Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Women Hold Up Half the Sky"

They sat cross-legged on the woven jute mats in the middle of the unpaved cul-de-sac daubed with sporadic flora and remnants of Styrofoam cups and chocolate wrappers. The village women, barefoot and wrapped in humble chiffon saris, recounted how they cared for the orphans and ensured their basic needs and education. With no wealth to speak of, these women had voluntarily assumed the duties of a parent to orphans affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. They are the paradigm of the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” Throughout the past few weeks in Hubli as part of the Frontline SMS team that works jointly with NGOs assisting female sex worker and HIV/AIDS communities, I have seen countless examples of women holding up the sky. Peer educators (HIV positive sex workers) share their knowledge about prophylactics with fellow sex workers in the midst of stigma and discrimination. Female outreach workers, in their attempts to provide access to HIV/AIDS testing and anti retroviral treatment to female sex workers, face incessant gossip. Unfazed, these women persist in their duties of helping vulnerable women in the sex trade live a dignified life. In the largest democracy, these women live with limited freedom, disparaged in the home, workplace or streets. The initiation into sex trade varies with each individual with cases ranging from deception to limited or no alternative economic opportunities. The aftermath, however, is common; the women are mired in controversy and discrimination.

The human trafficking/sex trade is a clandestine operation, eclipsed by the bedlam of society, but these weeks have shown us the vulnerabilities, the oppression, and the strength and courage of these women in facing discrimination.

Combating stigma and discrimination is a gradual path, but we can start by helping women recognize their potential and increasing awareness in the community. By fixing technical issues, employing an effective data collection system, and expanding the project, my team and I aim to empower more women through SMS technology to help them realize that they can hold up the sky.

Village Foster Mothers, Sex Workers, and Orphans

Outreach Workers and Peer Educators


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Navigating the Monsoons

This is a short video that we compiled that documents our trip to BCT. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Journey to BCT

After learning about the Deshpande Foundation and its work in Hubli-Dharwad during orientation, I was even more eager to get started on our project and to begin contributing to the socially-conscious ecosystem that the Deshpande Foundation has been building in the Sandbox region. After a morning group meeting, Jyoti, Tisa, and I, along with the Mobilizing Health team (Breanna, Ken, and Rolf), set off to meet with BCT at their office in Dharwad. With only an address and no clear directions about how to get there, we jumped on a crowded public bus towards the Dharwad bus stand. The 45 minute ride was filled with the typical chaos of Indian streets: pushy riders fighting for available seats, the bus conductor yelling out each stop, and constant honking by the bus driver and every other passing vehicle.

The rain came early today and by the time we reached the bus stand, it was pouring. Jumping over muddy puddles while avoiding auto ricksaws and motorbikes, we finally made it to the city bus stand to catch our connecting bus. We were told to meet the BCT staff at MG Bank. Once we arrived at the bank, we realized it was the headquarters for the Karnataka branch of Grameen Bank!

We waited for a while to meet our host, but no one came. Eager to get to the meeting, we decided tot take the initiative and find the office ourselves. We asked around for directions and every local seemed to have contradicting directions for us. BCT told us that their office was near Ishvyar Temple, but when we found the temple, it was completely surrounded by a residential neighborhood. We flagged down a local resident and he kindly offered to drive Rolf around to find the office and then come back for the rest of us. While we waited for Rolf, Jyoti and Breanna took shelter from the rain in the temple, and Ken, Tisa, and I wandered aimlessly up and down the street.

Luckily, a BCT truck spotted us and gave us a ride to the office. Finally! Although the BCT office is only about an hour car ride from BVB, it took us 4 hours to get there. Everything in India seems to take just a bit longer that expected... Nonetheless, the meeting with BCT was extremely productive. Venkatesh, the Regional Manager from KHPT who works closely with BCT, carefully explained the current status of the FrontlineSMS program that was initiated by last summer's Global Impact team and highlighted some of the challenges. We also got to meet the Peer Educators and Outreach Workers currently using the FrontlineSMS technology. We were given such a warm welcome! Ken and Rolf were even photographed and asked for autographs like celebrities. Despite all the rain and confusion that delayed our meeting, we left BCT with
big smiles.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It has been about four days since I arrived in Hubli and I am very excited to begin my project! We had an amazing orientation put on by the Deshpande Sandbox fellows where we were able to visit many local NGOs in the Hubli-Dharwad region. One of my favorite NGOs that we visited was the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) which focuses its efforts on the HIV/AIDS communities in Karnataka. This is one of the NGOs that my group will be working with during our two month stay. The site visit was very intimate, we were able to speak with many people from the community who were affected/infected by HIV/AIDS which included sex workers, children, and foster parents. The gathering took place under a tree in one of the villages and everyone in the community was so warm and willing to speak with us. Some of the women even brought henna so they could draw designs on our hands! The women and children were truly inspiring and I can't wait to begin working with this community.