Tell us about yourself and your background
They say a dream is something you want to do but a calling is something you have to do. I can still clearly recall the moment I met Badri and was confronted with her life, her reality. She was being trained as one of our very first PeaceMakers and was sharing her own personal story of domestic violence. She spoke about the brutal daily physical violence by her husband, of frequently being locked up and starved and continuous sexual abuse. My heart was ripped open and has never been fully put back together again. Sadly, I found Badri’s story all too common in India, and the stigma and shame around abuse meant that there were few services to protect women and girls.
In 2011, my husband and I both ‘resigned from our careers’ in Sydney, Australia and moved to India with our three young children. Not knowing what I was going to do, but compelled to work in women’s empowerment, I started talking to women across the country about their most urgent needs. I was hoping to use my background in finance to design a program around financial literacy.
Having completed a Masters in Mathematical Statistics, 3-year Investment CFA and MBA and worked in Risk Management, Investment Banking and Funds Management in Johannesburg and Sydney the majority of my career, I had never expected my ‘stars-aligning’ moment to happen in the slum areas of the Old City in Hyderabad, India. Yet there I was, faced with the most serious human rights issues in India and I knew, I could never again look or walk away. So My Choices Foundation was born.
About My Choices Foundation:
My Choices Foundation is a women’s protection organisation, that aims to help women and girls live free from violence and sexual exploitation. Our two programs; Operation PeaceMaker (OPM) and Operation Red Alert (ORA) address two of the most pervasive and intractable human rights abuses – domestic violence and sex trafficking respectively.
When was the organisation established?
Operation PeaceMaker was founded in early 2012 directly addressing shocking statistics that at least 40 per cent of married women suffer domestic violence.
The power and success of this project comes down to two very incredible women: Archana Brian and Farzana Khan, who project manage the entire Operation. You can read their full biographies here.
It’s a grassroots initiative that provides 100 per cent free counselling, rights education and legal aid to victims of domestic violence. We train local women, called Peacemakers, to work in their communities and meet the challenges of domestic violence in a way that does not disrupt family, culture and religion.
Operation Red Alert was established in 2014 and addresses the horrific statistics that India is home to over 14 million of the world’s 27-30 million slaves, with around 80 per cent of these victims being sold into forced sexual exploitation. The average age of an Indian girl trapped into a life of sexual slavery is now only 12 years old! Only one per cent of these girls will ever get rescued – which is why Operation Red Alert’s main focus is on prevention and why have launched India’s first national anti-sex trafficking helpline.
Which cities are you operating from?
Operation PeaceMaker currently has Counselling Centres in five strategic areas of Telangana’s largest cities – Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Warangal.
Operation Red Alert has developed a three pillar preventive approach which includes: India’s first National Helpline addressing sex trafficking; the Safe Village Program grassroots education and awareness campaigns; a national Mass Media Campaign to educate the general Indian public. We have built and continue to grow a coalition of NGOs who we train to implement our grassroots prevention strategy in their region.
Our grassroots regional campaigns have been conducted in more than 120 villages in Telegana, Andra Pradesh and West Bengal and we will be expanding in to Karnataka.
Today we have 61 PeaceMakers and nine Counsellors in the field, for many this is their first skills training and job and a huge step towards self-empowerment. Collectively, we have already successfully helped more than 2,300 cases of domestic violence, invested over 90,000 hours of field support to victims and trained over 35,000 women and girls in their rights and protections from abuse.
We strive for excellence in everything we do at our Foundation and firmly believe in the power of technology to harnessing the younger generation and including men in all our work. Our recent campaign won the Grand Jury Award for Women Empowerment at the Social Media for Empowerment Awards, 2016 and garnered the support of big name celebrities like world #1 batsman, South African cricketer AB de Villiers and Indian cricket captain, MS Dhoni. The success of this campaign, came down to the dedication and commitment of our head of Communications, Hannah Norling – you can read her full bio here: http://mychoicesfoundation.org/who-we-are/meet-our-team/
To meet the people whose lives have been impacted by the work of our PeaceMakers, please check out Our Stories.
Operation Red Alert
Human Trafficking is a cause that demands great urgency. We believe that if we don’t do better research and get better organised than the traffickers, and then it is a cause we will never win. Operation Red Alert’s programs and messaging are based on the findings of ground breaking research we commissioned through the Behavioural Architects of Final Mile (who have worked with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Indian Government and more). This research is being presented at ESOMAR in Tokyo this year, and we hope it will also inform other NGO’s work and help build a coalition effort to end trafficking.
Our team has developed what we call a two-day ‘Safe Village Program’ in which we connect with all the stakeholders involved in the protection of the girl: The father, mother, young boys and the girls themselves. We have created the concept of a Guardian girl – in which we get young girls to ‘sign a pledge’ that they themselves will be the guardians of each other. In the six months since we started the Safe Village Program, we have already rolled out over 140 Program visits, in which we have equipped over 200,000 people across four regions. We’re currently operating in three states of India and will be starting in our fourth state, Karnataka in June alongside our existing programs.
You can read the stories from the work of Operation Red Alert here.
What is the mission of the organisation?
My Choices Foundation aims to give women, children and families choices to live lives free from violence, abuse and exploitation.
We aim to see the transformation of India into a safe, peaceful and encouraging place for women and girls by empowering women and girls with the awareness, education, and support they need to become their own change agents.
We do this by:
● By empowering women and girls to become change agents in their own families and communities.
● By educating at risk women and girls, families and communities.
● By providing free, grassroots support to victims and their families.
What are your short Term goals?
Operation PeaceMaker – continue operations in our five counselling centres and expand into two Counselling Centres in Warangal in 2016.
Operation Red Alert – 2016 we will roll out our Karnataka Safe Village Program, launch a national campaign for “Good Father’s”, and start a safe home called LightHouse that will serve women and girls affected by trafficking in Telangana.
What are your long term goals?
Operation PeaceMaker works towards ending domestic violence in Telangana through providing women and girls the choices they need to live lives free from abuse, and contributing to the national movement to end violence against women and girls more broadly.
Operation Red Alert Aims to end sex trafficking by 2025 through our three-pillar prevention program involving a national coalition of NGOs committed to the same end.
Are you currently running any special initiatives?
Yes, we are currently running the Pavani and Pallavi educaion fundraiser. Pavani & Pallavi’s education was interrupted due to abuse at home. Now these two aspiring doctors are ready to go back to school this June, but their mother Sandhya needs our help with school fees.
Click here to donate.
How do you fundraise?
We use various platforms, fundraising drives and we also have a handful of committed individual donors.
How can others help?
Donating by the end of the month.
Who are the faces behind the organisation: Founders, Directors, Board Members?
Contacting My Choices Foundation:
Domestic Violence SMS Helpline: If you or someone you know needs help to end abuse at home, SMS “choices” to 56767.
Trafficking Helpline: To report a suspected case of trafficking, Call 1800 419 8588