Poppy Sardar has been a part of Prerana Anti-trafficking, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mumbai, since she was seven years old.
Six years later, she has developed an unbreakable bond with the NGO and the people who work there.
“I want to be a dance and singing teacher in the future,” she said. “I’m thinking that when I get older and am working and I get any pay, I’ll give half of my income to Prerana.”
Sardar is one of the many children who visited Canada as part of the YUVA Arts Project, founded by Tamara Menon.
Over the course of two weeks, they participated in events and workshops meant to support their self-confidence and identity-building.
The two-week expedition was conducted with many community partners, including Reception House, Healing of the Seven Generations, and MT Space. They brought together Prerana youth with newcomer and Indigenous youth, to provide a valuable learning experience.
“[We eant to work on] definitely self-worth, I think, realizing there’s other youth across the world who are also dealing with struggles, dealing with issues of displacement,” Olivia Maveal, project coordinator for YUVA Arts Project, said. “[We want them] to feel that they’re worthy and that they don’t have to fall into a lot of those patterns of ending up in the sex trade or things like that. Also, we’ve been working on identity.”
Menon is a third-year Music Therapy student at Wilfrid Laurier University, and was a volunteer with Prerana for many years while she lived in India. Menon said, although her family was initially apprehensive of her work in the Red Light District of Mumbai, they became completely supportive after meeting some of the children in Prerana.
“A lot family and friends were not okay with it… and there have been challenges like for the family as well to accept this work of mine,” she said. “But I think, as they got to come and be part of these performances that the youth used to put up, they came and met the kids, they saw their performances, they had conversations with them, they realized that this was much-needed and then they started supporting me.”
Vaishali Karande, an outreach coordinator for Prerana, accompanied the children from India to Canada. Karande enjoys working with children, and urges people to understand that they are no different from children born and raised in “nicer” areas of cities.
“People think that area is dangerous, but they are like us, same to same, so nothing happens. We have such a raport, a relationship with them, that I have never been scared,” she said. “So we say that you should spend time with us and with our children and see the Red Light area. Nothing is different, they are the same as us and if you talk to them even once, you will forget about the sorrow and the pain.”
Although the future is uncertain, YUVA Arts Project volunteers hope similar initiatives and events will follow in the future.
“We haven’t fully figured if we want to do the exact same project every year, but we obviously are interested in working with marginalized groups,” Maveal said. “We definitely have been talking about ways that we can keep this going… we haven’t fully confirmed what we want to do but we definitely want to keep it going.”
*Quotes from Sardar and Karande have been translated from Hindi.