#WomenAtPrerana : Interview with Mugdha Dandekar (Project Head, Night Care Center)
This International Women’s Day, we want to appreciate and celebrate our #WomenAtPrerana. In this interview, Mugdha Dandekar, our Project Head of the Night Care Center Program shares about her journey in Prerana for the past 17 years, her personal achievements as a social worker and her thoughts on how to build an equitable society.
What is your personal story? How did you reach the leadership position that you have?
I have always had a lot of support from both my families. They encouraged me to work hard and focus on my career. I realise that their support played a key role in helping me follow my dreams. When I was younger, my parents used to always ask me what I was interested in and they would always be very involved in my future plans. Like any other teenager, I was very confused about which stream to pick. Initially I was interested in Art so I got admitted to JJ School of Arts. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided to do my degree in social work. My parents never made me feel guilty about this shift and the money they spent because of it.
When I joined Prerana, it was primarily because I wanted to work with children. I joined as a Project Coordinator in 2002 and then became the Project Manager and currently, I work as the Project Head. I have been here for so many years but I never think about changing my job because of Prerana’s way of working. They have a child centered approach which is rare to find and something that I really appreciate. I remember when I was getting married, I told my husband very clearly that I go to the Red Light Areas to work with the women and children there and I love my job so don’t ask me to quit it under any circumstances. Thankfully, he was supportive then and continues to be supportive even now.
The reason why I am here at Prerana as the Project Head is because of my hard work, all the people who supported me and most importantly because Prerana has given me the opportunity to work in a space that I love.
You have worked with Prerana for 17 years. What have been your personal achievements within the organization?
If you ever told my younger self that I will have to lead an entire project and ensure that my team is growing along with the project, I would have told you that it is not possible for me. But today, I can confidently say that I am capable of doing both. I plan, implement and take the team ahead along with me and I do it with ease. For me, my growth is that I get my work done no matter which position I am in. But beyond this personal growth, it is the growth of my children that is my biggest achievement. When I joined the organization in 2002, there were some small children we worked with in the Center. Today these children are all grown up and have moved ahead from Prerana’s Centers to create their own path. We always worried about our children from the Red Light Areas because of the ostracization they had to face but today they have all grown up and come into the mainstream just like we hoped they would. When I see them, I feel like I have done something good. I feel inspired and motivated to continue to help more children.
What has been the most challenging experience for you while doing your work?
The first memory that comes to my mind is that of a situation 14 years back. I was young and new in this field. One day I had to go visit a child at a CCI and inform her about the death of her mother. Initially two of us were supposed to go but for some reason the other staff member was unable to come. I felt worried and overwhelmed at that time. It was very challenging for me to speak to the child and give her this bad news.
What is the best way that women can support other women to grow?
Women have always been monitored more than men. Sometimes this monitoring and lack of freedom does not give women the opportunity to develop their confidence like their male counterparts. As women, it is important for us to encourage and appreciate other women so that all of us can collectively feel more confident. Personally, I think this is the best way to help each other. I do this with all my colleagues and I see how fast they grow because of the confidence that I show in them.
On International Women’s Day, we want to ask you what you think is one of the most important steps to take for the goal of gender equality?
I think the most important step for all of us to take is within our own houses. Everyone always instructs girls on how to behave but I think it is time for us to teach our boys too. We have to teach them how to respect and treat women. We have to help them understand gender equality at a young age so that they do not ill treat women when they grow up.
How did COVID-19 affect your work and were there any challenges that you faced because you were a woman working during the pandemic?
When I am working from home, I am not able to define my role clearly. My professional and my personal roles and responsibilities clashed. Additionally, as a mother who was at home, I had to be mindful of the needs of my child. I was expected to finish my work within a certain time period and if my child had any needs at the same time then addressing those needs became very challenging. Ensuring that my work does not get hampered while being at home and executing my responsibilities at home as well, has been the biggest challenge for me during the lockdown.
With respect to the Project, all the staff of the Night Care Centers were on field for ration distribution during COVID. This was definitely very challenging for them and I was worried about their well-being while also being worried for the community whose minimum income was affected because of the lockdown.