One Woman. One Laptop. One big Audacious Dream.

Kirthi
Posted February 14, 2018 from India

I was born in Bangalore, and grew up between my grandparents' home in Bangalore and with my mum, dad and brother in Chennai. I grew up with stars in my eyes, hoping to do medicine in the hope of "helping people", until I realised that I could do that with development, too. I studied Law in Chennai, mostly out of the fact that my father is a lawyer and if I failed in a career in development, I could still fall back on my father's practice. Once I left law school, I began working - I tried my hand out at the corporate sector and at litigation - they were all wonderful people doing some great work, but something about the system had me running out, kicking and screaming. It got me thinking that many cases that sat warming the benches in the judiciary could have been addressed had the people involved been aware of their rights at the inception. That led me to start volunteering with the UN Online Volunteering System and a couple of organizations in Chennai.

To put money in the bank (because it did, at that age, irk me that my peers were earning and I wanted to save the world without a pie to my credit), began freelancing with a bunch of local publications and a bunch of legal journals and publishing initiatives. With time, I gained some understanding of the way things worked, and realised that one of the most common narratives in the journey remained tied to the gender quotient. If I worked with communities on awareness on their Right to Public Health, I noticed that women were kept out of it. If I worked with communities on their right to clean water, I noticed that women had little to no access. Similarly, for food, education, health care, infrastructure, jobs and what have you. That was when it hit me: there's so much sitting on one domino: gender inequality. If we knocked it, this enormously global burden of inequality could just, just be knocked out. You can see that I imported an idealistic mindset into my adulthood - I was an idealist as a child, I used to dream of a world where we would all sing songs together and eat muffins (food of choice then, haha!) and just be together without fighting. I try to hold onto that little girl's ideas even today.

In all honesty, you could say that the idea of The Red Elephant Foundation was in the making, but didn't quite catalyse into the form and shape until June 2013.

But the story, though, begins on the night of December 17, 2012. On December 15, 2012, I had turned 25. On December 16, 2012, the gang-rape in Delhi, as most people know, took place. On December 17, 2012, I was at the US Consulate General at Chennai, receiving an award for my work with a US-based NGO called Delta Women, which worked for the rights of women in the US and in Nigeria, and the right to education for children in Nigeria. When I received the award, I truly felt like a hypocrite - because here I was, receiving an award when there was so much more left to be done, and when a girl was battling for her life because we as a community sacrificed her at the altar of patriarchy, misogyny, toxic and hegemonic masculinity, and inaction on part of a civilian populace that should have been vigilant. I went to bed that night, thinking of how much we had allowed to pass in the name of "We are like this only".

It was on the same day that I had come to face a dissociated past, where I had completely blocked out my own memories of facing abuse as a child. I decided to do what I could on my own, and started by telling my story. Six months later, I looked back to see how telling my story had made a difference: one, parents and to-be parents began to be vigilant about the vulnerability of their children and began to work with their children to have open conversations towards staying safe; two, I realised that I began to feel better and my own personal comfort levels felt like they were higher because I had owned my narrative instead of dissociation and my journey to heal began, and finally, that people were beginning to talk, openly, and get issues that were otherwise covert, out into the open. The vision was to change the landscape through storytelling - but by about a year, we realised that we had reached a plateau. Great, people were talking.

But what about the solutions? We then decided to get down to doing sound research (legal and policy) that we now use to suggest and inform change, AND, we also work with the youth and their parents through workshops, to shift mindsets through interactive and educational workshops to make them internalize gender equality as the norm. Then came a time in the journey when we realised that try as we might, the shift could only provide massive ripple effects in the future. But in the present, there is a desperate need to address the state of violence against women. One aspect of this has been to help women get out of a violent environment and get help. This led us to work on developing a tech tool (available now as a website -gbvhelpmap.crowdmap.com, and soon to become an app), that maps organisations across 197 countries (right now, out of these only Syria and North Korea remain information blackholes for obvious reasons), providing medical, legal, resource (food, shelter, clothing, crisis response), education and employment, police and medical services and consular establishments (this alone will be added this week) so that women can access them, get help, and stay safe.

And somewhere in the process of putting that together, it was apparent that only a few women would access the platform on acomputer, and a mobile version of the web app didn't render well.I looked everywhere. Someone recommended an app called Fiverr. Whoever I asked, wanted me to shell out more than I could afford. A few coders came forward to volunteer their services, but however well-meaning, time was of essence and they didn’t have enough to spare. A corporate house agreed to get on board, but like a relationship where the partners lapse into silence and walk their ways one fine day, that bond splintered.

This time, the challenge was intense, different and a whole lot more abstract than it was before. Websites and blogs come from templates, and you can learn to modify things on the fly without worrying too much since the base code is already built. But a mobile app is a whole different ball game – especially if you don’t have a foundation in coding, or a copious understanding of coding in entirety. I wanted to this so badly, and I was willing to do anything it took – even learn coding from scratch. With time not in my favour, I turned to a brilliant course on Coursera called “CODAPPS: Mobile Coding for Entrepreneurs.” It made me cry, it drove me furiously mad, because I just wasn’t getting it. I’m always analytical and cause-effect in my thinking, and being one to work with emotions, situations and real people, I didn’t speak machine.

And still, I persisted.

