Imagine a young girl, all of 22-23 years old. She’s got the best of education in the country- we’re talking Symbiosis and ISB. She lives in the urban, metropolitan city of Delhi and she could have easily chased her dream and got a fat-salaried, corporate job. But she decides to give it all up and work towards bettering the lives of underprivileged and slum girls in the city. She fights all odds and opposition (some from her own family) to start her own NGO so that she could touch more lives and help more girls in a proper, systematic way.

Also, mind you, she’s young, she herself has no gold pots, so she starts it from a tiny room in one of the slum areas of the city. Emptying her own pockets and working hard to transform young girls’ dreams into reality. Almost a decade later, do you know where’s that girl now?
Yes, she’s the founder of Protsahan Foundation- Sonal Kapoor, who has been running the NGO since 2010 in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar area. Her NGO works with at-risk slum & underprivileged girls to rescue them, educate them and find them meaningful employment- to uplift them in truest sense of the word.

Our curiosity got the better of us and we set out on a journey to discover her life, her goals, her passions and what drives her till date. We met her at her Uttam Nagar’s tiny office cum school and what we found out was an extremely touching and beautiful story. Read on to find out.

How did it all start, Sonal? How did you end up starting ‘Protsahan’?

While on a shoot for a corporate film, I was feeling a bit off at the beginning of my career. It was just 15 odd minutes from this place only (Uttam Nagar) and I picked up my little digital camera and wandered around the place (the slum area). That’s when I met this little girl who got me to her home. I started talking to her while the girl got me tea. But I figured that she wasn’t able to walk properly and I happened to ask her mother what’s wrong with her. She, very casually, mentioned that every three days a man comes and takes her away, and our house runs because of her. And standing there, my immature brain, all of 23 years, started thinking, that I need to do something about this. I think nothing else would have made sense after this if I’d have gone back to the same job. I think that was the point where Protsahan started.

But you being so young at that time, what was your family’s reaction?

Well, if you remember it was the recession time and quitting a job out of your own free will didn’t go down well with them. My father didn’t speak to me for 14 days! But I think the biggest weakness is when we feel our soul is weak. And I think I have never felt ” Oh ye nahi hone wala hai”.

What financial struggles did you face while making Protsahan reach at as successful place as it is today?

A few years into it, I went broke completely. As a 25/26-year-old, I realised I need to pick up a part-time job just to take care of myself and to run this organisation. That’s when Help Age India happened and now I consult them for two days a week and the rest of the time I am here.

Wow, that sounds tough. So, what are you currently aiming for?

Here, only 100 girls study. But the idea is to build an ecosystem. Beyond this, what? We partner with the Government, do teacher training and other things which would benefit these girls. For example, this month there’s this Canada High Commission delegation coming over. There’s a group of 30 delegates, women, who are coming in from South East Asian countries and Protsahan is talking to them about child sexual abuse. It’s about taking the conversation from beyond these four walls and saying that child sexual abuse is a problem, this is how you enable the stakeholders around it and train the right people.

We know every girl you have worked with is special to you. But is there any one particular story you remember, which you’d want to share with us?

Yeah, there’s just so many kids! But one of the kids- Seema (name changed) who fought her child marriage at 12 definitely has an inspiring story. She gave her 10th standard exams through us and now she 19 and preparing for her 12th boards. You know, she was a 4th class drop-out and her parents never agreed to send her back to school. And today when you meet this kid, you’ll feel like it’s a good day! She works with us now, here, she’s salaried.

Sonal’s foundation has rescued 800 girls from points of extreme poverty and child abuse and successfully mainstreamed them into formal schools.The NGO’s office alone in Uttam Nagar educates 100 girls in its premises, trains them for employment skills like driving, movie making etc. and helps them eventually get employment- the cycle is end to end. Apart from them of course, there’s the government collaborations, training, proposals and what not! Definitely not an easy job.

And major respect to Sonal for carving this path for her life when most of her counterparts are in corporate jobs. We need more women like her!

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