Khyati Kohli is a graduating senior from India who received a 2014 Robert Sheppard Leadership Award. This award is given to students who are outstanding leaders in service to their community.
One day, when I was exhausted from feeling sad about the fact that certain people do not think of girls and boys as equal, I decided to do something about it. That was the day when some lady had told my mom how sorry she felt for her as she had three daughters and no son. That was the day when I decided to do something that might empower women and girls, especially those of the weaker section of the society so that any Tom, Dick or Harry cannot thwart the women in the name of their gender. So I, along with my mother and some other intrepid ladies who were willing to make a difference, started an organization called Aaghaaz which means ‘a new beginning’ in the Urdu language.
The idea of this society was to look out for some girls and women who are willing to learn different skills and techniques and use them to make a living by doing work. We searched out for those women who wanted to be independent and self-reliable by earning an income which could suffice the basic needs of their families. The aim was to appoint appropriate teachers who could teach these girls various skills like bag stitching, computer training, doing make-up and other beautician techniques.
We started with this organization on May 8, 2012 by organizing an inauguration ceremony and welcoming all the girls who had taken the brave step of doing something out-of –the-box. The initial days were challenging ones. It took a great deal of time and effort to convince the parents who were afraid to send their girls out of house. Once we got them to agree on becoming a part of the organization, the next hurdle that awaited us was to make them feel comfortable and build trust. We wanted to be sure that they believed in us.
Eventually, we started taking in more girls and those who passed our different courses were able to find jobs for themselves with our help. However, it did take a good amount of convincing power and communication skills to make the parents understand why it was so important for the girls to work and earn a living for themselves. Their concern about their safety was an obvious one. Even so, they agreed to let them work as we assured them that they were going to be placed in factories or shops which were run by people we had complete confidence in.
What makes Aaghaaz even more special for me is the fact that it helped me realise how much I love being around people who I can help. Aaghaaz makes me feel better when I can make decisions with the best interests of the girls in mind. Every single time any one of the girls comes up with a personal problem, all the ladies of Aaghaaz sit down to discuss how to find a solution to it. For instance, there was a physically and mentally unfit lady who wasn’t a part of the organization. But we had been told that this girl was suffering from severe domestic violence and wanted to leave her place and settle in an Aashram. Sadly, she didn’t have enough funds to pay the Aashram for her living expenses. When a group of ladies who were a part of Aaghaaz were discussing about this woman’s plight, they decided something quite surprising. They decided that they would donate their first earnings to this lady so that she could live a more peaceful life. Those women were a part of the first batch of Aaghaaz.
Today, Aaghaaz has already helped 150 girls. Every woman who has been a part of the organization had their own story. Every story made me feel how lucky I am and how important it is for me to utilize every blessing with which I have been endowed.