Apne Aap director Dr. Abhilasha Kumari visited Katonah

Apne Aap Director’s Visit Inspires KEEP Members New and Old

Under a waxing October moon, supporters new and old of the Katonah Education Exchange Program (KEEP) gathered to listen as Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, Director of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, spoke about the valuable impact KEEP is having on the ground in Bihar, India. Dr. Kumari, a woman of small stature but tremendous presence, mingled with guests at the home of Ruth Rosenberg and then gave a formal presentation.

While outlining specifics of the program like health screenings, academic supports, and enrichment classes, Dr. Kumari interspersed vignettes about the girls and their lives in the red light district: how a troop of girls returned exhilarated and triumphant after having convinced the parents of one of their group members to delay an early marriage in favor of staying in school, how another group of girls confronted local police officials to address the harassment they experienced as they made their way to and from school each day, and the momentous occasion when Poonam and Resham accepted diplomas, their mother uneducated and prostituted as a young girl herself, standing beside them.

Dr. Kumari did not shy away from sharing the less-glowing reports. She paused from speaking for a moment when the picture of a particular young woman with bright eyes came on the screen. This girl, she explained, had gone missing while visiting her family. All Apne Aap’s efforts to locate and return her to safety had been stymied. The trail was cold. She was lost. Stories such as these brought some of the realities the girls and staff living and working in the red light districts of India must face – never mind the inconsistent electrical power, harassment and imprisonment of employees, and deep-seated hindrances presented by acculturated inter-generational prostitution. Keeping the girls physically safe is an ever-present challenge.

She spoke about implementing feedback from meeting with the KEEP board in the spring, in particular, taking the girls on field trips. The excursion to a public park in the mountains spurred a paradigm shift for young women who have literally never left the neighborhood in which they were born. Experiencing in a small way, the concept that there is a wider world where things can be different was new and powerful for these youngsters.

The visit from Dr. Kumari, with her impassioned and frank conversation with KEEP illustrated her deep connection and commitment to the program as a whole and to the girls as individuals. It was a step in further affirming one of KEEP’s primary charter intentions: to be connected to the change we wish to effect – to people beyond their ‘profile’ and even beyond the organizations that strive to assist them.

Cynthia Braun concluded the presentation describing the common experience of reading and hearing about horrendous situations around the world and feeling powerless. KEEP’s connection with Apne Aap gives one something to do. It’s real change, with real people.

Dr. Abhilasha Kumari
Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, director of Apne Aap Worldwide

2 KEEP Sisters Graduate

KEEP Fall News Update


KEEP Superstars Start College
Our first KEEP graduates are starting college this fall! Poonam and Resham Khatun have matriculated at Arvind Mahila College in Patna, a women’s college affiliated with Magadh University. Although their older sister was married at age nine, Poonam and Resham enrolled in KEEP’s program and are now among the first young women from their community to attend college. The sisters will study Economics, Sociology, Political Science, English and Hindi. Resham aspires to take her studies “very far” (pursue higher degrees) and Poonam plans to become a lawyer to fight for the rights of girls and women in her community.

With funds raised to date, KEEP will pay the tuition expenses (totaling $3,000) for Poonam and Resham this year. Moving forward, KEEP hopes to raise the additional monies needed to continue this crucial support for these ambitious and determined young women throughout their college years.

 


Runners Race for KEEP
The Running Goddess 5K on June 2 raised an amazing $4,000 for KEEP! 287 runners and walkers hit the trails of Lasdon Arboretum on a beautiful spring morning to race for fitness, fun and philanthropic goals. Running Goddess founder, Bettina Sementilli, and Race Director, Annie Bai, created this race to promote well-being, build community spirit and support the education of at-risk girls here and abroad. We are extremely grateful to The Running Goddess for such generosity and dedication to improving the lives of girls worldwide. Thank you to all the KEEP members who participated.
Running Goddess 5K Benefits KEEP

 


