Our newest CALI Award winner is Rochelle Stewart-Allen. Rochelle founded Daya Trust in May 2009 which has a focus on educating girls living in poverty in India. Daya Trust currently runs a Girls Education Centre in the Mulund-slum area of Mumbai, India, in partnership with local charity, SAKHI for Girls Education and its founder Aarti Naik.
Q: Tell us about Daya Trust.
Rochelle: Daya Trust educates girls living in poverty in India. That’s the simple version! We passionately believe to educate a girl is to empower her to become her own changemaker. At Daya Trust we believe in opening doors for our girls, helping them access a wider vision for their lives, and encouraging them to achieve what they hope and dream for.
We strongly believe in local people delivering local solutions. These people know exactly what’s required on the ground, and we want to help them achieve that. Working with our charity partners in India, we support them to become self-funded and legally registered charities. Our goal is to help these awesome people develop their own support networks and make ourselves redundant!
And finally at Daya Trust we use our voice to contribute to the on-going public discussions around empowering girls and the importance of girls’ education.
Q: What made you decide to start Daya Trust?
Rochelle: I guess from an early age I always wanted to save the world! Then I started a charity and got a bit more realistic. In all seriousness, I wanted to create something that was bigger than me. I knew that just earning and spending money was never going to be enough to satisfy me.
I had always thought I would do something charitable “when I …. “, whether it was “when I have enough experience”, “when I’ve learnt enough”, “when I can afford it”. After my first visit to India in 2008, I came home realising the situation was more “when I make myself available”.
What we do in India most people could do. There’s nothing particularly special about how we help. What’s special is that we actually do something, we take action. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but either way we keep moving forward and contributing.
Q: What are you aiming to achieve?
Rochelle: Daya Trust is part of the global movement of organisations and individuals highlighting girls’ education as a human right. No one individual person can achieve this goal, but collectively we can each play our part.
For us, it’s not a numbers game. For every girl who attends our after-school girls learning centre in a Mumbai slum, she influences her parents, her siblings, her friends, her teachers, and her community. And most importantly, she will have the greatest influence on her future children and their education.
We know for a fact that an extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s eventual income by 10-20%. An extra year in secondary school, and that girl will increase her wage by 15-25%. When this girl completes seven years of education, she will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. These clearly make solid economic sense for both this girl, her community, and her country.
Q: Please share something that you are particularly proud of.
Rochelle: At Daya Trust we’re particularly proud of our charity partner, Aarti Naik. Aarti has been running her Mumbai charity SAKHI for Girls Education since 2008.
We partnered up with Aarti after a chance meeting in Mumbai between myself and someone who knew Aarti. Just a quick 5 minute conversation in an autorickshaw, led to signing a formal agreement with Aarti to support her work at the Girls Learning Centre.
Aarti had done great things before she met us and virtually worked on her own, building the capacity of the centre. But together we are helping Aarti achieve her bigger vision of increasing the size of the centre to reach more girls.
We’re working with Aarti to help her define her programme and evaluate its success. We’ve helped Aarti register her charity, something which, in the local environment, was impossible for her to do on her own. These things will help Aarti access new funding sources. We also have access to new networks and expertise which we then hand onto Aarti.
Q: What have you learned from the people of Mumbai?
Rochelle: Probably the most defining thing I’ve learnt from people working in charities in Mumbai is that no-one needs our help. Sure they appreciate our help, and can benefit from it, but even if we weren’t around these people would still be making it happen.
They are self-motivated, ready to change the world, and in it for the long-haul. They know change is slow and it can take a generation to even see small increments but they’re commited to seeing this happen. We’re just hopping on their band wagon, rather than the other way around. Truly inspiring!
Q: What drives you?
Rochelle: People ask me a lot about my motivation to run Daya Trust, and it’s even hard for me to understand why I’m so driven to do this work. It’s kind of like India got under my skin and it’s there to stay. I pretty much live and breathe India. I even dream about it!
I know I have led a very blessed life, purely through the family and the country I was born into. Birth is a lottery. I could have just has easily been born to a woman living in the slum and my life would have been markedly different, not necessarily worse but different.
I believe humanity has a responsibility to each other. It’s not good enough to sit around musing how terrible things are in the world without actually trying to make things better. Every life counts.
Q: Do you feel there is reward in your efforts?
Rochelle: There are definite rewards, the main one being every time I see photos of our girls in Mumbai and their sparkling eyes and their lives so full of potential. I want to at least play a part in keeping that sparkle alive.
Running a charity is incredibly challenging. There have been at least a couple of times when I have had to seriously question whether I should continue. Then something amazing and inspiring happens and I’m back into the swing of things.
I’m learning not to hold onto things too tightly and just trust in the process. For sure I’ve proven that things come in their own time, and there’s no point in trying to force them into my timeframe.
Q: If you had your way, everyone would spend 5 minutes a day…
Rochelle: If I had my way everyone would stop for 5 minutes a day and count their blessings. If we focused more on how much we have, rather than what we’re missing, I’m sure our lives would be that much richer. We would feel more inspired to contribute to the lives of others. Plus of course we would stop staring at our navels for at least 5 minutes!
As the Maori saying goes “He aha te mea nui? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata.” (What is the most important thing? It is people. It is people. It is people.)
Rochelle combines a love for travel, with her experiences working for community organisations, and an interest in addressing issues of poverty. Her passion is to see marginalised girls educated.
Connect with Rochelle through Daya Trust
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