Empowering the Future – Kolkata, India

Empowering the Future – Kolkata, India

The Founders of New Light and Aura Freedom have a long-standing and loyal friendship born from feminist activism and a shared desire to see a world free from gender-based violence and human trafficking. Throughout the years, Urmi Basu and Marissa Kokkoros have collaborated on different initiatives and events to bring awareness to violence against women, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Then, in 2021 during the COVID-19 crisis, the Empowering the Future project was born.

Empowering the Future will be implemented through New Light’s Soma Home, a full-time residential facility for vulnerable girls in South Kolkata. The home, founded in 2005, was named after an infant girl, Soma, who suffered an untimely death due to lack of proper medical attention by her family. Through the existence of this girls’ home, it is hoped that the “value of the life of a girl child would be kept alive in the memory of all those who knew her.”

Soma Home, beautifully operated by New Light for the past 17 years, is a safe haven for the children who live there, offering a variety of support such as counselling, positive relationships with caring adults, connection to family, educational opportunities, self-defense, and
music/dance therapy to help them grow and develop into healthy young women.

New Light and Aura Freedom are implementing the following activities under the Empowering the Future project for girl children (ages 8-18) who are at high risk of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of gender-based violence and who have been removed from the red light districts of Kalighat, Sovabazar , Sonagachhi , Chetla and Khidirpur and other high-risk communities with the consent and cooperation of their mothers:

  • Provide safe and dignified housing
  • Provide healthy and nutritious food
  • Support the girls to attend regular school and tutoring, as needed
  • Provide extra-curricular activities such as Indian classical dance, modern dance and other art forms, computer and tech training, boxing, self-defense, sports, tailoring, craft, cookery and other activities/events of their individual interest
  • Support the girls to access healthcare, as needed
  • Provide mental health support and emotional support through trauma-informed counselling
  • Provide awareness of human rights, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of gender-based violence in order to prevent violence and exploitation
  • Provide rehabilitation, support and healing opportunities to girls who have previously experienced gender- based violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, etc.
  • To provide additional supports as needed for the girls and youth of Soma Home

We Need Your Help to Empower The Future!

Support this initiative and donate below:

COVID-19 Relief in Kolkata, India

COVID-19 Relief in Kolkata, India

In 2021, India was facing a humanitarian disaster due to COVID-19 that devastated already marginalized and disadvantaged communities.

Aura Freedom mobilized and is still mobilizing support for a community we know well.

Aura Freedom mobalized support for a community we know well. Aura Freedom’s beginnings were in South Asia and we have extensive experience implementing relief projects with local activists for women and communities.

To support families in India during COVID-19, we are working with our good friend Urmi Basu and her team at New Light Kolkata to support children and families in the Kalighat community of Kolkata. New Light provides shelter, food and education to children of Kalighat’s sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.

The Kalighat community is economically and socially disadvantaged. The children of Kalighat are at risk of exploitation at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. Sex crimes against children in India increased in 2020 and social programs are vital, to say the least.

The support we receive from Canadians is crucial and life changing for so many. For example, support meant that New Light’s Soma Girls Home could remain open and provide a safe place where young girls from disadvantaged families receive education, nutritious food, safe lodging off the street, recreational activities and mentorship from community leaders. It also meant New Light’s other shelter for children at risk of human trafficking, Starfish Playschool, remained open during the height of the pandemic in Sonagachi, another red light district and the biggest one of Kolkata. This was important because many children in Sonagachi had limited supervision, inadequate nutrition, neglected health, and other social issues. 

Thank you to everyone who supported this initiative. You can still donate below as our activities continue.

A New School in Nepal

A New School in Nepal

A brand new school for 250 children in Nepal and a dream come true.

The Shree Bhumimata secondary school was forced to close its doors after being badly damaged in the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

The school served more than 250 children from disadvantaged families in the community of Bethanchwok-4 Kavre, Nepal. Its students, most of them from the Tamang tribe, were forced to attend class in a temporary space which was crowded, cold and ill-equipped. Learning became more difficult, decreasing the quality of education.

Aura Freedom collaborated with our longtime local partners Maiti Nepal to begin the process of rebuilding the school over the course of 4 years. Maiti Nepal led the project locally as we worked with multiple partners, organizations and businesses to make the school a reality. 

Rebuilding the school was necessary to the education of 250 children in Bethanchwok-4 Kavre, reducing the number of children currently out of school in the village and decreasing the amount of school dropouts. Rebuilding the school was also crucial to increase the school attendance of girls in the area, which is key to combating gender-based violence, child marriage, human trafficking and increasing gender equality.

