The key to empowering women is them having a skill that generates income. We offer free candle-making classes for women at YMCA centers in the slums of New Delhi and the surrounding rural villages. We support them until they are able to make and sell candles independently from their homes.
When I was in middle school, I spent 3 years in New Delhi, where I met six wonderful women who came to my grandparents’ home for guidance and support. I learned that they were victims of cruelty and atrocities committed by their husbands. Some women had been thrown from their homes. Victims of a generational cycle of violence and exploitation, the women had lost their dignity and self-esteem, lived in perpetual fear, and had no means to become self-reliant and financially independent.
I wanted to help them, and an unforgettable experience showed me a way. One day my grandmother took me to a school for blind children called "The Blind Relief Association," where children my age were making candles and cards to be sold at the Diwali Mela. Diwali, the festival of lights, is India's biggest festival. Proceeds from candle sales go to the school and its children’s welfare. Inspired and uplifted by this experience, I visited the school many times, beginning a journey that began with my learning the art of candle making. Two months later, my school, the American Embassy School in New Delhi, organized a fair at which I was awarded a stall to display and sell my candles. I decided to make citronella candles that repel mosquitoes, which in India's tropical climate, often transmit diseases deadly to humans -- Malaria, Dengue, Chickungunya, and most recently, Zika, for which there are currently no preventable vaccines. My mom, the six wonderful women, and I spent weeks making and decorating candles we placed in beautiful ceramic and glass containers. The candles were a big hit and sold out, and I donated the profits to these women and the Blind Relief Association: Those who had no light in their eyes had taught me how to give light to others. My first successful fund-raiser brought me immense satisfaction and a sense of purpose. I longed to help the blind school and the women who had assisted with the candle-making.
In the 5 years since I founded Ujala, 1000 women have learned to make candles, and with Ujala's support, more than 100 of them are on the path to becoming financially independent. Ujala seeks additional marketing opportunities and donations to reach the millions of disadvantaged women who live in some of the poorest and most oppressed parts of India.