Education is the big solution to any big problem in society – Swati

We caught up with Swati again after she returned from Paris to hear about her adventure with YES Akademia and it sounds like it was a truly life-changing experience for her:


            “Tell me about your trip to Paris”:

Swati: “It was an amazing, awesome, fantastic, good, dream come true, mesmerising 2 weeks. Some days we visited tourist attractions such as Le Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, the Community Gardens and Station F. Station F is a huge place where thousands of business start-ups are taking place for many different industries – the concept is amazing – with people from Google and Amazon, for example, supporting the start-ups – I’ve never seen anything like this before.

We also went to a restaurant called La Felicita which is a huge restaurant and I really loved the toilets there as they were really colourful and different. We also visited Jardiland, a massive garden centre where you can buy flowers and fish etc.”

“What did you do as part of the YES Akademia Program?”

Swati: “We did a number of workshops with YES Akademia and played some games.

We did a workshop on worldwide oral consumption, looking at firstly your own country and linking it to yourself and how it would be possible to reduce waste. I liked this a lot and it made me think differently. They showed us a video with an example of a solution to this problem of waste; this particular society tackles the problem through an exchange concept.

We also did a workshop on personality and how to understand yourself better. There were lots and lots of questions which helped determine which of 9 personality categories you fell into, such as mediator for example. They did this to enable us to understand ourselves and others better, to tackle misunderstandings, manage conversations more effectively and find solutions to these things. This whole concept changed my pattern of seeing things as I was a little judgmental before and this has made me take a step back and understand others a bit more. It has showed me it is important to focus on myself more than others.

There was 1 more workshop focused on the situation of women in your society and we discussed a number of important issues around this and how it impacts in different countries. We also explored different associations that can help; that can provide a home, a job and skills to earn money to try and empower the woman

On 8th March, for International Women’s Day, we attended a Forum and we had to consider how the forum would work – which subjects would be discussed and who would host. I was handling the desk on Violence Against Women and we made a circle and I had to explain everything and discuss the problems and potential solutions that I had come up with.

I feel that education is the solution to any problem. “Education is the big solution to any big problem in society”! It is difficult to fight against anything but knowledge will empower the woman and help them to know where to go for solutions.”


“What did you enjoy in Paris?”

Swati: “I really enjoyed going to the Forum because this was my first time talking in front of so many people and I had to explain things, I also loved seeing the Eiffel Tower.

I enjoyed travelling on the train, metro and bus in Paris as we had one pass for all modes of transport and only had to show this pass which is very different to India where you need separate tickets for everything.

I liked the food such as mixed veg soup and chicken roll. We even went to a restaurant where they had an eat all you can buffet where they cooked anything fresh for you such as pork, chicken, Chinese rice and noodles. There were lots of different desserts and 5 kinds of cake; I ate so much there, it was amazing, Me and my friend were sitting together and kept trying more cake.

I also spoke with the barman and asked for Apple Juice in French; S’il vous plait jus de pomme. I was so happy to speak a different language; it was amazing for me to speak a little French. I like to learn new languages, so I tried to listen to the French and learn whilst I was there.”

“What did you find difficult in Paris?”

Swati: “I found it really difficult to converse with the some people in the group as they were much more quiet so it was difficult to get to know them. It was also difficult as I am an open-minded Indian girl and others from India are much more traditional in their thinking.”

“What did you gain from your experience?”

Swati: “My perspective about life has changed – how – before going I wasn’t giving many chances to people in my life and I would stop talking to them. Since Paris I have learnt that you need to give more chances to people as it takes time for everyone to become friends and integrate and everyone has had different experiences that impact them.

Going abroad was my dream, visiting just 1 country was my dream and now I want to see many more countries – it changes everything. Before going I thought everyone was like Indian people and now I understand people are different in every country and geographical area.

Now I want to go to many countries; Japan and Egypt would be top of my list to visit. If I ever get the chance, I will visit these places as it’s such a good experience, it opens your eyes and everyone is not like you so it changes everything.

Since coming back to India my brother-in-law said to me “I don’t know what you gained from Paris but I know one thing, you have changed how you dress and look much better, more fashionable”.

My father is really happy to see how I have changed, and he is very proud of me. He loves and supports me a lot and he can see how much I love him.”



