Toronto college students build women’s shelters in India

Built to provide safe haven

(Video courtesy Varun Panchal)

Despite being Indian herself, Centennial College student Paikar Kayenat experienced a bit of a culture shock on a recent trip to her native country in February.

She admits she didn’t know what kind of a journey she would be embarking on when she first signed up for it. She didn’t anticipate the culture of poverty that she would encounter.

Kayenat recently returned from Rapar, an underprivileged region in the state of Gujurat. She wasn’t there for a vacation.

Kayenat was selected to participate in Centennial’s GCELE (Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience) trip, which is an initiative that gives students the opportunity to travel to another nation, for a contributory cause.

She says that the experience has made her come to the realization not to take anything for granted.

“You do realize that there’s a stark difference in the amenities and quality of life that we have versus what they have, so you’re kind of grateful for what you’ve got,” she said during an interview with journalism students at the Story Arts Centre in late April.

Kayenat, along with a group of three other students and an instructor, were selected to go over to India to help build women’s shelters. The shelters would act as a safe haven for the village’s women to go to when they want to get away from any difficulties that they may be facing.

Many women in India are victims of rape, and find themselves lacking a safe place to get away from it. Kayenat says that she is aware of the problem, but never felt that her own personal safety was compromised during the trip.

“You are aware that it exists,” she said. “From what I understand it is quite an issue in big cities, but the area that we were in was extremely rural. So at no point during the trip did we feel any concerns (for our safety).”

Although the beds were hard and the heat was almost unbearable, Kayenat still speaks fondly of the trip she describes as “unforgettable”. She reminisces about the warm welcome ceremony that she received from the locals, despite the fact that Centennial group’s building skills which were, admittedly, “not very good”.  And even though they didn’t finish the shelter that they came to India to build during their two-week venture, she still maintains that they left India a better place than they found it.

“There were people there that were inspired by our example, that started volunteering time, services and money to the area that we were building at,” she said. “So hopefully we helped a little bit.”

Kayenat went on the GCELE together with students Nanda Nandanakumar and Stephen Bloom, and professor Allan Richardson.