Snehalaya: The organisation ensuring the dignity of “sex workers”

As a child, Girish Kulkarni grew up in a supportive and loving middle-class family in Ahmednagar. Girish is the proud Founder of Snehalaya – a not-for-profit organisation providing support for women, children, and the LGBT community. 

Despite performing well academically, his parents enrolled him in after-school math and English classes at the age of eight. These classes were held in different locations and there was a rush to leave math class and make it to the front of the English class which was located about 1km away. 

Girish, took a different route, one that passed through the city’s red-light district, an area generally off-limits to children.

And the story begins

As Girish strolled through the tight alleys, it was a common sight for him to see girls of his own age loitering outside of brothels, offering their bodies for sale to the highest bidder. Even at a young age, the unfairness of being born into a disadvantaged situation had a significant impact on him. 

He couldn’t help but appreciate his own good fortune of being able to attend school, have enough food to eat and have caring parents to protect him from the brutal realities these girls encountered daily.

Girish felt unsure of how to make a difference. Joining youth groups and their grandiose promises of revolutionizing the world didn’t seem like a practical solution to him. He understood that his own abilities and resources were restricted but still wanted to alleviate his conscience. Thus, he resolved to adopt a holistic approach by considering the bigger picture but taking small, pragmatic steps towards change.

Towards a positive change

In 1989, Girish founded Snehalaya and insisted that three sex workers become trustees, coaching and counselling them in their new roles. 

When HIV and AIDS started affecting the community, he set up a Death with Dignity program to provide palliative care to some of India’s first AIDS casualties. These actions almost two decades ago were proof of how small actions can have a big impact. 

Today, Snehalaya works across 17 projects and over 100,000 people have benefited from it, saving countless lives and giving dignity back to those marginalized by society. 

Girish Kulkarni’s vision continues to inspire Snehalaya in all their work and he is now an esteemed scholar, recognized by the nation and the Indian President for giving a voice and platform for change to India’s hidden population.

The organization has been running education programs and palliative care for people affected by AIDS since 1989 and now serves over 19,000 beneficiaries annually through 22 projects across four key areas: education, healthcare, rehabilitation, and awareness. 

Their services primarily focus on helping women, children, and LGBT communities affected by poverty and the commercial sex industry, with the goal of fighting HIV and AIDS, ending human trafficking, improving education, and promoting justice and rehabilitation for those in need. The organization emphasizes the resilience of its beneficiaries and their commitment to helping them every step of the way.

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