Think beyond your boundaries – Swati

We recently caught up with one of our students who completed Level 2 English with Reality Gives last year. We are super proud of Swati as she has been selected to go to Paris as part of the YAKA Foundation (YES Academy) Cultural Exchange Program.

Swati shared her story with us before flying off to Paris:

“When did you join RGi?”

Swati: “I joined in February 2018”

“What did you study with RGi?”

Swati: “I studied English Level 2 with Nazia”

“How has studying with Reality Gives helped you?”

Swati: “It has helped a lot, I did most of my studies in Marathi medium so although I spoke a little English, I didn’t have much confidence. Studying English With Reality Gives improved my ability to speak in English and therefore my confidence also improved. Nazia was always very supportive as a teacher, she would only allow us to speak in English which pushed us to learn more quickly.

“What has your experience with Reality Gives been like?”

Swati: “My experience with Reality Gives has been really good, I always tell my friends and family that they should also study English with this NGO. I have previously completed English courses elsewhere and found it very difficult to learn English, it didn’t help but as soon as I came here, I learnt English quickly. Reality Gives is the strongest platform for students like us from Dharavi.”

“Tell us about your opportunity to go to Paris?”

Swati: “I spent 40 days in Galtare as part of a cultural exchange program with French Students from the YAKA Foundation (YES Academy). During my time here we spent a lot of time comparing different cultures from all aspects which was really interesting.

Following this I completed an application form to describe my experience on this program and my future ambitions.”

“Why do you think you were chosen?”

Swati: “I was very committed during the 40 days I spent in Galtare and very involved in the program. I was also on time every day and shared my opinions openly with the other students as I felt this important.

I am really excited about going but I am actually very short on time to get ready.”

“What are you hoping to get out of the visit to Paris?”

Swati: “I am hoping to learn a lot about the culture in France and see the difference in technology as I find this really interesting. I also am looking forward to seeing all the difference with things such as bathrooms, food, fashion, hair styles, trains, cleanliness, pollution, their mindset and thinking, approach towards relationships and Governmental policies and reforms which make life easier there.”

“What advice would you give to other RGi students?”

Swati: “Be punctual, be involved and put in effort. It is not only the teacher’s responsibility for the learning of the student, it is an equal partnership between both student and teacher.

To learn English, you must speak in English only, even if at first you make mistakes this is the best way to learn. Think beyond your boundaries; I have been wanting to go abroad since I was 10 years old and now it is happening. My father’s dreams for me have always been big; he is my motivator and role model in life and doesn’t feel I should have any limits to what I do.

I’m 32 and in my community many girls marry at a young age, as young as 14 and do not have a career but my father encouraged me to have bigger dreams.”

“What are your future ambitions / goals?”

Swati: “I am currently learning yoga, I completed Level 1 in December 2018 and am hoping to complete my exam to become a yoga teacher i. e. Level 2 in December 2019. I am very health aware, so I do yoga for physical fitness and meditation for mental fitness.

I am also currently preparing for my Law Studies entrance exam. I need to complete an application for my entrance exam as I want to study to become a lawyer. My aim is to serve my community in the future with legal matters and law is the tool that will facilitate this.”

Out of the slums of Bombay

I was contacted by a gentleman called Kotak after the story about my Donate4Dharavi Charity Run on 6th January 2019 was published in the Gujarat Samachar newspaper in the UK. He was keen to find out how he could donate money to the charity and during the conversation he mentioned that he used to live in Dharavi as a young child. Now living in the UK just a few miles away from me, I arranged to meet up with him as I felt he had an amazing story to tell. Here is his inspiring story…

Wendy Petersen.


Manubhai Kotak, or Kotak as he likes to be called, was born in 1933 in Morvi, India, a municipality in the Indian state of Gujarat. When he was just 6 months old, his mum and dad came to Bombay where his father set up a general store or rations shop, as it was known, selling rice, grains and household goods in Dharavi. The exact location is unknown but Kotak knows that the area was inhabited by the Koli community and the fishermen and women worked in the fish market just behind their shop. Times were hard and the young couple and baby Kotak slept in a room at the back of the shop.

