- Cover Story
Forces For Good: Sonal Kapoor
“One of the things that keeps me going is that I don’t operate from a lens of sympathy or charity. Sympathy comes from a position of power,” says Protsahan’s Sonal Kapoor.
Healing through Joy
Sonal Kapoor, Child Rights Advocate, 36
Even after all these years,Sonal Kapoor remembers the incident vividly. Out on a film shoot in 2010, the former advertising and communications professional met a young mother of six who was pregnant with her seventh child. Burdened with crippling intergenerational poverty, she was reduced to sending one of her minor daughters out for sex work. This shocking act of sheer desperation moved Kapoor into action. In three weeks, she began an arts and design centre from a single room in a West Delhi slum with the idea of creating change through the power of positive reinforcement, skill development and creativity. Today, her organization,Protsahan India Foundation, has transformed the lives of about 81,000 girls. “That encounter was almost 12 years ago. But it always takes me back to why we do what we do,” she says.
The central premise of Protsahan is this: “Can we put children who’ve faced deep childhood violence and trauma on a journey towards healing? Can we strengthen their neural pathways with hope and joy? How do we achieve that?” Kapoor says. They do that through a unique empathy-based approach she calls ‘HEART.’This approach seeks to empower girls and adolescents who have either experienced traumatic events and adverse childhood circumstances or are at risk of the same through ‘Holistic healing, Education, Art, Recovery,and Technology’. Protsahan provides a 10-month holistic bridge course to integrate out-of-school or drop-out girls into formal schooling. While education is non-negotiable, these children also “need a lot of art and lifeskills in their lives”. So, they learn how to use computers, and are also provided classes in meditation, photography, filmmaking, dance movement therapy, Mandala art, among others.“They offer a sense of safety and creativity which are the simplest things that can help a child,” adds Kapoor.
This approach of intersectional care has meant that Protsahan’s work isn't limited to one sphere but instead addresses multiple needs based on the child’s circumstances. During COVID lockdowns, Kapoor’s team worked across the country to provide thousands of hot meals, dry ration kits, and train frontline workers on psychosocial support so they could truly reach children at the last mile.
Working with local communities has also been key. The idea, she says,is to look beyond the ambit of their own organization. “The ideal world will be when we (as an NGO) no longer need to exist, and we are okay with it.” Protsahan aims to impact the lives of one million girls by 2030.
The sector was never short of challenges and these have been compounded by the funding crunch and logistical hurdles of the pandemic years. Aware of the“compassion fatigue” that caregivers face, Kapoor believes in taking care of her team, whether it means ensuring fair wages or asking all of them to take off in the last week of the year.
“One of the strongest things that keeps me going is that I don’t operate from a lens of sympathy or charity. I think that sympathy comes from a position of power,” Kapoor says. “But it’s empathy that really requires you to get down on your knees and look somebody in the eye and realize that this could be you, if not for random luck.”