Author Archives: saath1

In the Clamor and the Clangor

A peacock perches on a balcony. Photo Credit: Gina Kovalik

I’m from a pretty small town. It’s usually a quiet little place – so quiet that I can hear our neighbor’s cows lowing from inside my bedroom. After I came to Duke freshman year, the noises that I heard from my dorm room were a little different. Shouts of students on the quad were punctuated with the grumble of trains running across tracks close by campus in what grew to be a comfortingly consistent pattern and the not-so-comforting beeping of garbage trucks right below my window at 8 AM on Monday mornings. Living on a college campus is very different from the sleepy city in which I grew up, but I have come to love Duke and am now familiar with the background music of both my homes.

When I told my parents that I wanted to do DukeEngage in Ahmedabad, India, one of the first things they did was to look up the size of the city to try and visualize what exactly an urban area in one of the most highly populated countries in the world might look like. While coming to a city of over 7 million from a town with less than 4,000 people has been challenging in many ways, some of which I was prepared for, some of which I was not, one thing that I didn’t think to prepare myself for is the variation in the soundtrack of life here.

As one would expect, Ahmedabad is a bit noisier than my hometown. Instead of hearing cows or trains from my bedroom, I listen to the constant whirring of my ceiling fan, the honking of cars on the street outside, and the aggressive chirping of pigeons fighting for space on the ledge outside my window. I can hear doors opening and closing as my host family moves about the apartment and the excited shouts of my 7-year-old host brother as he runs around and plays games, and the clatter of silverware spills out from the kitchen while our next meal is being prepared.

On the way to work every day, I hear a symphony of car horns, faint snippets of Bollywood music from other vehicles, and the mooing of cows right beside our taxi on the street instead of from my bedroom at home.

At SAATH, I, along with two other interns, have been working with the Child-Friendly Spaces project to develop and test interactive learning activities that CFS can use at its sites across the city. When we get to go test out activities at sites, we hear the gleeful yells of students as they perform their favorite song, “Rolly Poly,” for us and the rustle of some creative and nifty cradles as the youngest children are rocked to sleep.

When we work from the office, I am surrounded with the rhythmic tapping of my fellow DukeEngage students on their keyboards, hard at work on their projects. I expected this noise, and it provides a sense of comfort as it reminds me of group study sessions back at school. As we have become more integrated with the office, we have also gotten to work in harmony with the rest of SAATH’s staff. Hearing their sweet “Kaise ho?”s (“How are you?”s) as they give us opportunities to practice our Hindi as we pass in the kitchen always brightens my day.

These recurrent echoes and workplace conversations are to be expected when working in an office, but just as life in a city is different from life in a small town, offices in India are a bit different from offices in the United States.

I didn’t expect the clinking of tiffins (lunchboxes) and the clatter of metal container lids as all the employees share their lunches, family-style.

I didn’t expect the crunching of samosas on days when SAATH orders treats for everyone because the monsoon season has hit hard that day.

I definitely did not anticipate a beautifully dissonant cacophony of voices as everyone shook my hand to wish me many happy returns on my birthday last week, including the founder of SAATH and its current Executive Director who both took time out of their days to come celebrate and munch on the cookie bars my DukeEngage group surprised me with.

Some of the sounds that I will miss most of all are the gentle jingling of ceramic cups as our friend Santosh brings around cups of chai for everyone each morning and afternoon, the winsome cries of peacocks cutting sharply through the air, and the pure joy emanating from my peers each time our ears detect one of these frequencies. Peacocks are India’s national bird, and we have sort of adopted them as our mascot. Each time we hear one’s song, we all immediately stop and look for its owner, and it is this intense collective weeks-long birdwatch that I will remember most fondly of all.

While some noises are more welcome than others (the relentless rivets of rain can stop at any time now, thanks), they have all woven together to create a true masterpiece of a score to one of the greatest adventures of my life. We are nearing the conclusion of the piece, and I’m hoping that the finale of the work is just as exciting as its beginning before all too soon, the noises shift once again to the wheels of suitcases and planes as we journey back home. I’m so blessed and grateful to have heard this melody, and I am excited that for SAATH, the end of the summer is simply a refrain, not a coda, and the echoes of the work they are doing will resonate on for years to come.


Ahmedabad, an Aspirational Society

by Jay Gupta


Ahmedabad is a vibrant city with rich historical significance. On one end, it was the site of Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram – a central symbol of peace, unity, and power during India’s tumultuous campaign for independence. Now, Ahmedabad is growing and building in unique ways in response to challenges of its own. In the early 2000s, riots between Hindus and Muslims left the city with increased violence and lowered morale. Coupled with rapid migration of people from rural villages seeking livelihood opportunities, it saw an expansion of slum-populated areas. This created inequality between pockets of the population and necessitated a shift towards development and progress. Ahmedabad became a hub for social organizations and took the view of an “aspirational society” – a mindset that pervaded many aspects of my time in India and work with Saath Charitable Trust.

