by SYBILLA GROSS
The Delhi based Asha Society works in partnership with slum communities to improve living conditions and provide access to healthcare, financial services and education. Over 25 years, Asha has helped more than 700,000 people and 100 slum colonies in Delhi, and its work has inspired national programs throughout India.
Dr Kiran Martin, the Society's founder, joined the Melbourne Press Club for lunch to share the story of Asha - her story - that has since created a nationwide beacon of hope through breaking the poverty cycle for literally thousands of slum children and women across Dehli.
When Dr Martin began her medical career in 1988 as a pediatrician treating cholera in a Delhi slum, she often had to nail intravaneous fluid bags to nearby trees just to deliver urgent medical attention to ailing patients on the streets who wouldn't even make it to the hospital.
At the time, she never imagined that she would go on to overcome threatening slumlords, weasley bureacratic red tape and finance challenges to set up the Asha Society, which has changed the lives of literally thousands of Indians - children, women and families - in such a profound way.
Through collective action, women in the slums have learned Dr Martin's 'tricks of the trade', and now know how to campaign local government to get what they want for their communities. Others, still, have been given medical training to ensure that preventable diseases stay prevented.
"I am so, so happy to tell you that there have been thousands of women who have been empowered!" she said.
Dr Martin underscored the importance of going beyond just the healthcare model and highlighted the benefits of investing in education. Thanks to the Asha Society, 2,600 slum children have gone on to complete tertiary education in such fields as mathematics, finance, business and journalism - and Dr Martin hopes that number will tip over to 3,000 in the near future.
"For those of you who know the many colleges under Dehli University, there's hardly a college where you will not find Asha students."
But the influence of Asha has spread internationally, too, finding its way to Australia a few years ago.
Chandan Singh is an Asha graduate who grew up in Delhi’s Jeevan Nagar slum and is now a mathematician and research intern at the Australian National University.
He also attended the lunch to share his extraordinary story with the audience, which has seen him recently being offered a prestigous scholarship to pursue further postgraduate study at the Imperial College London.
The Asha Society changed his life, he said, where the only difference between his past life of poverty and his present experience of opportunity was the Society's support.
"There are so many slum children who would like to follow in my footsteps. I hope we can continue to recieve your support and blessings for them," he said.
Watch the video, or listen to our podcast, to hear the full story which left the audience light of heart and enduringly hopeful for the future.