Over the course of more than 4 years – through countless site visits, needs assessments, planning meetings, and consultations with the local community (as well as government bureaucracy and red tape) – we are proud to announce that the Shree Bhumimata Secondary School was successfully rebuilt and reopened its beautiful new doors for the community in the Fall of 2020. 

Aura Freedom also worked with local leaders to create a set of recommendations and a training plan for the school to increase gender equality and prevent gender-based violence and gender discrimination at the school level and ensure the school is safe and welcoming to girls and all women staff. 

250 children now have a safe school in which to learn and further their education. 250 children now have access to an education that will help them escape child marriage, human trafficking, gender-based violence and poverty.

Education is the silver bullet to ending gender inequality, gender-based violence and human trafficking, and is integral in building a more just society. Aura Freedom believes that there is nothing more important than the education of children to build a more equal and peaceful society. After all, children grow up to be adults, and educated adults are more likely to lead healthy, happy and non-violent lives.

Browse through our photo gallery to view the school construction process

We’d like to thank ASF Nepal (Architecture Sans Frontiers – Architects Without Borders) and Todd Lorentz for their support and expertise on this project, as well as Hatch Civil Engineering who made a considerable donation to the project.

We’d also like to thank all our donors and supporters in Canada and around the world who made this school possible.

Grateful to our project partners and advisors:

Human Trafficking Exit & Healing – Nepal

Human Trafficking Exit & Healing – Nepal

It is important to note that Aura Freedom does not participate in “rescue industry” activities. We meet survivors where they are, recognizing their diverse backgrounds, stories, and choices. We also refute the patriarchal ‘victim narrative’ that has a limited view of what trafficking and trafficked persons look like.

Our Human Trafficking Exit & Healing program in Nepal works on the frontlines in the fight against human trafficking, supporting the liberation and rehabilitation of survivors of human trafficking through our agents and partners, Maiti Nepal.

The program encompasses the entire exit and rehabilitation process, including:
-Investigation of missing girl or woman
-Brothel visit (if necessary)
-Repatriation of Survivor
-Rehabilitation of Survivor – physical, emotional and spiritual- this rehabilitation includes sustainable empowerment programs and vocational training for Survivors run by Survivors themselves – training includes sewing, handicraft making, farming, gardening, cooking, dancing, computer-based courses and more
-Basic education of Survivors and their children
-Awareness campaigns in rural communities in high-risk areas for human trafficking and border patrol at high-risk checkpoints – all facilitated by Survivors themselves
-Conviction of traffickers in some cases

The Empowerment of Survivors of gender-based violence is our passion, and we believe that Survivors can contribute beautiful and important things to society. Through local women and advocates, Aura Freedom conducts Empowerment Programs with Survivors which increase their self-worth, confidence and remind Survivors just how amazing they all are. After leaving exploitation is when new life begins, and we believe that empowered and educated Survivors are some of the most powerful weapons in the fight against human trafficking.

Our country agents, Maiti Nepal, have been working tirelessly for over 20 years, fighting human trafficking and slavery on every level. Its founder, CNN Hero Anuradha Koirala, and her team have changed the lives of thousands of girls; patrolling borders, visiting child exploitation brothels, rehabilitating survivors, even changing the way the police are trained in Nepal. We are honoured to have Anuradha and Maiti Nepal as our partners.

Female Friendly Spaces in Post-Quake Nepal

Female Friendly Spaces in Post-Quake Nepal

Post-Earthquake Support, Protection, Education and Empowerment for Women and Girls in Nepal


Gender-based violence increases in emergencies because of the exacerbation of inequities, displacement of communities, absence of law and order, lack of adequate basic services, and the breakdown of social support networks. As a result, women and girls of all ages need protection, support, and access to services in emergencies. Those from marginalized communities are increasingly vulnerable. 8,000,000 people were affected by the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal and 40,000 are women and girls in our area of work were at immediate risk of violence.


This project provided multiple Female Friendly Spaces (FFS) in various post-earthquake camps in Nepal where women and girls could go to report incidences of violence, seek services, be referred to medical care or trauma counselling, attend awareness workshops and feel safe. The FFS also provided activities for children and temporary shelter for women and girls. In emergency situations, violence against women and girls increases drastically, as well as harmful practices such as child marriage.

