Meet the woman who aims to give 10,000+ sex workers and their children a better life
Not all heroes wear capes – and Seema Waghmode is definitely one of them. Currently living in the city of Pune, India, Seema always had an inclination towards social work. That is why she started working with leprosy patients immediately after completing her studies.
In 1993, she started her own social work organisation and called it Kayakalpa. It was the same year that she joined the government’s research team to work on HIV/AIDS detection and awareness. Hence, the responsibility to work for commercial sex workers was given to Kayakalpa.
Before this, she had no knowledge about the reality of prostitution in India. That is why the condition of the red light areas in Pune and the shocking reality of the lives of the sex workers living there moved her to question the purpose of her work.
“When people got to know that I was working with CSWs many asked me why I was doing such dirty work. Some even used the phrase, ‘cleaning the drain.’ This only made me more determined,” says Seema.
However, her journey was far from easy. Building trust was one of the major issues she faced as the sex workers wouldn’t even allow her inside their homes.
Slowly and steadily the ice was broken, and she was welcomed in the community. Today many of these women have embraced alternative occupations and are beauticians and tailors. Some of them even work with her in helping the community.
Almost 120 kilometers away from Pune, Haribhau Waghmode Patil Pratishthan (RHWPP) is an idyllic place in the Bori village established by Seema in 2016, where 35 children of the Pune sex workers are provided with shelter and care.
“One of the major focus of our work is rehabilitation, not only for the sex workers but their children, who are one of the worst affected. While the idea was always there, it was after a jarring incident when a hungry child in desperation asked his mother to take a customer, that the gravity of the situation hit me hard. That’s why this place is far away from the area so that we can provide them with new lives of their choice. I want to give them the life that my children have,” said Seema.
She dreams of rescuing and providing shelter to more than 100 children by 2020.