Mumbai and Scotland - separated by thousands of kilometers but connected via the bonds of humanity and charity. When Scottish entrepreneur, investor, strategist and innovator, Russell Dalgleish heard about Aarti Naik and her SAKHI project, which aims to educate and provide quality learning spaces for girls from the slums of Mumbai, he was very impressed with her passion, belief and vision and began following her work.
With the coronavirus pandemic posing an obstacle to SAKHI’s work, Aarti had to come up with a new way to ensure that the education of girls in slum areas doesn’t suffer. A unique project revolving around audio books was her solution and in her efforts she has found plenty of support from Russell.
The story behind SAKHI
Born in the slum area of Mulund, Mumbai, Aarti was forced to drop out of school in Grade 10. Poverty, lack of proper resources at home and a poor standard of education meant that Aarti failed her exams and was subsequently made to stay at home by her parents. It is a story that would be familiar to many living in similar conditions.
However, this experience lit a fire in Aarti and in August 2008, SAKHI for Girls’ Education was born with the purpose to create safe and quality learning spaces for slum girls in their own areas. SAKHI provides educational capacity-building classes for slum girls from Grade 1 to 8, with a focus on literacy and numeracy skills as well as life skills. SAKHI also gives these girls an opportunity to express their views and to help solve their academic and personal problems.
“As a slum-based young woman Changemaker, it is quite challenging to lead girls education work with limited resources and support… But I am happy that due to social media platforms, I am trying my best to reach and connect with my friends, well-wishers, and supporters to get their valuable support and guidance to lead my girls' education work more confidently and positively. It gives me a lot of hope that I am not alone in this, my life’s journey. There are friends around the world and they are helping me to continue my girls' education work in my slum area,” Aarti told Connected to India.
Today, SAKHI provides more than 100 girls access to a learning space inside their own slum community, where they come together to participate in SAKHI’s educational programmes such as the Girls’ Learning Centre, Girls’ Book Bank, Girls’ Livelihood School, and Girls’ Bank.
And Aarti has found support for her work from around the world.
“Students from UC Berkeley are continuously helping me to lead my girls' education work in my slum area with the support of Asha for Education, Berkeley. During 2018, they invited me and arranged a special meeting with the students of UC Berkeley to support my girls' education work. Also, they came to Mumbai, India during January 2019 and visited my slum-based Girls Learning Center and they conducted capacity-building workshops with girls for four days. It was an inspiring moment for me and the girls from my slum area,” said Aarti.
The Girls Audio Storytelling Project
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping India, and with Mumbai amongst the worst affected, Aarti was forced to halt classes.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic and continuous lockdown, girls living in urban slums and rural areas throughout India are facing many challenges to access quality learning resources at home. Ongoing social distancing and limited finances, even to fulfill the daily basic needs of family members, are impacting adolescent girls mentally and emotionally,” explained Aarti.
To deal with the unique challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, Aarti came up with the Girls Audio Storytelling Project.
Launched in April 2020, the Girls Audio Storytelling Project works with Prerna Ghodake, a Grade 8 student, who has excellent audio recording and storytelling skills. Prerna records audio stories with inspiring messages every day in Hindi, Marathi, or English, which are then shared with thousands of home-bound girls in slums and rural areas via WhatsApp.
And in her noble mission, Aarti found ready support from Scotland’s Russell Dalgleish.
The SBN Chairman’s Challenge
Founding Managing Partner of the advisory group, Exolta Capital Partners, and Founding Chairman of the Scottish Business Network, a global network supporting Scottish business leaders, Russell focuses his efforts on supporting owners and boards of companies to devise and implement growth strategies to create shareholder value.
For the last couple of years he has closely followed the work that Aarti and SAKHI have done and stepped up to help the organisation raise money for their new campaign via a mammoth 109 km run he plans to undertake, around his childhood home of the Scottish Borders over two days.
“I have followed Aarti for a couple of years and have been very impressed at what she has been able to achieve on the most restricted budget and in the most trying situations. As Chairman and founder of Scottish business Network my role is to build alliances across the world hence a project in India is a very logical move for me. India and Scotland have long and well-established trade, education and cultural links,” Russell told Connected to India.
“I feel so happy and proud to say that since 2018, Mr. Dalgleish has been a well-wisher and supporter to my girls' education work… He has taken initiative to take this challenge to support my girls' education work.... And he was so happy with my idea of sharing a new inspiring audio story with girls and mothers who are isolated at home due to the COVID-19 crisis. I firmly believe in his strong and kind leadership to support my girls' education work,” Aarti said.
Passionate about endurance events, Russell decided to take up this mission as a way to raise money and to “make this a challenge where you can see me sweat”.
The 109-km endurance event will run along the picturesque Borders Abbeys Way and Russell has been working hard to get ready for it.
“Currently, I am running 4 times a week and covering about 100km per week. No mean feat at 56,” Russell told Connected to India. “I was born in the Scottish Borders town of Selkirk and the route is close to there which allows me to stay with family if hotels are not open by then and also the opportunity to promote a very beautiful part of Scotland.”
“I would like to salute Mr. Russell for his courageous decision to run 109 km over a single weekend. He has a genuine concern towards girls' education in India and I highly appreciate his continuous hard work with commitment, dedication to support my work through this kind of an inspiring challenge,” added Aarti.
The Girls Audio Storytelling Project is hoping to raise enough funds to help 5,000 young girls in the slums of Mumbai and Aarti hopes to continue in her quest for education for these girls via other digital avenues.
“I will use this financial support to lead my Girls Digital School in my slum area, so girls will be able to access quality online/offline resources to build their basic literacy and numeracy skills. I have aspirations to provide a tablet to 200 adolescent girls in slums and rural areas,” said Aarti.
The SBN Chairman’s Challenge is scheduled to be held on July 24 and 25 and donations can be made here.