In 1936, when Kotak was just 3 years old, his mother died, aged just 30 years old. She died of typhoid, where at the time there was no known cure. His grandmother came to live with them for a few years to help to bring up the boy and his younger sister, Sharda. During this time, Kotak attended a school in Mathunga just south of Dharavi. Everyday his Dad would cycle his tiffin box lunch to him at school.

In 1944 when Kotak was 11 years old, there was a huge blast in in the Victoria Dock of Bombay when the freighter SS Fort Stikine, carrying a mixed cargo of cotton bales, gold and ammunition including around 1,400 tons of explosives, caught fire and was destroyed in two giant blasts, scattering debris, sinking surrounding ships and setting fire to the area, killing around 800 to 1,300 people. Some 80,000 people were made homeless. Kotak explained that at school everything was shaking so much, people thought it was an earthquake.

Unfortunately the devastation in the city meant that the local economy went into decline and the family business suffered. Kotak’s father decided to close his business and move back to Morvi, where Kotak was originally born and where some of his extended family lived.

Unfortunately this proved difficult for the family as the business did not do well here either. The area was just too quiet and customers were few and far between. So after a couple of years his father decided to move back to Bombay in the Lower Parel area, just south of Dharavi. At the time, this area was well known for its cotton mills due to it’s 300 lakes in the area which were perfect for coal-powered mills needing an abundant supply of water. Kotak’s father had previously worked at one of the cotton mills and had a lot of contacts still there that helped him find new premises for a shop.

It was a very small shop that they rented, but with no accommodation that came with it and life again was very hard for the family. Without anywhere to sleep, the landlord built them a tiny wooden covered awning at the front of the shop in the road, where the family slept on blankets at night. They tolerated these conditions for about 8 months until Kotak’s maternal uncle offered the boy and his sister a roof over their heads. After staying with their uncle for a year, both children were sent to separate boarding schools. Kotak went to a well respected boarding school in Jamnagar where he passed his Matriculation exam. It cost a lot of money to be educated at this private school and Kotak is forever grateful to his uncle for helping him.

In 1950 after finishing his education, Kotak returned back to Bombay where his struggle to find accommodation continued. Thankfully his father’s sister’s son had a furniture shop and in the evening he would stay in the basement storeroom whilst helping in the shop.

In 1953, aged 20 years old, he got engaged to his now wife, Sushila. Kotak had a huge family wedding attended by many in the community and started his married life in a very small and modest 10 x 10 ft rented room in the Bombay suburbs. But disaster struck again because as soon as they married, he became unemployed once again and the young couple struggled financially. The time had come to take action and with no work and no money, Kotak left India for Uganda. Rather than see getting married as a negative, Kotak explained that Sushila was his good luck charm, opening up the opportunity to him to start a new life for them both in Uganda.

At this time Uganda was a protectorate of the British Empire which lasted from 1894 to 1962. In 1893 the Imperial British East Africa Company transferred its administration rights of territory to the British Government. Under this administration, Kotak was given a work permit to work in the judicial department as an interpreter. This was a job he loved and worked at for 18 years. Kotak’s cousin in Uganda always told him that to get far in life it was important to learn English so without television in those days, the family would sit listening to the BBC news on the radio every evening for half an hour. That’s how Kotak learnt such impeccable English!

In early August 1972, the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of his country’s South Asian minority, giving them 90 days to leave the country. At the time of the expulsion, there were approximately 80,000 individuals of South Asian descent (mostly Gujaratis in Uganda, of whom 23,000 had had their applications for citizenship both processed and accepted. Although the latter were ultimately exempted from the expulsion, many chose to leave voluntarily. The expulsion took place against a backdrop of Indophobian Uganda, with Amin accusing a minority of the Asian population of disloyalty, non-integration and commercial malpractice, claims Indian leaders disputed. Amin defended the expulsion by arguing that he was “giving Uganda back to ethnic Ugandans”.

After 18 wonderful years living and working in Uganda, aged 39, Kotak was forced to flee. Because Uganda was a British Protectorate, Kotak was given a free air ticket by the British Government to fly to the UK where his younger sister had settled some two years before from Kenya. On arrival in the UK, his wife and young family were sent to an Army camp in East London where some 300 people lived in pretty grim conditions.