The Female Friendly Spaces brought awareness to the growing problem of gender-based violence both in general and within the camps through workshops and activities for women and their children, an awareness campaign directed at all camp residents, and theatrical performances that shed light on violence against women and harmful practices. The space also served as a 24-hour place of protection and referral agency with gender-trained staff who referred women and girls of all ages to health, legal and other services available to them through our collaboration with Apeiron Nepal, local Police and other local NGOs.

Each FFS targeted the entire camp community, with a focus on women and girls. It decreased the risk of gender-based violence in the camps and increased access to services for female survivors of violence. It also reduced the stigma associated with sexual violence by providing women with human rights awareness and support, and by providing the whole camp community with education. Providing women and girls with education and access to services empowers them to protect themselves and their fellow community members. Educating communities reduces violence for years to come and bring awareness to human rights abuses like child and forced marriage.
Aura Freedom is grateful to have had the support of Global Affairs Canada in our fight against gender-based violence and gender inequality in support of the world’s most vulnerable girls and women.

Outreach, Knowledge, Change – Nepal

Outreach, Knowledge, Change – Nepal

Advancing gender equality through information, education, access to services and access to justice for women and girls in Dhading, Nepal.


Aura Freedom’s Female Friendly Spaces project in response to the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal saw tremendous success. While the state of emergency declared after the earthquakes ended in 2016, things were hardly back to “normal” and there continued to be exacerbation of existing patriarchal issues.

These deeply rooted ideals that view women and girls as lesser beings have resulted in ongoing violence and oppression, making them exceptionally vulnerable to such crimes as child marriage, rape, and human trafficking. This also significantly increases rates of unwanted and early pregnancies, STIs, and reproductive health complications. Despite the time that has passed, we were still dealing with families who had lost everything to the earthquake and continue to experience shortages of food and water, in addition to lacking adequate shelter, all of which increases the vulnerability of girls and women to human trafficking, child marriage and exploitation.


After having previously witnessed such life-altering change on a daily basis, we knew our work had to continue. As a result, we launched a powerful Outreach program targeting gender-based violence (GBV), gender disparity, and lack of access to services for women and girls, expanding our reach into new communities where GBV is rampant, and access to services and education are much needed.

Entitled Outreach, Knowledge, Change, the project provided education, access to services, and life skills in a safe space where vulnerable women and girls could go to report incidences of violence, seek services, attend educational workshops, obtain identification documents through vital registration, learn skills, and feel supported. It also served as a roving referral agency that refers women and girls of all ages to health, legal, and other services available to them through our collaboration with local NGOs, Police, and other government agencies. Our core project staff were all specifically trained on gender equity and equality, gender-based violence, trauma informed / survivor-centered approaches, group counselling, and were all well-known within the communities.

Aura Freedom is a firm believer in the power of knowledge and education. As such, this project aimed to address the issues of GBV, gender disparity, and social discrimination through a variety of daily awareness sessions and related activities. These included:

  • Human and legal rights awareness
  • GBV, rape, and violence against women awareness
  • Harmful cultural practices, social discrimination, and gender equality awareness
  • Health, hygiene, and family planning awareness (including reproductive and menstrual health)
  • Adolescent mentorship program using socially and physically interactive activities
  • Confidence building
  • Training of GBV Watch Groups, which act as advocates for keeping their communities safe

The program’s daily activities focused on girls and women as we aimed to foster an environment of sisterhood and community among women experiencing similar injustices. However, Aura Freedom recognizes the importance of including boys and men in the conversation on gender equality. Therefore, community-wide awareness sessions were also held once a month to expose men and boys to this crucial information, increasing their awareness of women’s rights, GBV and the gender disparity in their own communities. Despite the existing patriarchy, our Female Friendly Space data showed a significant increase in knowledge of gender-based violence and human rights, awareness of gender disparity, and a positive shift in attitudes towards gender equality in both women and men. These results clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of including men and boys among project participants to create positive social change.


In providing ongoing education and information dissemination in a safe space, girls and women will experience an increased awareness of their rights and the services available to them. With this knowledge, they become empowered, more likely to report incidences of violence and reclaim ownership of their lives. Furthermore, when entire communities learn of not only the prevalence of gender disparity, but its associated repercussions for both females and the communities at large, the cycle of violence and gender inequality can be broken. Education is absolutely critical for achieving this.

Aura Freedom is grateful to have had the support of Global Affairs Canada in our fight against gender-based violence and gender inequality in support of the world’s most vulnerable girls and women.