Trishya Screwvala, the founder of The Lighthouse Project speaks out. Read on about her truly inspiring story. For years, women have been expected to match everyone's idea of perfection, any flaws or failures aren't accepted, we at BBLUNT believe in imperfection and being who you are - what are your views on the concept of 'embracing imperfection'? I think this holds true for men and women. The beauty of being human is to aspire towards being our best, with the humility of acknowledging that we will never reach perfection. Perhaps when we ourselves are able to find beauty in imperfection, will we be able to truly embrace imperfection. How boring would life be if we were perfect where would be the opportunity to grow? What would we have to aspire towards? Its in embracing our imperfections that were able to really create a life worth living. What was the motivational drive behind starting a not-for-profit organization to encourage volunteer work? I think there is no greater way of giving than giving your time, sharing your learnings, ideas, world views and skills with someone else. All of us have something to share, and I believe volunteering can be an incredibly transformative experience for all involved. Volunteering is perhaps a natural outcome of taking responsibility for our society and a big motivation to start The Lighthouse Project was that I felt there were very limited platforms for long-term impact oriented volunteering in the social sector. Many working professionals and college students I met were very keen to get involved in the social sector, but werent sure how to go about it. One of our key goals is to strengthen the culture of volunteering in India and create an accessible and flexible platforms where people can give their time and resources on a sustainable basis, over and above their jobs and commitments. The concept of mentoring really came to me when I noticed that many children from under resourced communities go to school, but often lack a consistent and positive role model in their lives. We currently work with children from slum communities, and girl children from Mumbais red light district. Since most of them are first generation learners, they dont have the adequate support, guidance, exposure or the necessary skills to ensure that they are job ready upon graduation. The Lighthouse Project really began with the goal to equip these children with essential life skills and expose them to a world outside of their community. Was there hesitation to start one of Indias first mentoring program given there was limited precedence to follow? Yes, absolutely. At the time, the learnings and references we had were only of overseas programs where there was little we could adapt given that we were looking at a completely different set of challenges, and had to create a model that would work in an Indian context. In fact, when I met with many leaders in the social sector, I was constantly told to rethink a volunteer based model, because to rely on an unreliable output like volunteers would not be sustainable. To me, the whole point of creating The Lighthouse Project was to promote volunteering, and to show that if we nurture our volunteers and provide the right support, resources and hand-holding through the program, it is possible to keep them encouraged and invested, and could ultimately create a far greater impact than a full time team dedicated to the same goals. How did you manage to approach the children from Kamathipura to open up given the environment they were raised in? In terms of building trust with children and allowing them to open up, Kamathipura was perhaps our toughest centre, given the fact that interaction with people from outside of their community was very limited. Our partner NGO in Kamathipura, Apne Aap Womens Collective, has strong roots in the community we work with, so piggy backing on the trust they have built with the community was a key starting point for us. Interacting with parents, regular interactions with children and gradually building trust by demonstrating consistency, adherence to our word, and persevering and supporting the children through their challenges, were ways in which we were able to create an environment where the children were able to open up, in time. For them to be accepted without judgment by people outside of their community was also a huge boost in their self-esteem. Given the background of the mentees from Kamathipura, how difficult is it to explain and instill the concept of gender equality amongst them? This is a big challenge we face at Kamathipura, since the only female role models these girls are exposed to are related to their mothers profession, and often the dominant male role models they interact with are brothel owners. This is actually one of the reasons we were so keen to work in this area, because the need for strong female role models and the exposure to a world beyond their community is critical to build that confidence and self-belief that can lead to gender inequality. Just by exposing these girls to working women, to allow them to learn about the multiple professions available, makes a huge impact on their aspiration levels. Of course it is a challenging environment and sometimes situations are beyond our control, but we have strong yet sensitive lot of mentors dedicated to the girls. What is the most unique experience you have heard from one of the mentees? I remember when The Lighthouse Project first began, I was interacting with a group of street children we were working with. One of our mentees asked his newly appointed mentor where he lived. After telling him which area of Mumbai he came from and asking if he lived on Chowpatty beach with a lot of hesitation and guilt, I remember this child, sensing his hesitation responding unfazed and with a broad smile Han, mein taare ke niche sota hoon. He proceeded to call his newly appointed mentor to his humble abode on the beach and with incredible confidence started telling him about his life how he has the luxury of jumping into the ocean every day to a shower, how he doesnt get too worried when the police raid their community because they dont have much to lose, and how he is sure he can catch more crabs then his mentor, promising him he would teach him one day. Its a simple story, but the optimism, the ability to find joy in the little things, and the sheer disregard for what all that we consider basic essentials, completely opened my eyes to a different world, a different reality, and a questioned my assumption that us mentors have more than the children we work with. There really is so much to learn from these children, and developing an equal relationship based on mutual learning has become one of the basic tenets of the program.