“A switch gets flipped,” is how I have tried to describe what happens when a woman hits a pad for the very first time.  Before hitting the solid black surface, there is uncertainty and second guessing.  A girl’s eyes say it all:  Will I hurt myself?  Will I do it right?  What happens if I do it wrong?  What am I suppose to feel?  Will I be laughed at?  If I do this, will I fit in?  Anxiety taints the air of every first class I have ever taught.  Feet shuffle.  Nervous laughter and chatter arise.  And always the questioning in the eyes, some dark bottomless pools and others impossible shades of blue green, as they dart from the demonstration of the technique to their friend to the other girls around them for answers, security, support.

I look into those eyes, each and every pair as they approach the pad for the first time.  I am checking to see the level of anxiety, to see if asking this particular girl to strike the pad is asking too much. Sometimes it is.

There is one girl at Sarai Kale Khan in particular where it is apparent that she has experienced something deep and paralyzing.  She has had difficulty in doing simple jumping jacks and jogging.  She comes to three classes, and then stops.  Sad reality:  we cannot reach her, and her switch remains un-flipped.

But for every one we can’t reach, there are literally hundreds of other girls on this trip whose switch does get thrown.  They come to the pad, adrenaline rushing, checking my cues, processing my broken hindi for instruction and then my ‘Go!’ and they strike.  A muffled ‘whack’ bursts from the impact, and a visceral spark ignites and lights the young face.  The switch is thrown.  They have just experienced an undeniable sense of their own power, a physical power in executing the technique for sure, but also a mental power in being presented with something scary and new, but pushing themselves to breach their mental barriers.  There is no going back to before hitting the pad.  They have felt their power; they can not un-feel that.  It is a small win, this switch being flipped, but a win nonetheless in an environment where focusing on day-to-day survival makes such wins a luxury more rare than gold.



Girls, New and Old

I have a gaggle of new girls who I started training Friday at Prerana (http://www.preranaantitrafficking.org/programs/homes.htm).  Prerana is located in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, a dry, dusty area 40 minutes south of where I’m currently staying.  Trees are rare, so any walking is done in the full unabated heat of the midday sun which bakes my North American brain.

Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

On the road to Prerana, Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

On the road to Prerana, Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

I gather that not many foreigners visit here; my first day here was greeted by plenty of stares, nudges, and pointings.  Hesitant tuk-tuk drivers initially did not want to take me as a fare, but greed won out with one, and I was away to the facility.

I was told that I would have 14 girls in Friday’s class; it was a pleasant surprise to have 19 total.   These girls are vibrant, active.  They can hardly sit still, so I have to keep things moving quickly to keep them engaged and from hitting each other.  Their ages range from 7 to 18; their origins are diverse.  Some of these young ladies are the daughters of prostitutes who have attended one of Prerana’s night shelters for children in brothel districts.  Other girls here are orphans, and yet others are homeless.  They can come to Prerana as young as one years old, but many of them are here from the age of three.  Prerana accepts them after a family member has come forward to apply, or Prerana staff may have personally observed a homeless situation and make the appropriate inquiries and applications themselves.  It is currently vacation at this facility, so many of its young inhabitants have gone home to visit family.  The 20 or so girls I will train have remained at the facility for reasons I do not know.  What I do know is that I have my hands full of bright, inquisitive minds and lots of bubbly energy.

On train...

On train…

After my morning class at Prerana, it was off on the train again to my second class at Save Our Sisters (http://www.savethechildrenindia.org/projects/womens_empowerment/save_our_sisters.html).  During our second class, we warmed up with some physical fitness exercises, then reviewed hammerfist strikes I taught on Wednesday, followed by introducing palm strikes and finger strikes to the throat.  We also worked on their using their voice during the strikes, and I am happy to report that they are all able to be strongly vocal with just a little encouragement.  We finished by doing a little role playing for how not to look like or be a victim, a very popular and key concept for these girls and the environments they move in.

Will spend part of today working on lesson plans for rest of the week.  Pictures soon.





Good Morning

My morning started with a distantly sung Muslim wail projecting through loud speakers from a mosque one half mile away filtering through my window.  At the same time, right around the corner, the lights were coming on at St. Anthony’s Catholic parish for the six o’clock mass.  A beautiful Hindu temple covered in large carved elephants, also just blocks from my apartment, was wafting cleansing incense to to the world.  Welcome to Chembur.

St. Anthony’s Church

Ganesh Hindu Temple, Chembur.

Ganesh Hindu Temple, Chembur.

I got up and went for a little walk around the neighborhood before the sweltering heat of the day set in.  This allowed me to buy my fruit and veg for the day.  Oh, how I missed having access to such lovely and tasty veggies in the States:

Vegetable stall, Chembur.

Vegetable stall, Chembur.

Returning to the apartment, I passed this lovely carved gate a the local park:

Carved park gate, Chembur.

Carved park gate, Chembur.

Not a bad way to start the day…

First Class!



I was so looking forward to my first class at Save Our Sisters (SoS), and the day did not disappoint.

