 years, Burnett said. The organization works in 18 slums in greater Mumbai, providing an after-school curriculum to girls and young men.
“What caught our eye is they do tutoring and teaching girls 21st century skills, like speaking English and how to work computers,” Burnett said. “Beyond that, what was so compelling to us, they are teaching girls about their rights — to understand that they do have rights, and to actually understand how to make change in their community. They apply what they are learning in terms of English and computer skills and other things, to talk about and take on issues that are affecting them in their community.”
One of the issues that Vacha is working to change is the fact that in some areas there is a real shortage of toilets. For women who work in shops without bathrooms, it is estimated that they will hold their bladders for 12 hours, Burnett said.
“But even more than that there’s a real point of vulnerability, the public toilets that do exist in the community where these girls live, a lot of the time boys will hang out in front of them and make it very uncomfortable for them to be able to use the restroom,” she said.
Vacha is part of a coalition of groups in Mumbai that have launched a campaign putting pressure on the government to provide more free and clean public toilets for women, and have seen success.
BENEFIT IN DILLON
When Peak Yoga Studio opened one year ago on Oct. 24, owner Pinna Gallant said she decided to support three local nonprofits. Although not Summit County local, Shadhika is Colorado based, and Gallant said she was strongly moved by the work it’s doing.
“I’m coming from this position as a yoga studio owner and as someone that loves yoga — I have a lot of respect for the culture but at the same time I see this big gap, and I was really wanting to support someone that is trying to fill that gap, is trying to resolve these issues and help the culture start to treat women in a way that’s appropriate,” she said. “It’s so far from the challenges we face as women in the United States.”
In addition to hosting the benefit, Peak Yoga Studio holds a donation-only class once a month, where the money rotates between the three charities.
Burnett said she hopes that guests who attend the benefit walk away with the understanding that even though India is a rising global economic power, women are discriminated against, and it’s a problem the country is actively working on, and one that we in the United States can be a part of.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s one girl at a time, and it’s just a drop in the bucket, but one girl at a time is how you make a movement,” she said. “It really does have an impact, and it is going to change the future in India, which will make a difference in the long-term global economy and how we are as a country and the safety of our nation as well.”
Gallant agrees with the concept that helping one girl at a time can make a big difference.
“One person who is then going to be an example for other women,” she said. “Other women are then going to change their expectations of what’s acceptable, because they are seeing examples other than what their mothers grew up with. So they’ll stand up for themselves more and won’t allow themselves to be bullied by boys as much.
“Does that mean they can stop sexual violence? No. But it starts to change how you interact and what you expect out of the world, and I think it starts to change the world.”
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