The frustration was real, and my determination to cross the path was even more so. I went back to the conversation I had in that classroom. Fourteen year old Kirthi was (stop calculating my age!) given a message that day, one that she can recall and use even today: art. The answer was in art. I am an incredibly visual person, and what I can’t visualize is difficult for me to relate to. When I realized that coding from scratch was not going to get me there as quickly, that I was terribly rough around the edges, and that while I decided I wouldcode, I could also rely on what they call “SDK” in the coding world – i.e., software development kits. I learned about them on the course. These blocks of pre-coded technology help you rely on several functionalities to put the choicest features together to build your app. It was smooth sailing, easy to understand and also gave me theflexibility to visualize things as I built it.

I persist, every day. I fight, and I make my own path when there is none. I want a future of solutions, and I want to be some of those solutions. I am one woman, with one laptop, and one, big, audacious dream: a dream to build a future free of violence.

You Are a Silence Breaker.
This story was submitted in response to You Are a Silence Breaker.

Comments 20

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Olutosin
Feb 14, 2018
Feb 14, 2018

Thank you for sharing your jouney with us. You are a changemaker. Congratulations my sister.

Eaglebase
Feb 15, 2018
Feb 15, 2018

Wao! I'm so inspired by your story. Thanks for sharing and letting us know that we can be anything we want to be  if we believe and are persistent. I have seen diligence and patience play out in this journey of yours. Kudos

Jill Langhus
Feb 16, 2018
Feb 16, 2018

Hi Kirthi:-) Thanks for sharing your story and dream with us!

Kumari Jamkatan
Jul 21, 2018
Jul 21, 2018

हाय किरती आप का कहानी मुझे अचछा लगा

Loreen Meda
Apr 08, 2018
Apr 08, 2018

I understand you, the thing I struggle with the most is the access to information. I see early child marriage on the increase due to the economic meltdown.

I see a lot that needs to be done but wonder if it will ever be safe. I am thankful for women like you getting out there and getting their hands dirty.

Thank you for choosing to act.

Kumari Jamkatan
Jul 21, 2018
Jul 21, 2018

आप का काम बहोत ही सुंदर है

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 16, 2018
Apr 16, 2018

Dear Kirthi,

I am so glad to read more about you, and to learn how time and time again you followed your instincts for what is important, and persevered leaping formidable hurdles. Your honest and open story is such a reinforcement for what is possible when we pay attention to what matters, and allow our determination to keep our paths open. I have returned to your final paragraph a few times, to absorb it and celebrate that you are there, inspiring sister and beloved friend.

With love in sisterhood,
Tam

Valéria Barbosa
Apr 25, 2018
Apr 25, 2018

How beautiful is your dear story. I make a printed newspaper and I am determined to turn it into an application, I would serve more people, it would be less waste of printing material, but it is very difficult to get a free and good quality application, if you know of some please orient me .

Rahmana Karuna
May 02, 2018
May 02, 2018

Kirthi, that is so great. wonderful storyteller writer also. gives me peace knowing the younger generations are continueing the peacemaking. humanity will get there. one day. maybe. please, take care of yourself. heart centerred practices, qi gong, tai chi, prayer, all spread wide and effect change. hugs

Adeola Samuel
May 03, 2018
May 03, 2018

Hi Kirthi,
With keen interest I read to the last letter. I celebrate you sis! When you are determined and persistent, then you become unstoppable.

Ndimofor Aretas
May 16, 2018
May 16, 2018

Hi Kirthi, I read through your story with keen attention as it aroused feelings of sadness, joy and excitement. I encourage you to keep up with the SDKs and I wish you all the best.

When I started my own dream, I also faced similar challenges... right from the website building process... I haven't yet gone into the app building phase yet, but it took me quite a while to figure out the website building process. But it was worth the effort because I stumbled on some tools that baffled the so called "expert coders" around me!

Cheers!

soul on fire
May 17, 2018
May 17, 2018

Hi Kirti
A big salute for the efforts you took. I am a first-year law student and it's amazing to hear your inspirational life story. And thank you so much for writing your story and encouraging me to be the change.
Stay awesome

pelamutunzi
Jun 19, 2018
Jun 19, 2018

Thank you for your wonderful words which are full of hope. Just got me thinking of the solutions we can find in a hopeless state and of the power within. Well done

AGNES TUMASANG
Jun 30, 2018
Jun 30, 2018

That is great, Keep up

Stephanie Mah
Jul 01, 2018
Jul 01, 2018

Hi Kirthi. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us. You are a great changemaker. Keep up.

Gladys Muthara
Jul 07, 2018
Jul 07, 2018

This is amazing Kirthi. I truly admire your relentless efforts and focus. Yes, keep persisting! I can't wait to see a major breakthrough coming out of this....I just can't wait. Abundant blessings to you dear, in your beautiful journey.

Reena Saxena
Jul 21, 2018
Jul 21, 2018

Wish you all the best!

emma matondang
Oct 04, 2018
Oct 04, 2018

Dear Khirti,
Great job. When you mantion Bangalore, India? I recall the book I read long time ago. The title of the novel was "Bandit queen", based on true story. Thank God we have more and more woman likje you nowadays. I am with you. Let's keep it up.

eatladi
Oct 09, 2018
Oct 09, 2018

Thank you for sharing your story with this powerful platform of women.

kitty
Nov 06, 2018
Nov 06, 2018

Dear Kirthi,
You are truly inspiring, and in your words I can hear your passion for the work you are doing and motivation to change the world we live in to a place where women and men can be equal. I hope you continue to fight for equality, and wish you luck in the future!
-Kitty

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