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Initiative Update

Saahas is Born!

It’s FINALLY here: Saahas, the GBV Help Map as a mobile app, is here! I named it Saahas, which is a Hindi word that means “courage.” In the larger sense, a survivor of violence is taking a huge leap of faith to create an act of resistance by getting out of the abusive situation, and the word courage felt like the most perfect tribute to that resilience.

I feel like I’ve birthed a baby! What a journey and a half it’s been – here’s a little letter to you on what that journey felt and looked like.

Four years ago, this very month, I was all set to found my own initiative, The Red Elephant Foundation, without a penny to support it. And so, I had to be the Executive and the Electrician, the CEO and the Carpenter, and the President and the Plumber. In a world that was just going to springboard towards what we know now as the tech-revolution, the internet and social media was the new playground, and naturally, I needed a website. I thought I was smart when I created a blog: but the interface lacks the power that a website offers. I spent days sitting on Google, searching for such things as: “How to change the background of a website” or “How to remove the older posts sign on a blog.” It was frustrating, tiring and confounding. There were times when I would close my eyes only to find a kaleidoscope of hashes, v-brackets, words like “html”, “body”, “” and what not. I wasn’t doing such a lot with my coding, though, just small things invariably centered around beautifying a blog-based platform.

And still, I persisted.

What began then to code websites as a one-woman-army stood me in good stead for a stunt I would attempt four years after that. I’d identified a problem. I want to be part of the solution. The problem was the lack of access to services specific to the needs of a survivor of gender-based violence, and I found that a simple tech-based intervention could do the trick. It started with a web app on an Ushahidi Crowdmap that led to the creation of the GBV Help Map. I worked with my team of volunteers, where we looked up organizations, verified their credentials and put them up on the map, segregating them into categories. And somewhere in the process of putting that together, it was apparent that only a few women would access the platform on a computer, and a mobile version of the web app looked something like me trying a fox-trot (pathetic, if you’re wondering).

So how would I manage this gargantuan feat, again?

This time, the challenge was intense, different and a whole lot more abstract than it was before. Websites and blogs come from templates, and you can learn to modify things on the fly without worrying too much since the base code is already built. But a mobile app is a whole different ball game – especially if you don’t have a foundation in coding, or a copious understanding of coding in entirety. I wanted to this so badly, and I was willing to do anything it took – even learn coding from scratch. With time not in my favour, I turned to a brilliant course on Coursera called “CODAPPS: Mobile Coding for Entrepreneurs.” It made me cry, it drove me furiously mad, because I just wasn’t getting it. I’m always analytical and cause-effect in my thinking, and being one to work with emotions, situations and real people, I didn’t speak machine.

And still, I persisted.

The frustration was real, and my determination to cross the path was even more so. I went back to the conversation I had in class when I was fourteen, where my Computer Science teacher had laughed at me for daring to take up the subject, and told me I’d have been better off doing art. Little did I know that I was given a message that day, one that I subconsciously recalled and used even today: art. The answer was in art. I am an incredibly visual person, and what I can’t visualize is difficult for me to relate to. When I realized that coding from scratch was not going to get me there as quickly, that I was terribly rough around the edges, and that while I decided I would code, I could also rely on what they call “SDK” in the coding world – i.e., software development kits. I learned about them on the course. These blocks of pre-coded technology help you rely on several functionalities to put the choicest features together to build your app. It was smooth sailing, easy to understand and also gave me the flexibility to visualize things as I built it. Now, the app out, having survived a round of testing and raring to go for users to take advantage of it. In the mean time, I've seen that close to 500 women world over have engaged with the map - making use of its data for their needs.

Today, when I look back on the journey as a World Pulse Impact Leader, I can see so many beautiful truths come alive. And here’s what that bullet list looks like:

  • Girls can be GREAT at science, and all it takes is effort.
  • Girls are resilient, incredibly tough, and persistent. They rise, rise and only rise.
  • Failing is perfectly okay – because you learn and grow, and evolve.
  • Every challenge is an opportunity to learn new things.
  • Don’t be afraid. EVER.

The app is already up on the Google Play Store and will be available on the Apple iStore pretty soon.

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