I recently got the opportunity to represent the Communications Department of Smile Foundation on a field visit. There I witnessed the ground work of Smile Foundation. This particular visit was for our Swabhiman programme. Swabhiman is the women’s empowerment programme by Smile Foundation. It aims to provide quality education, healthcare, nutrition, and livelihood to women from under-privileged sections.
Interacting with and documenting the case stories of Swabhiman beneficiaries from Maharashtra was immensely enriching and eye opening for me. It exposed me to the realities of life and the inequalities that exist around us. Most importantly, it has made me more self-aware of my privilege. The entire experience also taught me about how non-profits work with the community at the ground level.
I was accompanying a senior manager from Swabhiman. She looks after the implementation and review of their projects in different parts of the country.
We flew from Delhi on an early morning and reached Mumbai around 11am the same day. After quickly dropping off our bags at the hotel, we started off to the field.
During my time in the field, I witnessed the unique holistic approach of the Swabhiman team. It empowers the lesser privileged girls beyond focusing on just academics.
We also went on several home visits. I was overwhelmed with all the love and warmth that we received from the Swabhiman scholars. At the same time, it was disheartening to see the living conditions that they are growing up in. Lack of sanitation, light and space in the slum and their stories of the pandemic made me quite emotional.
On the second day of our field visit, we went to Modgaon and several other villages in the Palgarh district of Maharashtra. There we attended a session in the morning with the Swabhiman scholars and then went on multiple home visits throughout the day. We covered almost 10kms that day walking through fields to meet our talented scholars. That experience will remain with me throughout my life.
We interacted with several girls, as well as their parents, who were shortlisted for the scholarship during the home visits. Further, we also talked to women entrepreneurs, farmers, and a self-help group (SHG) formed by a few women in Modgaon.
Over the course of the day, we came across a Swabhiman scholar who had dropped out of school due to financial crisis at home. She looked sad and hopeless when we asked her about the situation. However, the intervention of the Swabhiman team enabled her to go to school from the very next day.
It is immensely inspiring to see how so many women and girls are overcoming the obstacles of life with so much courage and enthusiasm.
On the third day of the field visit, we went to an urban slum in Kalyan in the Thane district of Maharashtra. We met several Swabhiman scholars and interacted with their families. The spirit of young girls and their willingness to work hard to achieve their dreams was motivating.
My first ever field visit was much more than just a professional experience. It taught me lessons of life and gave me memories for a lifetime.
To know more about the ground work of Smile Foundation, click here.