Going above and beyond: Snapshots of Avani’s work during the pandemic

By Dhvani Doshi | May 6, 2021 | South Asia | Education, Freedom from Violence & Exploitation

Over the past year, 2020 Courage Award winner Avani has provided children in India with emergency supplies and COVID-19 prevention information, educated girls about menstrual health, and found new ways to support young people.

When Avani won a Juliette Gimon Courage Award in April 2020 for its fearless work to end child exploitation in Kolhapur, India, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. Like many organizations around the world, this GFC partner was grappling with how to best support the children it serves during a time of unprecedented hardship.

The past year has been devastating, heartbreaking, and confusing for people all over the world, but it has also been filled with examples of individuals and organizations exceeding their job descriptions to assist those in need. In keeping with its courageous approach, Avani went above and beyond during the pandemic to help struggling children and families. Here are three snapshots of Avani’s work over the past year:

1. Seva before self

In February 2021, Vice-Chair Anuradha Bhosale fractured her leg in three places and was unable to move. This injury came at the heels of her recent recovery from COVID-19. Undaunted by her pain and the cast, Anuradha continued to lead COVID-19 prevention efforts from her home, remotely guiding and coaching her team to continue supporting the communities where Avani works. The entire team has worked relentlessly over the past year to provide the children of Kolhapur with emergency supplies, prevention information, counseling, and other support, putting seva – the Hindi word for service – before self.

Anuradha Bhosale, center, was forced into domestic labor at age 6. Now she dedicates her life to eradicating child labor through her work at Avani. © Scott Kafora / Avani
2. The taboo of menstrual health

Menstruation is a taboo in most South Asian countries. Families rarely discuss the topic, and most girls experience their first period unarmed with any information about the process. Shame and secrecy are words that are often associated with the menstruation cycle. It is therefore no surprise that in rural or semi-urban India, questions about this ubiquitous life process go unanswered and sometimes aren’t even acknowledged.

This was the case in Kolhapur, but the lockdown and subsequent remote programming led to a change in the status quo. With limited in person schooling, the Gender Equality program led by Avani had to be paused. In lieu of this in school program, the Avani team began visiting the students’ communities. This gave the team more face time with the parents, while also creating more room for informal conversations with the children. While most of the girls’ questions were shushed by their parents, they were welcomed by the staff of Avani. The team addressed questions pertaining to the changes that take place in the bodies of adolescent boys and girls, using this topic as an opportunity to discuss the practical aspects of gender equality. Over time, the team also addressed parents’ questions on the behaviors of their teenagers. It seemed to Avani staff that the parents wanted to better understand, and therefore better support, their children.

3. Celebration as a means to inclusion

Earlier this year, Avani heard the story of a young woman from the community who had been abandoned by her husband shortly after their wedding. The marriage was short-lived and painful, ultimately leaving the young bride with nothing but an ouster from her family. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Kolhapur, and more often than not, it is the woman who bears the burden and shame of abandonment her whole life.

Avani running a daycare school

Avani provides care and education to children in brickyards and other sites where child labor is common. © Scott Kafora / Avani

Team Avani decided that things would be different this time. They sheltered the young woman and supported her as she slowly recovered from the trauma. As she healed, the woman revealed that she wanted to get married again. Although this was in the midst of the pandemic, the team stepped in for her family and organized a small, intimate wedding ceremony for her. While this is hardly a part of Avani’s formal programming, the Avani team firmly believes in standing up for people when they are facing difficulties.

Avani embodies the spirit of the Courage Awards, which recognize innovative community-based organizations that are serving children and youth in especially challenging contexts. The annual awards – made possible by the Juliette Gimon Fund for Courageous Leadership in honor of former GFC Board Chair Juliette Gimon – celebrate remarkable bravery around the world. GFC is excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Juliette Gimon Courage Awards on May 20 at 1:00PM EDT. Register here to join us for this inspiring virtual event.

Header photo: Avani works to end child exploitation in Kolhapur, India and provides education to children in brickyards and other sites where child labor is common. © Scott Kafora / Avani

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