There are moments in life when you are so deeply moved by what one person can do to make a difference in the world that it takes your breath away. This is how I felt when I met Sonal Kapoor, founder of Protsahan, a school for underprivileged girls in the heart of India. Not even thirty years old, Kapoor is already considered one of the most inspiring young social entrepreneurs in the world and after a visit to her beautiful school in the slums of Delhi, it is no doubt that she and her pupils will go far.
Many are aware of the huge inequities and poverty strangling India. Although India has seen rapid economic growth over the last decade, the gap between rich and poor has become even wider and more profound. As migrant families leave their villages in rural India and come to the big cities in search for a better life, the growth of urban slums, many in deplorable conditions, continues to grow at unmanageable rates. In just Delhi alone, there are thousands of them. (The slum population in India is estimated at 62 million people and around 1.7 million residing in Delhi alone. Source: The Hindu). As almost 75,000 migrants come to Delhi alone each year, many of them end up populating the already over-crowded urban slums that can be found all throughout the city, even alongside some of Delhi's poshest neighborhoods. (Source: The Hindu).
With the slums, brings children who have little or no chance of receiving an education. Per Save the Children, there is an estimated 51,000 street children in Delhi alone who will most likely never go to school. Many of these children are forced to work and help earn money on the streets in order to survive. Furthermore, most of these children, especially girls, are abused and have little chance for obtaining a better life.
Sonal Kapoor was on the other side. She was one of the lucky ones who grew up in a middle class household, received an excellent education including a MBA, and at a young age began climbing the corporate ladder in advertising. Of course she knew about poverty but like many middle-class Indians, it was just a fact of life and did not truly impact her. All this changed one day in 2010 when she was on a photo shoot in the Uttam Nagar, "Narrow Lanes" slums.
Sonal, 24 years old, came upon a tiny eight-year-old girl who could hardly walk because she had been sexually tortured. This girl was the soul provider for her family of six children and her pregnant mother. This little girl worked in a brothel. That one moment of shock and disbelief changed the direction of Sonal's life forever. At that moment, she decided she was going to help this little girl and began Protsahan.
The Protsahan India Foundation is a youth-based international non-profit organization that uses the creativity of design, art, stories and cinema to bring grassroot change in the lives of street children facing drugs, sex abuse and disability. Protsahan uses a unique approach to teaching and inspiring young, underprivileged girls who come from some of the most tragic circumstances possible. All are poor, and many have been abused and have little opportunity to get an education or a way out of the poverty they were born into. Protsahan, which means "encouragement" uses the arts as a means to inspire, teach and motivate the girls to learn and strive for a brighter future.
Protsahan has been running for over three years and currently serves between 80-85 girls from the community. Sonal has seen tremendous change in the girls, some who came to her doorstep not even speaking. These girls have seen the unimaginable, says Sonal. One seven-year-old girl helped deliver her own mother's baby, and another child always sat to hide her leg from Sonal because she didn't want anyone to know that her father had dropped hot oil on her leg, leaving a terrible burn. Stories like this go on and on, yet what Sonal has done to bring smiles and small glimmers of hope of these children transcends all the horrors and leaves faith that one person can make a difference in people's lives and the world.
I left Protsahan feeling so deeply touched that I was speechless. To witness such a place of love and hope reminded me that there is some good in this world. All you need to do is care and do your best to make a difference.
This post was previously published on Thirdeyemom.com
For more information about Protsahan India Foundation, click here.