On entering a cluttered but surprisingly spacious room, or what they call a house, in a garbage-filled lane in Kalwa(Mumbai), we were welcomed with a few smiling faces. Undoubtedly, they were expecting us, and their effusive welcome was heartening. Among the girls standing there I could see Kavita smiling (name changed) behind the flimsy curtain of a plastic sack across the doorway. As soon as we settled down and started enquiring about their initiatives as a collective, and why they thought of forming a group, they readily gave us the information. They told us about the vocational trainings received with the support of EMPHASIS and how they have transformed into financial contributors within their families.

Kavita was brought to Mumbai at about the age of 8-9 years by her paternal aunt with the promise of a job as a house maid. The greedy aunt soon started exploiting her, pushing her endlessly to earn more money every month. Unable to bear the pressure and the low feeling, Kavita ran away at the age of 12 and sought shelter with one of the employers. Luck favoured her and she fell into the care of a lady who worked in the police force, and herself being a migrant, understood both the loneliness and the vulnerability of KavitaÔÇÖs position. Kavita was in good hands and was treated well. Her good luck came to an end soon when she was forced to marry a man against her wishes. Unhappy with this marriage from the beginning, Kavita was unable to establish a relationship of trust and love with her husband and descended into depression once again.

Kavita began to fall sick very often. During a blood test in the seventh month of her pregnancy she discovered that she was HIV+. She was not aware of what it was, but the stigma reached her before knowledge. Her husband who tested negative stigmatized, humiliated and maligned her reputation in the community. Kavita mustered up courage and divorced her husband, with the hope that her unborn child would provide her with the hope and courage to move ahead. But life dealt its cruellest blow when KavitaÔÇÖs three month old baby died, leaving her distraught and inconsolable. It was at this point of her life that Kavita met her second husband, Hazrat Ali, who tended to her when she was unwell and agreed to marry her despite knowing that she was HIV+, and that they would never be able to have any children of their own. He helped bring her life back on track. Kavita got a new lease of life.

Two years later Kavita, met an outreach worker of EMPHASIS who had come to the area to interact and work with women migrants vulnerable to or diagnosed with HIV. The awareness generation meetings were an eye opener for her ÔÇô a lot that she did not know or understand became clearer to her. Her own naturally interactive nature prompted her to offer help to the outreach worker in her community. Gradually as her knowledge increased and her confidence grew stronger, she became a Peer Educator, conducting awareness programs and training camps on her own. Her unique brand of advocacy, neither too aggressive nor very intrusive, gained her respect and recognition of an information disseminator and problem solver in her community. Kavita exudes confidence and brings hope as she steps out every day with her head held high to engage in another session of spreading awareness, counselling, referral or testing.

ÔÇ£My life changed when I lost my child. I got into treatment after that, but it was more to make some sense of the tragedy I lived through than to keep myself alive. The EMPHASIS intervention has changed our community. The area was uninhabitable earlier, especially for young girls and women. Frequent molestations and lewd remarks followed us everywhere. Ever since sensitization workshops have been held and the awareness level has been raised, we have grown into a habitable and decent society. I want to study further now and help other young girls. I helped another woman in my neighbourhood recently who was engaged in extramarital affairs. She too has changed now, and I consider it a great achievement to be able to influence even one life and change it for the better.ÔÇØ

Kavita moves around with immense dignity. Her eyes glow with confidence and assurance. Her social status has improved considerably, making it possible for her to participate in decision making within her family and the wider community. Going out every day to reach out to more people and provide help, Kavita Pradhan has now found her rightful place.

Navneet Kaur,
Team Leader (Acting), EMPHASIS
CARE India