Where The Girls Come From

For those of you who may be curious to know what kind of circumstances could possibly lead to a girl being sold by her family, or abducted and trafficked without recourse, here are a few I witnessed in Mumbai:

Mother and daughter living in a traffic median (Mumbai, 2012).


Makeshift sidewalk housing (Mumbai, 2012).

Makeshift housing (Mumbai, 2012).

With pictures like these, it is, unfortunately, not difficult to imagine the life of people who have come to live in these conditions.  So let’s try.  I invite you, for a few moments, to put yourself in their shoes.  Imagine yourself a young woman of perhaps 17 years of age, married for three years to a man who has come to Mumbai from a rural area to make a better living for his family.  Disease overtakes your husband and he dies, leaving you with a small child, no education, no money, no family.  You might also only speak a language from your rural tribal area, and so are further isolated linguistically, unable to communicate with many of the people who surround you.  You pick through garbage heaps for food or anything to sell.  Needing a place to live, you seek an unoccupied space in your area – no small feat when the sidewalks are already crowded with families already in similar circumstances.  What’s left besides the sidewalk?  A traffic median, or open ground under the stairs at the train station, perhaps.

It is barely imaginable, and incredibly uncomfortable to even think about.

But then, miraculously, come these islands of girls at Project Crayons and Save Our Sisters and Kranti, girls whose circumstances, with the incredible help and dedication of Mrs. Josephs, and Robin Chaurasiyas, and other program managers and house mothers, are being interrupted and re-made.   And I have hope that things can change, and indeed are changing.  Food for thought.



Getting Ready


It is that time again.  All this stuff must fit into three bags…




Mumbai Total

Some class sign in sheets (Mumbai, 2012).

Total number of girls trained for Save Our Sisters:  22

Total number of girls trained for Project Crayons: 35

Total number of girls trained in Mumbai:  57

Note:  Kranti girls are not included in the final count NOT because the girls weren’t great, but because I was not great.  Circumstances kept me from getting there more than twice.  I hope I will be able to have a chance at uninterrupted classes for them on my next trip to Mumbai.



Look Close

So I took this photo on the way to Save Our Sisters yesterday.  You can’t tell it, but the tuk-tuk is right up against the truck in front.  I like the shot, especially if you make it full screen, which is when things appear that I didn’t even know were there when I snapped it.

At any rate, you get an idea what most of my views were while driving to my classes.



Last Class – Project Crayons

Here are some snaps from my last class yesterday.  Though I gave out certificates and wristbands, I think the girls liked the little chocolate candies they got the best.  But, enough words:

Starting karate class with proper musubi-dachi (Project Crayons, 2012).

Lovely age-ukes (Project Crayons, 2012).

Note:  It was amazing to me that when I started them on stepping forward upper blocks at the far wall, the girls would have good space between them.  But inevitably, as they crossed the floor, they would clump together, and even more so when they saw the camera, the little hams. ; )


Chocolate smile (she had just received her certificate and chocolate) (Project Crayons, 2012).


Holding the fort (Project Crayons, 2012).

Note:  This is a partial picture of Group 1, the 6 – 8 year olds, after receiving their certificates.  They are in this pile (and out of focus) because they were trying to keep the door closed on the very curious and intrusive Group 2, Group 3, and Group 4 girls who kept coming in to see what was going on.


Group 2 graduates (Project Crayons, 2012).


Group 3 graduates…and Mrs. Joseph (in sari, far right, who also received a certificate) (Project Crayons, 2012).


And a sad note that my camera battery died before getting a shot of the Group 4 graduates.

Note to Self

Dear Self,

Please remember that when you ask your classes to do jump squats, that a demonstration is not only required, but participation in ALL the jump squats is needed for the girls to follow.  So, that, when you ask one class to do this 5 times for each of the 10 girls in three classes, and then later for each of the 22 girls in one class, it requires you to do a TOTAL of 260 jump squats, which, hmm, just might make it difficult for you to sit down the next day.

Just saying.