Apne Aap Wins Big in Huffington Post Contest
Thanks to the Running Goddess’ donation to Apne Aap on behalf of KEEP, Apne Aap finished among the top ten organizations in the Huffington Post’s RaiseForWomen Challenge. Collecting over $32,000 in donations in response to this challenge, Apne Aap won numerous prizes from the Huffington Post, including the opportunity to publicize Apne Aap’s efforts though Huff Post blogs, tweets and a front-page article.
Fundraising Thanks KEEP

 


JJHS Welcomes Students for KEEP
John Jay High School student Susannah Rogers, inspired by her pen-pal connection with the girls in Bihar, founded Students for KEEP in the summer of 2012. Last fall, Students for KEEP became an official club at John Jay High School to raise awareness of the issues affecting at-risk girls in India and help underwrite their education. The club brought in hundreds of dollars for the cause with their “KEEP the Change” fundraiser, placing canisters at local businesses to collect loose change. The club also presented a film, Born into Brothels, to the JJHS freshmen as part of a ninth grade debate on traditional gender roles around the world. For many, the event was eye-opening. Club members also fundraised with bake sales throughout the year and enjoyed participating in the Running Goddess 5K.

Susannah is now working on a project with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, creating a pamphlet that Apne Aap can distribute to younger children as a way of explaining the women’s movement in age-appropriate terms.
students for KEEP

 


Apne’s Aap’s New Director Visits Katonah
In May, Apne Aap’s new Director, Abhilasha Kumari, visited Katonah to meet KEEP’s board members and provide an update on KEEP activities. Ms. Kumari, who joined Apne Aap in December, expressed deep gratitude for the many ways that KEEP is making a difference in the lives of girls in Bihar, India. She described the difficult and often dangerous job of outreach workers who enroll girls in KEEP’s educational programs. However, despite many challenges, the work is extremely rewarding: once out of the brothels, KEEP girls are escaping enforced prostitution and learning skills that will enable them to support themselves. The early success of this model has impressed Ms. Kumari, who hopes to develop similar projects in other Indian communities.
Abhilasha visit KEEP director

 


Girl Rising Raises Awareness
In March, KEEP hosted a reception following the screening of a new documentary film entitled Girl Rising in Bedford. This film tells the story of nine amazing girls from nine different countries who dream of attending school. In their struggle to rise above enormous obstacles, they draw upon deep reserves of courage and determination. Inspired by these girls’ stories, attendees gathered after the film at Erica’s Kitchen to enjoy wine and cheese and discuss the importance of supporting girls’ education throughout the world. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who joined us and especially to Erica Miller Wallace of Erica’s Kitchen for so graciously subsidizing this special event.
Girl Rising raises awareness

 


KEEP Meets Fundraising Goals
At the end of April, KEEP concluded its second year of successful fundraising. Thanks to all of you, we have raised $10,800 each year for the past two years to fund our educational program for 160 girls in Bihar, India. KEEP pen pals in Katonah and Bihar continue to write letters to each other, which provides a wonderful sense of connection. You all, as a community, have been incredibly supportive and generous in helping KEEP achieve its mission of keeping girls in school. As we move forward into our third year, we thank you for making this goal a reality.
Running Goddess Donation
The Running Goddess 5K raised $4,000 for KEEP, helping Apne Aap win the Huffington Post challenge and helping KEEP meet our annual fundraising goal.

KEEP Gift Cards

We are pleased to offer KEEP Gift Cards, the perfect solution to a variety of gift-giving conundrums. Instead of chocolates or flowers, consider giving a KEEP gift card for…
• Your child’s teacher at the end of the year
• Mother’s Day for your mother-in-law The wedding of your colleague’s daughter
• Your teenage niece’s birthday
• A Thank You for the neighbor who took care of your pet while you were away

You’ll be giving the gift of a future.
KEEP Gift Card
Each $10 gift card funds one month’s enrollment in a daily program that provides education and protection for one girl in rural India who is at risk of being sold into the sex trade.