My first surprise was to see that four young ladies who were trained back in December 2012 were in the class.  My next surprise was to see one young lady return who was a member of my very first class at SoS in April 2012 (she proudly showed my the black rubber bracelet stamped with ‘Fight Like a Girl’ that I had given to her 18 months ago).  My third surprise was that all five together have been assistants to Nilofar in the self defense classes for subsequent new girls.

The new girls were very shy (“Didi, they are scared,” I was told by the class veterans), but I was very pleased with how quickly they started to pick up the material.  We congregated to the ground floor of the Save the Children complex where we warmed up with light jogging, high knee jogging, side shuffling, and partner push ups in 85 degree heat with 75% humidity.  Within seconds, we were drenched, but the girls were very good sports and there was not a single complaint.

A note about the partner push ups:  The concept of ‘partner’ is lost on these girls who have never participated in a gym class, team sport, or any endeavor where they have to rely on someone else for their own success.  I mention this because this is something in my own upbringing that I have heretofore taken for granted.  I can’t imagine NOT having done gym, recess, and playing some kind of sport.  It melts my mind a bit to think of so many childhoods devoid of these simple pleasures.  That said, it was no surprise that the ‘partner’ push ups were a bit of a challenge.

Next we tackled punching, making a correct fist, and having them punch me in the stomach.  It was too much for them; they mutinied and refused to punch me.  After a brief verbal skirmish, Nilofar informed me that the girls thought they would hurt me, and they didn’t want to do that.  I responded by assuring them that I do enough sit ups (thank you, Jen Esp!) that my abs can withstand a good pounding.  After Nilofar was convinced, she in turn convinced the girls, and the ‘good pounding’ did indeed begin.  This ability to hit a living human being comes naturally for a boy; girls, not so much, which is why I focus on making the girls do this in these classes.

Next we tackled mapping a girl’s strong parts to the weak parts of a boy, and began learning hammerfist strike.  And then almost as quickly as it had started, the class had come to an end.  We wearily gathered in a circle, hammerfists in, and I snapped the above pic.  Not a bad way to end the first day.


Trip Four Begins

The swelling in my feet and the heat of Mumbai hit me almost as soon as plane hit the tarmack at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport.  Driving through the streets at 1:30 in the morning, Mumbai was lively as ever, this being the weekend of one of India’s largest festivals – Diwali.  Fireworks erupted randomly along the taxi’s route to my new digs in Chembur.  After a few mishaps, I fell into bed at 5:30 in the morning.  Thus began GTP’s Trip Four.

Because of Diwali, I have had a few days to catch up on sleep, start reclaiming the bits of Hindi I’ve learned on past trips, make some new friends and enjoy the celebrations over here.  As a ‘festival of lights,’ Diwali delivers in every respect: there are stories-high curtains of ‘christmas lights’, candle light, and fireworks.  And I’m talking fireworks the likes a U. S. 4th of July hasn’t seen.  It is nothing to see a 30′ long strand of firecrackers get lit up.  But that in and of itself is not enough, so small ‘bombs’ are added at regular intervals along the firecracker line.  The effect is amazing and deafening.

I can’t put my finger on it, but Mumbai is different.  Or maybe I am.  Or maybe sleep deprivation is having its way with my mind.

Today, I am catching up on emails, trying to get my phone charged with minutes, and looking to meet up with Nilofar Khan, the Save Our Sisters trainer.

Tomorrow, my new class will start at Save Our Sisters. : )

My first meal in Mumbai.

My first meal in Mumbai.


Having some fun.

Having some fun.




Ways to Help Stop Survival Sex Work

I admit it: I get angry when I see the media refer to ‘prostitutes’ or ‘sex workers,’ which implies a girl has a choice between selling herself or doing something else.  For rescued girls and women, there is no choice.

On my last trip to India in Dec ’12/Jan ’13, I taught self defense to girls between the ages of 15 and 18 at a government shelter home who had been rescued from brothels.  Many of the girls had been kidnapped and sold as young as 10.  Even before being kidnapped, most of the girls had probably not attended school because, in India, boys are favored over girls, and girls’ only long term value is seen as being household help, which does not require education.  Speaking with some of the shelter staff, I learned that, without education or vocational skills, as much as 70 percent of the young women I taught would have to revert to the only thing they knew could earn money: sex.  Put yourself in their shoes:  Faced with the choice of starving to death or selling yourself, what would you do?  Is that a choice, or just basic survival?

How can we help stop this from happening?  By buying stuff, but not just any stuff:  Stuff made by survivors.  The demand for survivor goods is a powerful tool to break an economic cycle that might otherwise trap a girl in survival sex work.  There is a multitude of organizations that employ survivors to make handicrafts.  Buying beautiful scarves, or jewelry, or kitchenware, drives demand and keeps these survivors employed.  Pinterest, a popular pinboard-style photo-sharing website, features several online shops and artisan cooperatives that offer lovely handicrafts.  Check these out, and be prepared to find something you just can’t live without!:


True care bears - made by Heartworks, an organization of women artisans in Africa – many genocide survivors and all supporting their families with this work.


iSanctuary -- one-of-a-kind jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking





‘Burka Avenger’ Fights for Schools

Wonderful concept:  provide a positive role model for girls while underlining the power of education.  ‘Burka Avenger’ is already causing controversy, but if nothing else, it is an inspiring start by a man to provide children’s entertainment with positive social messages.