I spent the summer working on Saath’s Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) project. In the short term, CFS centers provide safety, education, and nutritional support for children of migrant construction laborers, who live and work in colonies established near construction sites. Saath’s larger goal is to encourage and counsel families to eventually enroll their children in government schools. Thus, CFS centers also need to prepare these students with basic skills so that they are ready to meet the rigors of a formal education. I entered my DukeEngage experience eager to contribute to this goal in any capacity that I could.

Initial meetings with our Saath project mentors helped identify a key area where this contribution could take shape. The teachers lacked a designated curriculum, and instruction varied significantly across the seven site locations. My teammates and I decided to create a teachers’ handbook with interactive lessons plans for activities that spanned areas such as language, basic math, creative development, and mental development. Our goal was to provide the teachers with a resource that they could use to both standardize classrooms and keep students excited, motivated, and engaged. With a concrete plan and enthusiasm for our project, we began developing Saath’s first CFS curriculum.

Initially, field visits consisted mostly of observation. We toured several sites and labor colonies, interviewed teachers, and learned as much as we could about their classroom procedures. This gave us a strong operational knowledge of the CFS program, which we used to begin developing our teachers’ handbook. However, as we would quickly learn, sometimes facts are not enough to put an idea into practice. About a quarter of the way through the handbook, we decided that we were ready to try some of the activities with CFS students. But, to me, this presented more challenges than anticipated. How was I to communicate with students across a vast age range – and that too, while facing a language barrier? I had known that there are students from just a few months to around 14 years old all in a single CFS classroom, and most of them speak only Gujarati. But our activities hadn’t been planned with this in mind just yet. Unable to keep all the kids engaged and entertained, I returned to the office a bit dismayed and questioning how to proceed. Very soon, Ahmedabad started to showcase its “aspirational society” nature.

My teammates and I began working more closely with our Saath mentors to improve our activities and benefit the students’ learning. Our mentors gave us valuable encouragement and guidance. They had an overflowing enthusiasm for our project and the impact it would have on establishing a dedicated CFS curriculum for the first time. The teachers were also instrumental in helping us better understand the community and surmounting the barriers we initially faced. I would often speak to them in Hindi, and they would translate into Gujarati so that the students could understand. They also provided valuable tips on engaging more students, despite the varying age groups. Soon, the students also overcame their shyness and brought forth a contagious spirit of happiness and eagerness to play with us and learn in the process.

By the end of summer, when I walked into the classroom, it was always with a big smile. And right as I entered, I would be greeted with a reciprocal chorus of laughter and excitement from the students. The warm relationship that formed between us has made my work with Saath quite memorable and meaningful. The many lessons I will take away from this experience have given me an important outlook on service – to successfully contribute, one must first understand the community, its perspectives, and build connections with the diverse people he is working with.

SAATH’s Achievement



“SAATH” has been awarded one more time Platinum Transparency Seal by GuideStar India*for highest level of Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance practices.

We have achieved this accreditation consecutively for the third year. It is the biggest achievement for the “SAATH” team. To know more about different activities we undertake, please visit our website: Some programs of the organization are listed as follows:






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The Journey of a grassroot feminist change maker

Born in a conservative community of Babaji’s (priests) of Gujarat, where girls are married off at tender age and education is a far cry for them, here is Mital, the bold and enthusiastic women, about to get inducted in the Gujarat police force due to her father’s unflinching support in wake of strong resistance from relatives and within the community. Mital in her twenties is from rural areas the sleepy town of Somnath in Junagadh, thrilled with joy and satisfaction for making it to the Gujarat State police forces after years of sustained efforts. Her father retired from service, and at present works as a temple priest. Her mother is a home maker, has 2 older sisters and one brother. She studied throughout from Gujarati medium. Babaji community has strong patriarchal influence, which does not encourage girls to educate themselves. Such regressive and backward thinking leads to young girls getting married off at a tender age, even before they attain puberty. So when her father decided to educate Mital and two other sisters, he had to face stiff opposition from his relatives but they did not toe their line and chose to educate them.

MitalAfter School, she decided to become police personnel, but there was lack of guidance. She pursued Masters of Social work, besides that she even appeared for police entrance again but could not clear the physical test because of lack of preparation. She joined a government NGO in Kutch near the Indo-Pak border as a community mobilizer after masters but her work was cut short, as her family felt the remote location was unsafe for her, so she came back.

After returning, when she was searching for jobs, she faced issues like eve-teasing her locality. Her work with the NGOs had changed her outlook towards such issues a lot, otherwise earlier her reaction would have been of indifference. She felt that the youth needs to be sensitized towards such issues and they should take the initiative. This led to her joining the Youth Force started by Saath, with a vision of empowering the urban slum youth. She got the chance of planning and implementing diverse activities for youth development as a member and in the capacity of a city coordinator of Rajkot. During her work she found numerous issues of gender biases in the community, which affected her work with the youth groups and especially female members who were not allowed to participate freely. The leadership training, workshops and trips along with the experience of youth force transformed her into a feminist youth change maker.

