Two girls from red-light area in Mumbai to sail around the world

The girls half-sisters and best friends from the red-light district, Kamathipura, were accepted to the prestigious Semester at Sea study programme that will take them across the world

“Growing up in the red-light area means growing up being told you will amount to nothing,” said Shweta Katti and Kavita Hosmani, who were taught the same thing ever since their birth in Mumbai’s red-light district, Kamathipura.

Twenty-year-olds, Kavita and Shweta, will attend the six-month Semester at Sea programme together, from January 7, next year
Twenty-year-olds, Kavita and Shweta, will attend the six-month Semester at Sea programme together, from January 7, next year

This, however, is the story of how the two girls would beat all odds and eventually make it out of the red-light area to be accepted to one of the world’s most prestigious study-abroad programmes Semester at Sea.

Semester at Sea (SAS) is a six-month educational programme that is run on cruise ships, where students attend classes on a variety of subjects while the ship is at sea. The ship tours across several countries, giving students an opportunity to learn about those places and explore them as well.

The programme also includes lectures delivered by famous personalities such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Noble Peace prize-winner Desmond Tutu, and even Cynthia Nixon, (the actress who played Miranda in the television series, ‘Sex and the City’).

Shweta and Kavita had met and became best friends when they were 15 years old, and had decided right then, that they wanted to study and live together. Little did they know that they would first be thrown apart before they could be together again.

Both had experienced discrimination and sexual violence due to their birth in the red-light district. Their education was considered unimportant because of their origin, and over the years, the girls lost the confidence to reach their true potential.

But that would change when Shweta would approach Kranti, and NGO that empowers girls from red-light areas to become agents of social change. “When we were 17, Shweta went to Kranti NGO, which helps girls like us to become leaders,” said Kavita, adding that Shweta would then go on to be the first girl from Kamathipura to go and study abroad, in the US.

But before Shweta left, the girls discovered that their bond went beyond friendship. “Just before Shweta left to study in America, we found out that we are half-sisters. We have the same father, who died of AIDS when we were 4 years old. We were so happy to find out that we were sisters, but we never got the chance to study or live together,” said Kavita.

After Shweta went to the US, Kavita ran away and joined Kranti to avoid being forced into marriage. Since they joined the NGO, the duo was supported with therapy, and they were encouraged to study, and to dream. It was then that they decided to apply to the SAS programme.

“We now know that we have the potential to change the world, and that’s our plan. Now we have the chance to realise our dreams of studying together — all over the world, no less. We have both been accepted to the prestigious Semester at Sea study-abroad programme,” said the girls.

The duo will join the Spring 2015 session that will begin on January 7, and will take them to 15 cities across 12 countries in 112 days. The semester will also give them credits that will help the girls with further studies, as they haven’t been able to complete their formal education. “If you want to change the world, you have to learn about it and the best way to learn about the world is to see it.

We will be travelling to many countries and seeing firsthand, what kinds of problems their people face, how they are similar to our own problems, and their unique ways of solving them. This will be invaluable in helping us to change things in our own home of Kamathipura,” said Kavita, who hopes to change the education system some day, “so that everyone, no matter their background, has the opportunity to reach their potential”.

Shweta hopes to open her own psychology clinic, so she can help other girls overcome their challenges and achieve their dreams. Robin Chaurasia, one of the founders of Kranti, said, “I think if anyone had an opportunity like this, they would never pass it up. Obviously if alumni and teachers such as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, etc. thought it was a good programme, it will good for our kids too.”

While the girls are excited about their journey and the course, Kavita still has one final hurdle to cross. While Shweta got a scholarship for the course, Kavita received 40 to 50 per cent of funding through scholarships, and is now trying to collect the rest of the amount needed via donations.

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