The card is not only a thoughtful and unique gift; it also helps spread the word about KEEP and its mission. Giving a KEEP gift card is an effective way to become part of the worldwide movement to keep girls in school.

KEEP gift cards are available for purchase at:

  • Cross Sport Women, 194 Katonah Avenue, Katonah

Special orders can also be accommodated. Please contact us with your request.

100% of proceeds go directly to Apne Aap, a non-profit organization delivering vital services in the fight to end sex trafficking.

KEEP the Change Program Grows

On February 2, two of the co-founders of Students for KEEP, Susannah Rogers and Emily Pickup, visited four local merchants. Their goal: Spread the word about KEEP’s fundraising efforts to support Apne Aap, and ask the merchants to place a KEEP the Change spare change canister in their stores. The students were thrilled with the response: “We got cans into all four!” reported the pair. “The owner of Suburban Groove even said she would be willing to match the donations.”

Please support our local merchants who are willing to make a difference—and consider dropping some change in the KEEP the Change canisters while you’re there. The new locations are:

  • Suburban Groove, 33 Katonah Avenue, Katonah
  • Table, 11 Babbitt Road, Bedford Hills
  • Little Kabab Station, 31 East Main Street, Mt. Kisco
  • Little Crepe Street, 29 East Main Street, Mt. Kisco

The four new cans join the existing canisters at:

  • Out of the Blue, 280 North Bedford Road, Mt. Kisco
  • Cross Sport Woman, 194 Katonah Avenue, Katonah

Congratulations to the Students for KEEP.

Ruchira visits KEEP in Katonah

Ruchira Gupta Visits Katonah

On the evening of October 11th, Apne Aap founder Ruchira Gupta presented to a standing-room only crowd at the Katonah Village Library, sharing her perspective on the fight against modern-day slavery and sex trafficking. The presentation was held on the first annual International Day of the Girl, and was registered as participating event.

The powerful speech was part of an event sponsored by KEEP, the Katonah Education Exchange Program, a local grassroots organization in its second year. After the speech, a wine-and-cheese reception was held, made possible by donations from a corps of KEEP supporters who donated everything from napkins to platters. The reception was lively, with many questions and comments for the Ms. Gupta, the two Apne Aap representatives, and the seven KEEP founders.

Ruchira visits KEEP

The event raised more than $2200, which is one-fifth of KEEP’s annual fundraising goal of $10,800. All funds raised are part of a grant to Apne Aap, supporting the education of 130 girls, ages 10 to 16, in northern India. At the event, KEEP founder Ruthie Rosenberg introduced the group and explained their mission: Keeping Girls in School.

After Ms. Gupta’s speech, another KEEP founder, Cynthia Braun, described several fundraising initiatives including a new “KEEP the Change” program, led by four students at John Jay High School—Susannah Rogers, Emily Pickup, Olivia Paulhac and Helen Eifert—who call their group Students for KEEP. The students designed donation containers that are available to merchants for placement near checkout. At the evening’s reception, Don Healy, owner of Out of the Blue in Mount Kisco, became the first merchant to request a can. Dr. Braun also described the gift cards KEEP sells, each supporting one girl for one month at a cost of $10. The cards are available at Ebba in Katonah, Gypsy Roots in Cross River, and now at Out of the Blue in Mount Kisco.

Prior to the event, KEEP had raised $5,940 toward its annual goal, representing 55 percent of the total. All event expenses are donated by KEEP founders and supporters, allowing the full $2,200 raised to go directly to the Apne Aap grant. KEEP has now reached 68 percent of its goal for the year, leaving $3,500 remaining to raise before the fiscal year ends on May 1, 2013.

Hillary Clinton Meets KEEP Student

Hillary Clinton Meets a KEEP Student

Poonam Khatoon, a sixteen-year-old girl in northern India, demonstrated her karate moves for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday, May 6th, 2012. Mrs. Clinton was taking part in a meeting with the leaders of nine non-profit organizations working to end sex trafficking, moderated by Ruchira Gupta, founder of one of the programs, Apne Aap (“self help” in Hindi). Secretary Clinton promised her support for the cause, but she didn’t realize that Ms. Khatoon and her friends already receive the help of Mrs. Clinton’s neighbors in Westchester, NY.