As I have mentioned before, the young ladies I have the privilege of teaching at Save Our Sisters (SOS) are between the ages of 17 and 22.  They have undergone experiences in their young lives that, frankly, I can’t imagine, and I don’t care to recount here.  I will say that being physically forced into prostitution in their early teens and then for many subsequent years was the norm for this group of ladies.  Through the auspices of SOS, they were rescued several months ago, and are going about the difficult journey of sorting out what it now means to be alive.

The other day, I was on a never-ending tuk-tuk ride that made me 40 minutes late to my SOS class.  After paying the bad tuk-tuk driver, I grabbed my bag and ran to the ground floor open area where my class has come to be held.  It is next to the playground.  And what should I see?  My white t-shirt-clad students whipping down slides, crawling across jungle gym bars, swinging on swings, smiling, laughing, and generally just being the children they never got the chance to be…until now.


Purple Sari

Mrs. Joseph is the house mother at Udaan Ghar.  She stands about five feet tall, with high cheekbones and skin the color of dark cocoa.  Her demeanor is quiet but that of a general.  I get the sense she could run armies of thousands just as efficiently as she manages the sixty or so girls in the house.  She is present at all of my classes at Udaan Ghar.  And she always, without exception, wears a sari.

Not only does Mrs. Joseph wear a sari, but she really likes my classes, and is not shy about participating in them.  From inchworm push ups to jumping jacks, from knee strikes to downward blocks, Mrs. Joseph watches and then performs them all.  I think learning some of these things is difficult enough in workout clothes, but in a sari comprised of layers and layers and layers of material wound around the midsection and upper part of the legs?  But this does not slow Mrs. Joseph down one bit.  I feel very heartened to know that the Udaan Ghar girls have a fearless leader clad in a purple sari to guide them in their journey.


Yesterday, I had my second class with four girls of the organization called Kranti.  Located in Kandivali East, it is a two tuk-tuk ride from where I am staying (one tuk-tuk to the train station at Kandivali West, then disembark and walk to the other side of the tracks which is Kandivali East, and take another tuk-tuk to the final destination).   The word ‘kranti’ means revolutionary, and it is in this spirit that the organization works.  To learn more about their excellent mission and work, see: http://www.kranti-india.org/.

As with many other ladies young or old, the Kranti girls are hesitant at first to try the exercises that I ask them, specifically some of the warm ups like a walking plank or jumping knees-to-chest.  But gradually, they warm up to the idea, and soon they look like they are having fun.  Since a few of these girls have been taking Wu Shu, I ask them to show me what they’ve learned and they almost can’t wait to start punching and kicking, at which point I whip out my trusty muay thai pad lest they get the idea my old body is the target.  Punch and kick they do, and I tell them to keep their hands up and offer suggestions for how to generate some additional power in their techniques.  We move to basic punches, drill a sparring technique, and end with self defense.  Knee strikes are very popular.  I am happy that the girls, in particular those without Wu Shu, take to the techniques quickly.  And standing on the opposite side of a pad, I can tell you I pity the guy who messes with these ladies.

Push Up

She squeezed her big brown eyes shut, and her beautiful almond skin wrinkled at her forehead while she clenched her perfect teeth.  Even though her slender arms quavered, she kept trying to push, right up to the point of collapse.  She is the absolute picture of determination.  I step in, grab her around the torso, and gently pull to assist her in completing her push up.

I often get the feeling during my classes of these moments when a girl I am teaching gets a sense of something deep within herself, a sense of how powerful and alive she is, of how there is something within her that defies the discouraging words anyone has ever told her.  And in the male-dominated society here, discouraging words are the norm.  I have talked with so many women who tell stories of how they themselves were not only not encouraged, but were verbally beaten down and told how stupid they are and how they will never amount to anything.  Now imagine having a background like that, and then coming into a class and being told how good you are, how smart you are.  It can be very transformative for a girl here.

So it is no surprise that these ‘aha’ moments in the girls correspond to when I’ve asked them to do something they have never tried before, like a push up or high knee running or hitting a focus mitt.  As my Sensei has said time and again, “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”  I am so honored to be here and be able to, in some small way, help these girls do something they’ve never done which might lead to them doing something they never thought possible.

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