Making a difference…

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Rochelle from Daya TrustThere are many wonderful charities out there helping under privileged women and children around the world.  It takes a special heart to want to help people in other countries, and I’d like to introduce you to one such special person – Rochelle Stewart-Allen from Wellington, New Zealand.  Rochelle is the motivator behind a wonderful charity helping educate young girls in India…to give them an opportunity to have a better life, to make their own choices, to grow and shine…

Rochelle, how did you become involved in this work?  Like, what made you decide to help these people and start this organisation?

In 2008 I was asked to go to India with another charity to do some teaching.  I thought about it for about 2 weeks and couldn’t think of any reason not to go!

As a small child I lived in Fiji and I remember being moved by the beggars in the street and seeing what poverty looked like.  I also clearly remember my exposure to Indian culture.  So I went to India on my first trip, and then again 2 years later.

On the plane on the way home the second time, my friend and first trustee, Alan, and I talked about really doing something to help the people we had met.  I quickly realised how far the New Zealand dollar goes in India.

Daya Trust was born!  After three years, in late 2011 we re-structured Daya Trust to be a charity run by women for women, and our new focus is educating girls living in poverty in India.

You can read about the full story of Daya Trust HERE.

You live and work in Wellington, New Zealand, how often do you actually get to go to India and visit the people you are helping?

So far I’ve been visiting India every couple of years.  It’s very tempting to go more, but I have to be able to justify the cost against better ways to use the money to assist the communities we work with.

We’ve launched our new project in Mumbai this year which is our Girls Learning Center. It is an after-school programme for girls living in the slums.

Daya Trust Girls

I visited Mumbai in August 2011 and met our charity partners who we’ll be supporting to provide the services on the ground.  There’s nothing worse than Western charities swooping in and thinking they know what local communities need and want.

What sort of things do you teach them?

The after-school programme teaches the basics of literacy and numeracy, but also works on building the girls’ confidence to become their own change makers. The girls attend Government schools, but really struggle to learn there. They often drop out around adolescence and we want to see them finish their schooling.

The average teacher student ratio in a Government school in India is 1:80. It’s impossible to get individual attention if you don’t understand. It’s also very difficult when you’re home as girls are expected to help run the house and care for younger siblings. There’s no time for study, and your parents are out working, and possibly not literate themselves.

Can you tell us about one of the women who have particularly stood out to you and have totally turned their lives around.

Aarti NaikThe most inspiring Indian woman I know is Aarti Naik who runs our partner charity in Mumbai.  Aarti is 24 years old and belongs to a marginalised community.  She dropped out of school after failing her exams and her parents said they needed her at home.  For three years Aarti rarely stepped out of the house and was making small trinkets to sell for 9 rupees (NZD0.20) each.

Aarti was determined to finish education.  It was just the beginning for her.  Going back to study she realised that although girls knew what to study, they didn’t know how to go about it.  So Aarti convinced her father to let her start coaching school girls in their home, and they built a mezzanine floor in the house for the classes.

Despite conquering so much adversity during the next three years, Aarti is well into running her teaching organisation, SAKHI for Girls Education (which means ‘friend of girls’).  Infact she’s about to register her organisation as an official charity.  In 2012, Aarti made her first trip overseas to attend the Make a Difference 2012 conference in Hong Kong.

It’s difficult to really translate the incredible journey Aarti has been on against a Western mindset, but she is an inspiring example of dedication, application and triumph.

Daya Trust Girls

What are some of the difficulties you have in running the Daya Trust.

Working in a volunteer organisation is a constant challenge to balance out fundraising with actually running the day-to-day needs of a charity.  I was very blessed last year as I had a window to take 6 months off work, so I managed to use that time to visit Mumbai, restructure the charity, find fabulous new women trustees, and an increasing list of volunteers.

Sometimes the rest of ‘life’ just seems to take over, but somehow I have an internal motivation that continually kicks in and keeps me motivated.  Having said that, some days it just all seems too hard!  But then I look through my travel photos or read an inspiring story, and I’m off again taking action.

Beautiful children

Can people go to India and help your group, like a volunteer holiday?

We will be arranging our first ‘Holidays with a purpose’ trip to Mumbai in October 2013. We’ll be taking a small group of 6-8 women with us to Mumbai for 2 weeks, followed by a 1 week holiday. It will be a perfect opportunity for these women to be inspired by the incredible work happening in Mumbai and experience first-hand the richness of Indian culture. We’re keen for women to register their interest at

What can people do to help?

In 2012 we need to raise NZ$6,000 to kick-start our after-school programme for girls living in the Mumbai slums. Altogether we need to raise NZ$20,000 for our 3 year programme in Mumbai.

Here’s what we need right now:

  • Social butterflies to promote our new 5for5 programme – $5 keeps a girl in school for 5 days. Let’s face it – $5 is the price of a cup of coffee! We’re challenging people to give up their coffee today and help educate a gorgeous Mumbai girl instead.
  • In September 2012 we will be launching our new programme – Dining4Daya. Groups of women get together monthly for a potluck dinner and donate the money they would have spent at a café. There’ll also be an educational programme to spread the news about the world of girls and women in India. We’re looking for Coordinators to bring together their own group of friends each month to really make a difference.
  • We’re also looking for people who can run their own fundraising and profile raising events in their own cities.  We can provide you with promotion material to help you run the event.  We know people have so many creative ideas of their own and we’d love to empower you to go ahead and make them a reality.


Daya Trust

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  1. Thanks for the interview Paula. It’s a nice time of reflection for me too about how far we’ve come in four years. Once India got a hold on my heart there was no turning back!

    • You’re very welcome Rochelle, I enjoyed the process and finding out more about you and the girls. It’s truly amazing what you are doing, I take my hat off to you as I know the commitment it must take to keep going and giving everything to the cause.

  2. what wonderful work! well done. very inspiring. teaching is such a usable career – it took me overseas also. and you are working for fellow-women and girls, Rochelle. wonderful. thanks Paula for sharing this great information. nancy

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