Conversations with WEP Leaders …


Zoë Timms, WEP Founding Director: Morning Shruthi … Forming WEP-India with you in Bangalore has been an important step for WEP. Why do think WEP is so important?

Shruthi Dinkar, WEP-India Director: Having seen my grandmother and mother make important decisions for our family, I believe women need to be educated and skilled to be self-sufficient and have a voice and options. Communities and families are breaking up … strong, educated women can keep them together.

Zoë: What do you see is WEP’s role in a rapidly changing India?

Shruthi: I see some women working to support their families but without having genuine passion for the work. When WEP students start to think of careers, we need to help them capture their genuine interests and become aware of the world around them. Today, there are so many opportunities for women to work and have a family. But, they should be in the right profession. Helping our students find these passions is definitely an opportunity for WEP …

Zoë: Shruthi, what you say goes to the heart of what we do! Talk to you soon!



Zoë: Vanakkam Viji! We met for the first time in 2004 – just two years after starting WEP-Sudar. We had so much fun planning programs for our students and drank a lot of good Madurai coffee!

Vijayalakshmi, (Viji ): I know and now we have over 1000 students who have attended WEP-Sudar!

Zoë: After all these years, which student do you remember most?

Viji: Sudha always stays on my mind – one of our first students. She was so motivated to be at our Center. One day, you and I went to her house to try to prevent her upcoming marriage. We talked and talked with her mother – she was only 20 or 21. But her mother didn’t accept this. Afterwards, Sudha didn’t have much contact with us. Then, her neighbor told me that she was very sick and depressed and her husband was a drunkard. I went to her house where I found her laying on the floor with just a cloth. I cried and she cried too. And then I consoled her and convinced her to come back to our Center. After she recovered, she did come and I found her a job as an accountant. Her husband is much better now, and they had a second child. She changed him. Now she is very happy. WEP-Sudar is like a family – we are always available to our students.

Zoë: In 2002, being our first Center, Sudar was largely experimental. What do you think worked well and what didn’t?

Viji: In the initial stage, we made presentations at colleges to invite students to the program, but that didn’t work. However, once a student benefited from the Center, she told her friends and they started to come. That type of personal recommendation was important.

Zoë: Do you remember how we developed our curriculum I am a Leader?  And why we based it on field trips and volunteering?

Viji: During the initial stages, the volunteer program attracted more students to our Center. They enjoyed going to the orphanages and elderly homes to volunteer. We developed exposure visits to other places and the program really picked up. The parents felt at first insecure about sending their daughters to the Center, but soon when they saw that it was safe and they learned so much, they gained more trust and sent their daughters more and more to these activities. During the field trips, the students are able to see things happening before them and can learn better. The students really need to get out of their homes. They are often so isolated. They enjoy these experiences a lot …

Zoë: Viji, thank you for all you do for our students. Speak to you soon.



Zoë: Esther, it is 20 years now, since I was a college student teaching English at your hostel for former girl-child laborers. You taught me so much. It was this experience which formed WEP’s values.

Esther Subhashini, Hyderabad Center Director: And then in 2007, we opened a WEP Center in Hyderabad!

Zoë: How does WEP benefit our students?

Esther: When they first come to WEP, they have no goals. They might say “I want to be an engineer”. Deep down, they have no idea. They think if they go to college, their parents won’t get them married. But after WEP, they learn goal setting, social responsibility and about the environment. They start to study and think about their lives seriously. They have a focus.

Zoë: What are some recent student successes?

Esther: We recently placed four alumnae in a job training program. They had graduated from college but were only at home where they had little food and were depressed. Now, at the program, they have excellent food and feel safe. Their teachers are also so impressed and say, “how are these girls from such poor families so confident? They lead at all of our events and give speeches!” I was so happy to see them on my last visit – they enjoy their classes, were bubbly and healthy. Real leaders at their school.

Zoë: What are some upcoming I am a Leader programs you are running?

Esther: We are starting the Health Journal and an ambulance company is coming to give our students a first responders training.

Zoë: Thank you Esther. It is wonderful to speak to you – as always!



Zoë: Good evening Sandhya! … in 2012 you emailed me about Aarti Home and we met under the Flatiron Building in New York for a cup of tea …

Sandhya, Kadapa Center Director: It was such a big coincidence. Our students at Aarti Home were getting older and wanted to go to college and WEP was providing scholarships and a leadership program. You came to Kadapa in November and we started right away – we knew we wanted WEP at Aarti Home!

Zoë: It has been almost five years. What changes do you see in the girls?

Sandhya: Girls in Kadapa don’t speak out. They feel guilty about being a girl. Once we started WEP, I saw them gain confidence and a broader way of thinking. They also improved their marks. Now, wherever they go, they do well. Their teachers say they stand out and have clarity about their future.

Zoë: How does WEP’s I am a Leader program benefit them?

Sandhya: They learn that nutrition, health, finance, and the environment are all connected – not just school subjects to memorize. They actually visit farms, dentists  offices, and banks and return from these trips so rejuvenated. Next, they are going to Sriharikota to learn about rockets and space!

Zoë: WEP-Aarti students go to the villages to speak about women’s health. Can you discuss this experience for the students?

Sandhya: Women and girls in the village listen seriously to our girls – as they are also victims of discrimination, there is a deep connection there. Our girls talk to them about nutrition, menstrual health and ways to make sanitary pads at home. They have stopped abortions and child marriages and convinced girls to study. After this work, four of our WEP students got jobs at an NGO here to educate and prevent infanticide in villages.

Zoë: Can you tell us about one student who stands out in your mind?

Sandhya: There are so many. But I will tell you about Savithri who came to us in 2011. At age seven, she worked at a house in Hyderabad caring for a baby. When the child went to school, Savithri was sent to our Aarti home. Just in 5th class, she couldn’t read or write. At first, she didn’t want to go to school. When WEP started here, she attended this program each day. One day, she wanted to write the 10th standard exam and began to study on her own (working at a local beauty parlor as well.) She then decided to attend 11th and 12th grade. Now, we are looking for a college program for her. She wants to do a degree in commerce.

Zoë: Thanks Sandhya. I think anyone reading this will be as moved as I am.  Your words are inspiring!