In 1977, Sandhya Puchalapalli, an English teacher in her early twenties, moved to Kadapa with her husband and two young girls. Working as a government high school teacher, Sandhya became painfully aware of the discrepancies between male and female children in the Kadapa district. Many of the girls she taught and interacted with in her community were forced into early marriages, taken out of school to work as domestic help as early as age six, and lacked educational or vocational opportunities. Girls were prepared for a reality of marriage after secondary school and likely frequent domestic abuse.
Sandhya and the other concerned teachers helped in small ways, such as raising money for the nominal school fees that many students often could not afford, but Sandhya was deeply disturbed and saddened by the bleak futures offered to the girls.
In 1992, a washerwoman approached Sandhya with a two-year-old girl, Radhika, who had been abandoned on the streets of Kadapa. Her father had killed her mother in yet another case of domestic violence, and he had abandoned the child. Triggered by the past injustices she had seen, Sandhya decided that she would foster the girl.
This defining moment marked the beginning of a life’s work. After taking the baby in, Sandhya, her young nieces, and her friends (Sunita, Durga, and Vimala) decided to establish a home for a few abandoned girls. At this time, they only had a few simple goals: to give these girls a home, support their education, and teach them that they are valuable. Soon, community members from all walks of life stepped up to support their cause. From these humble roots, Aarti was born.
From Vijay Foundation Trust to Aarti
Vijay means "success" in Telugu (the local language), so the organization started with the name Vijay Foundation Trust (VFT). One of the original supporters and fundraisers of the organization was Sandhya's niece, Aarti, who lived in New Hampsire. Several months after Vijay Foundation Trust became an accredited NGO, Aarti died in a tragic hiking accident. In honor of her life and commitment to the cause, the organization’s name was unofficially changed to Aarti for Girls. Our official name is still Vijay Foundation Trust, but our organization is known and recognized by all as Aarti.
It became clear that this process of abandonment and gender-based discrimination could not be stopped by simply fostering the abandoned children. There needed to be a larger social movement to support mothers in protecting their children and empower women to live emotionally and economically independent lives.
Today, Aarti for Girls is working to create this social change. This umbrella organization includes Aarti Home for abandoned girls, Aarti School, the Women’s Empowerment Project (WEP) introducing activity-based workshops, vocational training programs for destitute women, the Mana Bidda Project (an EU-sponsored program advocating for girl children in Kadapa district), and the Abhaya project (another EU-backed initiative strengthening the network of human rights defenders in Kadapa and Chittoor). We aim to address gender discrimination by helping women to achieve economic and emotional independence, gain confidence, and understand their personal rights.