By now, Kotak had 3 young children (two daughters and a son) and this was not the way he wanted to start his new life in the UK. So Kotak decided to move his family out of the army camp and went to live temporarily with his sister. All he had in his pocket when he left the camp was the £5 they had given him.

His sister helped him find accommodation in Forest Gate, East London and his brother in law helped him to find his first job as a credit controller. Soon after, Kotak decided to send for his father from India. However with just a rented 3-roomed house and with one of those rooms being completely damp and uninhabitable, the large family had to live and sleep in just 2 rooms. After 6 months, it was decided that it was better, for his father’s health, to return to India.

Kotak still had good friends in the Ugandan Judicial System and over the years that he worked there, Kotak had accumulated some significant savings. He asked one of his ex-colleagues whether it would be possible to send over his £1200 savings which then duly arrived. Using this money as a deposit, Kotak was able to buy his very first home in the UK – a terraced house which cost £11,500. His family were now on their way to becoming financially secure and finally settled!

Kotak took on a number of jobs in the UK over the years including working eight years for the Road Transport Industry until he was made redundant when the government closed it down. In 1985, Kotak started work as an Immigration Interpreter at Heathrow Airport. This was a job that he thoroughly enjoyed, helping people to communicate in Gujarati and Hindi. This was Kotak’s last job where he retired from the job aged 64.

Kotak reflects on his life saying that he owes everything to his family and in particular his uncle and cousin brother for helping him in education, finding work and accommodation. He did have a tough start in life but Kotak says that you just have to face the situation you are in and deal with it. His advice for a child growing up in Dharavi would be to work hard in order to find success and learn the importance of money.

Kotak is now 86 years old, living in Pinner, North West London with his wife in a small apartment. He is not in the best of health, is registered disabled and lives in a ground floor apartment so he can be a little more mobile. He also owns a large house in the local area which his son and his family live in. Until a recent knee injury, Kotak and his wife enjoyed annual visits to the family home in Mumbai. Kotak and his wife Sushila have the support of a very close family – two daughters and a son who live close by. They have six grandchildren – three boys and three girls. His sister Sharda lives just down the road in Stanmore.

“Life is about family – a joint effort, helping each other to become successful” Manubhai Kotak

 22nd January 2019



Interview with Vikram Gudi

We recently caught up with our biggest individual donor, Vikram Gudi.

With both parents being born in India and his mum born in Mumbai, Vikram’s ties to Mumbai remain strong and his reasons for giving back are inspirational.

Check out the interview below to learn more about Vikram and what motivates him.

Charlotte: “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?”

Vikram: “I was born in Birmingham but both of my parents are Indian – my mum is from Mumbai and most of my extended family live there too. I’ve always had a strong connection with the city. I have been going there since I was born and spent every summer there, so for me it is like a second home”


Charlotte: “What are some of your interests?”

Vikram: “It’s all music and music related things – making, listening to, seeing live and talking about. I also have a soft spot for cricket, photography, art and charity work”

Charlotte: “What do you do for a living?”

Vikram: “I run Elephant Music and I’m the co-founder of Split Music. Elephant Music specialises in putting music on TV and film trailers. Split Music is a music publisher – we manage the rights of artists, composers and DJ’s globally. I also produce music and compose myself. It’s an interesting question because my answer is always evolving with the times. I love what I do and sometimes pinch myself because I can’t believe I made a career out of it”

Charlotte: “How did you get to know about Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “I was watching Sky Sports and there was a documentary on Nasser Hussain; I felt partially guilty about not visiting Dharavi enough. Seeing those smiles on the faces of the kids made me want to sign up”

Charlotte: “Why have you chosen to support Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “There is the nostalgia and the proximity to Mumbai but growing up I wasn’t allowed to visit or even understand about the slums and I regret this. I feel that there are many wealthy people in India that could and should be doing more to support NGOs, so I’m doing my best to help from the UK”

Charlotte: “What would you like to see happen in the future with Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “I would love to see a Music Department and for the kids to be exposed to creative arts – film, photography, anything that is outside of the standard education. They need to be exposed to creativity at a young age. An information revolution is happening where IT is replacing the need for people in jobs, but creativity cannot be replaced.