BurkaAvenger-Pakistan-Geo-Tez-Animation-Superhero_7-25-2013_110970_l         burka


How Different is The Brave Version of Yourself from Reality?

A few days ago, an article was published in the New York Times entitled, “I Was Groped on the Subway.”  My mind immediately flashed back to this past January, to Delhi and a country where sexual harassment is so prevalent that there are ‘women only’ train cars in their railways.  My assistant, Sajji, and I accidentally boarded a train car inhabited overwhelmingly by men.  For the next 30 minutes, our time was occupied, at best, by hypervigilance, awkwardness and outrage.  So while I was reading the NYT article, it was deja vu, except that the NYT writer was telling a story that happened right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A.

I invite you to read the whole article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/i-was-groped-on-the-subway/ but thought the writer made several great points:

Point 1.  How we think we would act can often be very different from what we do in reality.  My takeaway (and one also made in the article): Practice what you would do before it happens.  Ask your husband or boyfriend or even some girlfriends to role play a subway/train groping scenario and work through what you would actually do.  When training self defense to girls in India, this is what I do to teach them.  After you’ve taught yourself, spread the knowledge: bring this up to your daughter, your mother, your sister, your niece, and help them work through the scenario(s).

Point 2.  Every situation is different.  Consider how your personal response to harassment such as groping might substantially differ depending on the situation, and take that into account as you take control of your personal self defense.  For example, when surrounded by people you know, are you more likely to speak up and out, taking courage in the presence of supporters?  How might you respond when you find yourself in the same situation but alone or surrounded by strangers?  Your personal self defense is your responsibility – don’t wait until a situation happens before considering: a) what could happen; b) how you would respond; and, c) what you would be prepared to do.

Point 3.  Groping is predatory behavior.  Creeps who grope utilize the same techniques as creeps who prey on children: there is an element of surprise, an element of manipulating the situation so that the intended victim is rendered unable to move, and the ever popular Plausible Deniability (“I didn’t do that – you imagined it,” “it was an accident,” blah blah blah).  Lucky for the article’s writer, there were police officers witnessing the incident.  I say lucky because, as we women know, when a crime like this happens, and there is no physical evidence and it is just our word against someone else’s, guess what?  So, take a minute to really consider this.  My takeaway: Women, stand up for yourselves and be prepared to make a stink and discourage this behavior.  Men, if you see this being done, man up, step in, and let it be known you don’t like this, either.



Brothers Making a Difference for Women

In a sea of stories showcasing the brutality of men against women and girls in India, there appears an island:  the Kant Brothers.


Since 2001, the three brothers, Rishi, Nishi, and Ravi, have been proposing legislation, demanding that laws be enforced, improving access to services and empowering victims to take action. They have taken on violence against women, honor killings, human trafficking, child labor, slavery — a cluster of connected problems that are deeply socially-entrenched – through their organization, Shakti Vahini (http://shaktivahini.org/).

I have not worked with their organization (yet!), but I see great potential in Shakti Vahini, and in the men who run it.  The fact that their work recognizes that men’s mindsets in India have to change for substantive reductions in violence to occur sets a great example for men the world over.  From an article about their efforts:

‘ “Law-enforcement, administrative officials, the state government, the law makers, they all have the same patriarchal views,” Ravi says. “We have to fight the mindset of society.” In large part, their work means dealing with the police. “One big challenge is working with law enforcement agencies,” says Ravi. “They are the first response agency whenever there is a crime against women. They need to be sensitized day in and day out. They need to be sensitized at a mass level. The mindset has to be changed. This is a major challenge.”  The Kants have plenty of experience with what it takes to make this happen. The organization has been involved in training of more than 6,000 policemen across India, and has developed specialized training units and intervention teams to work closely with the police.’

Fabulous.  I wish them great continued success.


Men – The Other Half of the Sky

My heart never fails to break when I gaze into the eyes of a girl I’m training who has recently been rescued from unspeakable acts at the hands of men.  While Green Tara Project’s mission focuses on empowering women and girls, there is a very important point to acknowledge:  men are critical in ending violence against women.

I’m encouraged to see dialogue far and wide by men addressing their part in ending violence against women.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of the organizations or efforts that have caught my eye.

MyStrength – Their tag line is “Men Can Stop Rape.” MyStrength is a project of the California Department of Health Services and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), a statewide coalition of rape crisis centers and prevention programs founded in 1980.  Their mission is to provide leadership, vision and resources for rape crisis centers, individuals and other entities committed to ending sexual violence.  Check them out at: http://www.mystrength.org/



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