Amplifying our ‘VOICE’s- An ode to our supporters!

It is that time of the year again… The ‘Puja’ season. While the weather turns nippy and the days get shorter, there is a palpable feeling of excitement in the air! Fairy lights in every colour go up on houses and stores, allowances are made to indulge in shopping and good food and there’s mounting optimism in every heart—it’s like magic. As the countdown of festivals leading right up to New Year begin, there is little wonder that this is the season of generosity. October marks the ‘Joy of Giving’ season; we at VOICE 4 Girls have been busy planning for a fundraising campaign to be launched on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child.

As participants of the Daan Utsav 2016, we had a stall put up at the Sethe Mela, at Gandhi Medical College on the 1st and 2nd of October. It was wonderful to meet people from different walks of life and talk about the work that we at VOICE are doing.

With all this excitement and anticipation in the air, we can’t help but feel nostalgic about all of the support and love we and our campers have received. So we caught up with a few of them, each of whom has, in their own way, supported VOICE and become part of our extended family.

Lakshmi Shankar, a music instructor and whipper-upper of mouthwatering baked goodies, is a loving friend and do-gooder with the VOICE family. Last year, Lakshmi extended her invaluable support to us by baking us some heavenly goodies to sell at the Seva Mela, 2015!

“I was introduced to VOICE 4 Girls by Sharanya Gautam (in the picture), Assistant Director, who happens to be my niece. I was inspired by the work that VOICE is doing. I think it is very important in today’s culture and environment to focus on giving back. I think young people should be taught to participate in providing solutions to rampant social issues. I was particularly happy to see that college girls are involved in the VOICE model and that they are mentored to become role models for their campers. I was glad to do my bit at the Seva Mela last year,” Lakshmi says. She adds, “A girl is a crucial element of society; she can initiate change. I think what is most essential is to empower girls by giving them courage and confidence. That is what is lacking; if they are given the required encouragement they can really change the world!’

Another wonderful human being who extended her support and love to VOICE is Madhuri Gunti, Coordinator at CIEE, Hyderabad. Madhuri first heard about VOICE through some students of hers who had worked with VOICE 4 Girls. After hearing about the program, Malathi visited a VOICE Camp so see the magic firsthand. She has been a generous donor to our cause…


“I was amazed and incredibly motivated by my experience at VOICE Camp! Spending the day with young girls and seeing the kind of activities conducted and the information that these girls receive. Given the crimes and discrimination that young girls face today, it is important to raise awareness about these issues. At VOICE Camp, girls learn about their bodies and about ways to keep themselves safe. In addition, they learn about their rights (with respect to education, protection from abuse and delaying marriage). Empowering girls with this information is very important,” says Madhuri.

When speaking of VOICE’s support system, we cannot go without mentioning Bonnie Sue Zara,  who is an advocate for increasing girls’ self-confidence, assertiveness, and efficacy both the US and also in India. Bonnie led a group of students from the University of Wyoming to organize a fundraiser for VOICE there. She also visited VOICE Camps along with her students and spent time getting to know the campers.

Says Bonnie, “I have been researching low-income girls’ and women’s challenges in Andhra Pradesh since 2007, and I have helped bring attention to these challenges here in Wyoming and also all across the United States through our donor mailing campaign and my connections with Stanford University. (She is an alumna of Stanford.) Voice4Girls has an incredible curriculum. They make learning fun and thus increase the chance of girls remembering the skills and knowledge they have discussed. They also are careful to be true to traditional ideas and values while simultaneously enabling girls’ imaginations to soar beyond what they see around them. It is a truly inspiring mission, and I am very proud to have formed a group to support Voice4Girls!”

Another magnanimous donor is a gentleman from Mumbai who wishes to stay anonymous. He had made a generous contribution to VOICE 4 Girls after watching a small presentation about our work at an event last year. When asked what drew him to extend his support to VOICE, no questions asked, he replied saying that there are certain causes that one feels an instant attachment to. He explains, “I have in my time known some amazing women; I have grown up with sisters and have always felt a keen empathy towards the issues faced by them. I truly believe that supporting girls and empowering young women can spark a change for generations ahead, educating a girl is the most empowering thing you can do for her. It is this belief that made him feel an instant connection towards VOICE 4 Girls. Urging us to carry on doing good work he says, “To cite a quote from Schindler’s List, ‘Whoever saves a life, saves the world entire.'”

What wonderful words… We hope that as we kick off our fundraiser on October 11, 2016, these words encourage you to join hands with us. Help VOICE 4 Girls raise funds to conduct 25 VOICE Camps and help over 600 girls find their voices! Coming soon…

Powering up ‘VOICE’s in Tamil Nadu

Often underestimated is how much agony and affliction can be alleviated simply by the act of someone being there to lend an ear- we stand humbled at receiving that lesson yet again…

August has been a big month for us at VOICE. We conducted two successful pilots-‘Sakhi Peer Leadership Camp’ at the Telangana Rural Welfare Residential School at Mahendra Hills and the first ever ‘Her VOICE Parichay’ camp in Minjur, Tamil Nadu. The Parichay Camp was conducted in partnership with TNSSA and UNICEF for 31 girls of classes 6 to 9. The girls, from SRDS Undu Uraivida Palli and Sahaya Matha residential schools, were educated about vital issues like health, menstruation, nutrition, safety, gender-related violence and discrimination.