She again started preparing for the competition and the challenge was even tougher this time on, since she was working simultaneously. She clearly planned out her daily schedule keeping in mind her strengths and grey areas. After following the tough schedule for 6 months, she was selected as armed constable by the selection committee. Mital proudly says, “There is no alternative to hard work. Success comes only to those who work hard for it. Success comes to those who relentlessly move on irrespective of challenging circumstances. Without the support of my parents, and the exposure at Saath, it would not have been possible.” Mital looking back in the past says, “If my father had not taken a stand for us, then even I would have been married off at tender age without any life of my own and led a life like any other girl in our community. Mital plans to prepare for the civil service exams, which is her next milestone.

A walk down the memory lane, My Internship with Saath, Shmbhavi Sharma

Experiences in one’s life are the tiny steps that pave the way to what we become. Therefore, I have always believed that it is very important to have the right experiences in one’s life which enables us to grow as an individual and add on to our knowledge base. Interning with SAATH indeed has been a very fruitful and great learning experience.


I still remember my first day at SAATH.I was a little apprehensive of what was in store for me in the coming weeks. Having decided to do my summer internship with SAATH, I ventured into the terrains of an unknown city. On my first day at SAATH, I was oriented about the various projects run by the organisation in the various cities of Gujarat.I was introduced to the project coordinators and briefed about various projects in detail. The one thing that really struck me on my first day was the warmth exuded by everyone in the office. In the days that followed, I visited the centers of various projects run by Saath i.e. Saath Savings and Credit Cooperative, Balghars, Youth group resource centre, Child Friendly spaces in Vasna, Juhapura and Odhav. It provided me a glimpse into the kind of work Saath is doing in the urban slums of Ahmedabad for marginalized children, women, youth and for holistic community development. It was a thought provoking experience to go to the field and see the reality and hardships that people face in their everyday life marked by struggle and subversion of their rights. My main assignment was a detailed study about the Youth Force programme at Saath. I studied about some of the programmes for youth conducted by civil society organizations in India and abroad. Along with this I also interacted with the youth force team leaders, visited youth force centers and actively participated in the events conducted by the field team .I fondly remember during one such visit at Youth Force resource centre in Odhav, the Youth Force members shared their aspirations and how Youth Force programme has made a significant difference in their lives by giving them a platform to showcase their talent and strengthen their innate qualities along with providing them career guidance and motivation. The enthusiasm with which the group members participated in the activities and involved me gave an insight into the pivotal role that the programme is playing for shaping the youth’s future and personality. I also got a chance to work on the half yearly donor report and was pleased to be entrusted with such a responsibility as an intern. Throughout my internship one thing which I liked the most was the office atmosphere and the warmth shown by everyone. The smiling faces in office, the excited overtones, helpful voices and lunchtime round table discussions are all a memorable part of the wonderful time spent at Saath.

Another great experience was participating in the cultural event for Nivea’s CSR event which was held in collaboration with Saath. On a short notice we had to put up an educational skit and it was incredible to have been able to pull this in such a short duration of time.Directing and acting in the play was really exciting for me. Saath along with giving me an opportunity to hone my documentation skills also gave me a chance to showcase my extra-curricular talent. It was through the constant support and guidance of Saath team that I was able to successfully prepare an elaborate report on further improvement of Youth Force programme. This could have not been possible without the support, encouragement and guidance of Saath team.

I would especially like to thank Paromita Ma’am for searching new avenues and creating opportunities for my personal growth and learning. It was wonderful to have her as a mentor as she was always available for guidance and motivated me throughout the internship. Without her encouragement and valuable advice completion of the report and my personal learning would have been incomplete. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Irbaaz and Kunal Sir for my smooth induction as an intern and helping me as an intern to feel comfortable and get acquainted with working of Saath. Their guidance and support throughout the internship is much appreciated. Vama Ma’am thank you for believing in me and entrusting me with the responsibility of putting up a skit in such short duration of time. Also, I am thankful to Abhishek and Paresh sir for giving me an insight and helping me to understand Youth Force programme in detail and getting adequate field exposure for the same. Thank you Niraj sir for giving me a direction to initiate my learning process and mould my learning outcome. I was deeply touched by everyone’s simplicity and dedication and my interaction with everyone has been wonderful.

shambhavi 1Shambhavi, along with other interns  at Saath office

It was a beautiful journey of five weeks and I am glad that I chose Saath for my block field work internship. Saath as an organisation is doing incredible work for the marginalized section of the society with its holistic approach of intervention and empowerment. I would be more than happy to be of any help in the future and the time spent at Saath would always be cherished and remembered.

Shambhavi Sharma