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Celebrating International Women's Day
By Mignonne D`Souza
Mumbai, Mar. 13. Nearly 1400 women attended the annual International Women's Day celebration, organised by Don Bosco Development Society (DBDS), at the sprawling Don Bosco, Matunga campus on March 11.  
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The women attending the day-long event availed of the services offered by Apollo Hospital, an onsite medical team of Doctors which provided free gynaecology, ECG, sugar and blood pressure checkups at the Provincial House.

Father Godfrey D'Souza, the Provincial, inaugurated the event alongside Father Savio Silveira, the vice provincial, Suhasini Mendonca from the Mendonca Foundation, and other prominent members of the Don Bosco family. The Guests of Honour were Francesco Tagliabue and Erio Bevilacqua, from the voluntary association of Auxilium India that has worked in conjunction with Don Bosco for a decade.

''Women are the most important people in our lives, because we are all born out of them,'' Father D'Souza, said.

The DBDS team, headed by Father Rolvin D'Mello for the past three years, has been working in the slums of Dharavi, Kurla, Wadala, Dadar and has formed Self Help Groups (SHGs) locally known as Bachat Gaths, to mobilise women to work towards sustainably improving their own lives. Women are taught life skills like tailoring, masala making and beautician courses in a bid to help them earn a living.

A video presentation on how these groups have tackled real-life problems was screened. There was an inspiring story of Kulsum from a slum in Kurla, who despite being physically disabled, went on to learn and teach tailoring, thereby empowering other girls to be independent. Another case study, Nargis, a former member of Ekta gath, was highlighted. Nargis has been teaching the beautician's course to underprivileged adolescents as part of the DBDS programme, for the past two years now.

This was followed by a set of videos highlighting problems and how the gaths found solutions to them like a new public toilet in Laxmanwadi, Wadala and a garbage disposal system devised by a group in Dharavi. ''A lady in Ganesh nagar had a successful tiffin business with her gath. In a calamity, her house was destroyed and when she had no hope left, the ladies in her group helped her set up a home again and pick up her life. After much counselling, she runs her own sandwich stall in Pratiksha Nagar. All they need is support and encouragement. Ladies take care of everyone in the family, but themselves. Through SHG's we help them do just that,'' Ranjana Gangurde, a social worker at DBDS, who handles the slum pockets from Wadala to CST, said.

''I have formed upto 25 gaths in the slums of Bhindi Bazar, Imamwada, Indira Nagar, Kamala Nagar, etc where the conditions are worse than Dharavi. Our rapport with these communities has been built over the years and we have seen them improve from having absolutely no basic facilities to leading normal lives today.''

Zulekha Ahmed, a representative of Ankur Bachat gath in Kurla, summed up how DBDS has helped change her life, ''Our lives at home limits, our learning and development, makes us nervous and scared. A woman is truly free when she can go out in the world and experience reality, and we can learn how to fight and how to live.''

In the course of the day, 300 women availed of services offered at the medical camp that was set up in conjunction with Apollo hospital. Doctor Mini Namboodri, the gynaecologist at the camp, appreciated the well-managed private set up but saw room for improvement. ''The response from the women is wonderful but we should try to provide more tests. Pap smear test to detect cervical problems as well as medicines made available for fungal infections, joint pains and skin ailments will make the camp more holistic,'' she said.

''For our organisation it is not just about supporting monetarily but it is important that we visit the people, stay with them. We come from Italy once a year and it touches us how some of the ladies recognise us. We have met a girl at the Jet Airways counter at the Mumbai airport two years ago, who knew us and shared how Don Bosco has helped fund her education. That is the change we like to see and are so proud of,'' Tagliabue, said.

Empowering women as a concept is noble but practical implementation is a challenge. DBDS has accepted this challenge and is working to give women the opportunity to make a difference.


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