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The camp was an eye-opener for us in so many ways. For one thing, these children, hailing from streets and slums where cut-throat is the only way to survive, presented several behavioral manifestations of their disturbed ‘home’ environments. It was no small feat to urge our campers to acquiesce and to settle into their ‘classroom’. They openly challenged their counsellors, flouting instruction and refusing to participate in activities. Slowly, things settled and fell into a misshapen pattern. Despite their troubles, or maybe because of them, these campers are incredibly bright, quick on the uptake and street-smart (literally). The camp counsellors were kept on their toes, answering questions they had never anticipated. The energy in the classroom was almost fiery.

Slowly too, did issues of violence, abuse and neglect come to light. The chapter on recognizing and reporting violence was met with distress and tears. Many of the girls later confided that they had been subjected to violence and abuse time and time again. A flux of emotions – anger, fear, despair and shame packed into frail little frames. In most cases, the abuse was ongoing, ever present and all-consuming. The stories were heartbreaking; these girls were not aware that they were being wronged in the worst possible way. Guilt and shame weighed them down. Campers were encouraged to come forth with their stories, they were assured that abuse is not something they did but something criminal that was being done to them. The school staff was enlisted to step in, by bringing in counsellors for the girls and to disallow these children from being taken back to their abusive homes.

If there was ever a need to reach out, it was here;  if there was ever a need for hope to be ingrained, it was here. Even though the camp was only conducted for the girls between classes 6 and 9, VOICE staff was cherished and loved by most every little busybody in the school. Arriving at school for camp each morning to rising cheers of ‘Vandittangu!’ (They have arrived!) from weathered little faces decorated with grins, each day was truly beautiful. Even as camp concluded and VOICE packed up; children with beautiful eyes urged the staff to stay on. A not-so-subtle reminder of how much in need of love they are; or perhaps they just need someone to listen to them and believe in them.

As the powerful wielder of words Toni Morrison said,  ‘The death of self-esteem can occur quickly, easily in children, before their ego has “legs,” so to speak. Couple the vulnerability of youth with indifferent parents, dismissive adults, and a world, which, in its language, laws, and images, re-enforces despair, and the journey to destruction is sealed.’

Can we all change that journey? Yes, all you need is an open heart and an empathetic ear.

A Day at VOICE Camp!

‘Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all,’ said Aristotle. At VOICE Camp, I found that it was truly possible to do both. Especially in a classroom filled with girls whose minds are alight with an all-consuming fire to learn everything, to absorb like sponges and to become strong enough to alleviate the impossible hardships they face at such a young age. My first day at VOICE Camp left me awestruck and truly inspired.

An account by Malini Gopalakrishnan…


It has been less than a month since VOICE 4 Girls welcomed me into the family. I think it was the first time that my passion counted for as much as my skills. It has been an exciting couple of weeks, and I have learnt so much. However, the highlight of my newbie month has to be my experience at VOICE Camp. This particular camp, was a VOICE Sakhi Camp, teaching girls of class nine about leadership skills and community outreach; most of them have already attended our Parichay and Disha camps where they have learnt so much about their bodies, basic health and hygiene, their safety, basic rights and responsibilities. So, you could say that most of these girls are seasoned VOICE Campers.

Now I love kids, have one whom I am trying to raise and I interact with as many young ‘uns as I can; these kids at camp made me feel like a fledgeling around them. Compared to the majority of urban children who seem so aware and sadly desensitised, each girl at camp is a riot! The energy these girls have is remarkable! It was not wasted upon me the meaning of privilege, that neither my daughter nor I had to fight tooth and nail to go to school, surrounded by these eager youngsters for whom education is etched with aspiration. They bound into the classroom with palpable excitement and joy.


Supriya Gudur, our counsellor for this camp, is a lovely 2nd year engineering students. It is obvious that the girls love her–they tease her, they listen to her, they worship her and they trust her. The classroom is monitored by my colleague Irine Elizabeth; her classroom presence is incredible even from the sidelines. The day’s lesson talks about the qualities that make a good leader; we begin with an activity which involves the girls being divided into groups with one member acting out a leadership quality (written on chits and picked out by the girls), while the team guesses the word. What ensues is a flurry of laughter and cackles, some hilarious attempts at guessing, some indignant foot-stomping from the enacting member—leading up to either a hit or a miss. The girls have a ball and I feel like I have been charged on a live wire! By the end of the activity, the girls have learnt about concepts like fairness, humility, risk-taking, honesty , encouragement etc. As the day hurries on (time really flies around these dynamos), our girls continue to assimilate facets of leadership; they learn about the skills, qualities and set of values that make one leader stand out from another. The fun never stops.

As I sit clutching my side, aching from all the laughter, wiping away tears of mirth, I have a realisation. Of how these girls, 13-15 years all, wise beyond their years in the face of all their trials, are contrastingly untouched, unbridled and refreshingly innocent. I reflect at how a mere ten-day camp has given them so much hope and unleashed all of this energy. It feels like sitting in the front row watching a miracle, seeing these girls transform from shy and reserved to confident and deliciously mischevious.

By the end of camp, we have girls opening up about various problems–ranging from a missing pair of spectacles to mounting pressure to get married. The girls are encouraged to help and support each other, to alert school authorities when they feel like the problem might be out of their control, to stand up for their rights and their futures.

As we wrap up for the day, I am asked by the girls when I will come again to meet them. It puts a lump in my throat to say goodbye… The Camp, its resident campers, my colleagues, the school on a hilltop, all made me feel rejuvenated. To be a part of something much bigger… another’s life, what a feeling it is. In the immortal words of Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait another moment to improve the world.”

You too can be part of something that is changing the world… Become a VOICE Counsellor and you too can be a part of something bigger.