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India's Everday Hero: Sandhya Puchalalpalli

(to the left Sandhya Puchalalpalli, photo courtesy of Kent Becker)

There are people in this world that say they would like to create change and then there are those who create change through their actions. One such woman is Sandhya Puchalalpalli who created Aarti Home in the early 1990s as a home for abandoned and unwanted baby girls. Twenty years later, she has become India’s every day hero.

I first learned about Sandhya after watching this BBC documentary, “India’s Missing Girls,” directed and produced by Ashok Prasad in 2007. Please do watch it when you can.

“I set up Aarti Home as a shelter home for abandoned young girls but our journey eventually led us to their mothers. Behind every abandoned child, we found a mother who was either unable to afford the extra cost or was unable to protect her. This made us rethink our approach. From addressing the symptoms, we began to look at solving the issues that lay beneath them,” explains Sandhya.

Sandhya’s journey that led her to create Aarti Home in 1992 began when she found an abandoned baby girl on a street in her hometown Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh.  Sandhya took the 2 ½ year old girl named Radhika home and cared for her as one of her own. 

“The moment, at which Radhika walked into my life, I decided that it was time we started an organization in order to take care of such girls. I made a few phone calls to friends and suggested we pool in money to set up a home for orphaned girls,” said Sandhya.


Twenty years later, that abandoned girl, Radhika is now a radiology technician.

Aarti Home was created that very year and since that time, it has provided a permanent home to 300 abandoned baby girls and currently houses 100 children. Parents can bring their unwanted baby to the home and leave the child anonymously at the gate. A volunteer then brings the child into the facility. Older girls who have been sexually or emotionally abused, or may have been inducted into prostitution by their parents, are also welcomed at the home and are often brought there by police, who are familiar with the home and sympathetic to its cause, said Puchalapalli.The Aarti Trust also runs a school for children of both sexes, and a higher education program which trains young women to work with computers. Women can also train there to become beauticians, fashion designers or tailors. Twenty-seven girls raised at the Aarti Home are pursuing college degrees.

Aarti Home has provided a sanctuary for 300 girls over the years long term that have lived there since birth until they are able to find a job. There have been about 700 girls that have stayed with Aarti Home for short periods (one month to one year). At present 107 are being housed in the home. The girls leave the home when they can stand on their own feet and gain financial independence by means of employment.

Sandhya is a change maker and activist who asks, “Why are women aborting or abandoning their baby girls? Why are they not able to stand up to their families and say, ‘I will not abandon my child,’” Adding that the problem is several-fold, with women having no financial independence to leave an abusive family and no knowledge about their legal rights. Dowry demands also play a factor in forcing women to abandon their girl babies, she stated.

“We need to help mothers understand the value of their girl children,” she stated.

The daughter of a retired chief engineer, Sandhya draws her inspiration from her mother. However, it was in 1977 when she moved to Kadapa after she got married that she could put to use what her mother had taught her. “What I saw in Kadapa appalled me. Girls as young as my five-year-old were being sent to work as domestic help. They were given less food and even provided lesser care as compared to the boys. What shocked me the most was that all of this was easily accepted,” she says.

Today, Aarti Home works with both mother and child. Apart from providing shelter to both, it provides schooling to young girls while training in livelihood and awareness programs for mothers so that they may have a sound economic and emotional background in order to make the right choices. Their motto is “helping girls help themselves.”

That they surely are doing, on a global level we need to support organizations such as this so they can do the work they are doing. I applaud her efforts in creating change and making a better world where every girl matters. I look forward to visiting one day in person and spending time at the home.

While the organization is funded entirely through private donations, they do seek support of donors and well-wishers. Please visit www.aartiforgirls.org for more details. Most recently, GirlKIND sent personal care items to the home and plans are to send more this year and help support their efforts for all that they do for girls and women.