I would also love for the cricket academy to be taken more seriously and it would be a beautiful story to someone to come out of it and play for India, it’s not impossible – talent will always shine through”

Charlotte: “What advice would you give our students?”

Vikram: “Don’t lie to yourself. If you naturally like something pursue it, but just try to balance it out. You can be good at a number of things but only exceptional at one thing – follow it passionately”

Charlotte: “Who has had the biggest influence on your life?”

Vikram: “My Dad – what I’m doing now would be impossible without the support of my parents. Their belief and faith that I was doing the right thing made my career path a reality. They never pressured me as much as most traditionally Indian parents to get a ‘real job’, they were just happy that I was doing something I loved”

Charlotte: “What did you enjoy most at school?” 

Vikram: “I barely studied music at school – I found it too academic and not fun or creative. What I enjoyed most were the people, not a specific subject as such. I was surrounded by extremely intelligent individuals which was inspiring. Some of my best friends are from my school days and I wouldn’t be me without them”

Charlotte: “Now for some slightly more fun, personal questions. Describe your life using just film titles?”

Vikram: “Spinal Tap, LA Confidential and Lagaan”

Charlotte: “If you could steal credit for any piece of art, song, film or book which one would you claim?”

Vikram: “For a film I would go with Zardoz by John Boorman, the song would be Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and the piece of artwork would be Ciphers and Constellations by Juan Miro.

Charlotte: “What would you say has been for you your favourite travel destination?”

Vikram: “Koh Phangan in Thailand It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I’ve ever hit 100% holiday mode.”

Charlotte: “Lastly, what projects are you currently working on?”

Vikram: “I’m not normally allowed to say but there are a couple of Marvel movies, an experimental art / music project with the Whitechapel Gallery and our next record on our label”

Working in Dharavi

A question I have been asked often is – “What is working in Dharavi like?” Once you assume that there is no expectation of dreariness, it is quite a valid question.


At the risk of generalising, most “well-off” Indians don’t dream of working or even going to the infamous slum of Dharavi on a regular basis. I will argue that they spend their lives working hard so they’ll never have to live in the slums (if that makes sense). The aforementioned question is therefore valid.

To answer it, I will illustrate using an incident. This morning while making my way to our trusted restaurant for lunch, I became fascinated by the papad making industry in the open courtyard surrounded by homes. We pass this place regularly, but it always gets my attention. I quickly took out my phone to Google something about the industry and kept walking. Obviously, I bumped into a huge iron beam poking out of the foundation of the 2nd storey of a house. I may be under average height by global standards, but tall by Indian measures and therefore, I am supposed to bend while taking short cuts. I have known it forever, but looking into your phone while walking does deserve a punishment.

Anyway, while I grabbed by now-in-pain head and walked forward, I saw friendly faces with concerned looks on them. A peculiar thing of walking through the slums is at each particular time of the day it smells a little different. Usually during the first half of the day, I tend to find lot of detergent or soap bar aroma in the area. Mid-day ish I can smell food, and to an extent I can tell which region the family inside is from. And towards the end of day, it is sort of not a very pleasant smell.

One thing that never changes though is either smiling people standing at the gates chit-chatting with the neighbours, or people walking through, always with a demeanour of purpose. The walk finally ended with “Cheap Thrills” by Sia playing loudly from a house, and we reached the restaurant soon enough.

Another aspect of working in Dharavi is that I like to look at it as a “Privileged slum”. Through decades of focus it has received from government, NGOs and businesses, Dharavi is now rising upwards with multi-storey buildings and ambitions taking flight. I work at 3 different locations on different days of the week, and an Uber can get you right to the door of each one. There is no dearth of clean and hygienic eating places, and plenty of shops for all needs.

My favourite part about working in Dharavi is the immense burst of colours every day when I step into the place. Hundreds of people in their diverse style of clothing, bustling shops and buildings, animals and also overflowing garbage dumps. Somehow it makes the scene super vibrant. Personally, for me it is much more exciting and motivating than the sterile and perfect corporate buildings.

If you don’t believe me, I invite you to come see where I work 🙂



Suman Barua joined Reality Gives in September, having left a software engineering job to pursue his passion for helping others learn. He won a place at Harvard University to pursue a Masters degree in the field, and is now our Director of Education.