The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.
By UNICEF Office, Maharashtra
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Asma Ansari’s community in Ambujwadi (an informal settlement in Malad West, Mumbai) took a hard hit. People lost their sources of income overnight, and since the lockdown hit, they have been struggling to cope with a heightened sense of uncertainty.
Asma is a youth leader for the residents of the area. She’s played a pivotal role in advancing youth engagement initiatives in the region as part of the Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA).
“People are living in fear of starvation, and there has been an increase in domestic violence too,” says Asma. Her experience working for community welfare has kicked in during the pandemic. With her local changemakers’ group, the Malwani Yuva Parishad, Asma has been leading the #fightagainsthunger initiative in the area.
In the past two months, this group has raised funds through the support of nonprofits to enable their community with access to basic food supplies, as well as cooked food. For instance, YUVA provided 10,000 packets of upma and poha, and 1,500 packets of pasta, which gave the community members some relief. The group has also served khichdi to hundreds of people in the community.
The community’s issues were far from non-existent even before the pandemic hit. They were not just limited to water, rations, and basic services. Empowerment and equipment of marginalised youth to overcome and defeat the difficulties of their circumstances have also been a part of Asma’s work for years now.
“Asma didi is a misaal (example) for girls of the Muslim community. She has helped so many of us leave the confines of our home and helped us become more confident,”
– Rubina Kadam (a young girl in the community)
By encouraging young people to collaborate with non-profits, hold local leaders accountable and advocate for rights of the people in their community, Asma has demonstrated an empowered approach to creating a truly ‘participatory’ democracy. Talking about the role of local leadership in supporting people living in Mumbai slums, she says, “If our officials can reach out to each of one us when they need our votes, why have they forgotten us when we need them the most?”
Asma constantly encourages young people everywhere to speak up for their community and know their social, economic and political rights. She says,
“Today, I am confident and articulate when I speak about social change. This is because of all the years I’ve spent being involved with youth groups and leadership initiatives. I have contributed to a positive change in the mindsets of many parents of marginalised youth—from being afraid to let their daughters leave home, many of them have begun to take pride in the work that their children are doing for their communities.
I am hopeful that my work with the youth will help every young person out there to value their role as conscientious citizens and exercise their responsibility to society to the fullest extent possible. I want to catalyze change in people’s lives and across communities that are deeply affected by cycles of hatred, violence and discrimination’.”