The daughter of a woman working in prostitution, Ms. Khatoon takes her karate lessons in an Apne Aap program that is sponsored by a charitable group called KEEP (short for Katonah Education Exchange Program) based in Katonah, a village in the town of Bedford, home to the Clintons. “KEEP is a huge part of keeping Poonam and her friends at the hostel in karate,” explains Lindsey Swedick, who works in the New York office of Apne Aap and coordinates the interaction with the Katonah charitable group.

KEEP is a community effort spearheaded by seven Katonah moms: Ruthie Rosenberg, Cynthia Braun, Elizabeth McGoldrick, Celeste Crosby, Sioban Keane, Jeanne Cass, and Elena Rover. Inspired when their book club read Half the Sky, the friends selected Apne Aap from among the many worthy causes featuring women who have helped themselves and others despite overwhelming challenges.

KEEP sponsors 130 girls from 13 girls groups based out of three community centers run by Apne Aap in Forbesganj, Uttari Rampur, and Babuan, in the Araria District in the Indian state of Bihar—. These girls are at risk for being sold into the sex trade or born into a part of the Untouchable caste, in families that traditionally engage in intergenerational prostitution.

In addition to underwriting karate, KEEP funds support tutoring, English-language instruction, and other non-formal education such as sewing and self-advocacy skills for girls ages 10 to 16. Ms. Rosenberg, who manages much of the team’s daily operations, traveled to India and witnessed the positive impact that Apne Aap’s work is having on vulnerable communities. She helped shape the KEEP agenda, which provides marketable skills, teaches the girls about their rights, and fosters the confidence to break out of the “family business.”

Wanting to do more than raise money, KEEP also runs a penpal exchange. It began with mother-daughter pairs here, a dedicated corps of New York based Hindi translators, and the girls in Bihar. On the American side, the correspondence has expanded to include a sixth-grade class at the Wooster School in Danbury, CT, and the teens in the Smart Girls after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club in Mt. Kisco, NY.

On May 1, the KEEP founders, supporters, and their friends celebrated the group’s first year accomplishments—raising $11,875 and exchanging 100 penpal letters. The event also served as the kickoff for the second year’s efforts, raising funds through new members and the sale of $10 note cards that sponsor a Bihar girl for one month. The highlight of the evening was when Ms. Swedick shared an email about the penpal program written by Soumya Pratheek, an Apne Aap officer in Bihar and KEEP’s contact in India. She wrote: “I have seen the joy and excitement in the eyes of the girls when they get these letters. They feel very happy and honoured when they realise that there are people who have not even seen them but respect their emotions, their culture and want to know about them. For them it boosts up their self confidence and I have seen this in them. So, on behalf of Apne Aap we thank the entire KEEP group.”

The evening’s festivities were hosted by KEEP co-founder Ms. Crosby, who also is part of the KEEP penpal program. Her correspondent: The very same Poonam Khatoon who confidently demonstrated her karate skills for Mrs. Clinton, causing Madam Secretary to remark: “I agree with the approach of Apne Aap to invest in marginalized girls in small communities.”
Ms. Khatoon came away with a strong impression as well. “Men generally think women are useless,” she said. “But look at her. She has so many bodyguards, and most of them are men. All men must think of women as important, and that they are able to do important things.”

Concluding her visit on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton told Ms. Gupta: “I am totally your cheerleader. Continue what you are doing and I’ll stand by you.”

Her neighbors in Katonah will KEEP helping too.

First Year Success

KEEP is proud to annouce the successful conclusion of our first year.

$11,875 raised

130 girls educated in after-school programs in Bihar, India, that provided tutoring, English language instruction, non-formal education (sewing, karate, nutrition, self advocacy and life skills).


100 penpal letters

helped girls in India and the U.S. practice writing in English and gain global perspective.