Mumbai’s famous Indian red-light district, dating back to British colonial times, has captivated and horrified journalists, photographers, writers, travelers, and citizens for decades.
Despite her prior training, Ramona Braganza was unprepared for the harsh reality of the crowded, narrow street lined with wooden cages teeming with prostitutes of many ages.
Her clients include Dakota Johnson, Jessica Alba, Ashlee Simpson-Ross, Halle Berry, and the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders. In 2013, she turned 50 and sought a way to use her passion for fitness to “give back.”
She tried to figure out how to do this with friends at her Caribbean home on Harbor Island when one of them mentioned that his brother runs Catholic Relief Services in India.
Braganza said, “It felt like I was on the set of a seedy and dangerous movie. The building also housed a daycare for the babies of working young girls who had nowhere to leave them but on the streets.”
In no time, Braganza was on her way to Mumbai to meet Priti Patkar, an activist and co-founder of Prerana. This organization seeks to rescue and protect children from sexual exploitation.
A girl rescued from Mumbai’s sex trade, Prerana runs a safe house outside the city, Patkar told Braganza.
As a fitness trainer, Braganza wanted to assist girls and young women at Prerana to get physically fit and become certified to earn a living.
Braganza says, “In Prerana’s safe house, the girls are clothed, fed, and educated. They’re given access to computers and job training in areas like sewing or beauty.”
Braganza, who started 321 Empower to help traffic victims, and the girls at Prerana find working out with each other a unique, fulfilling, and fruitful experience.
Patkar said, “Ramona approached me with the idea of fitness, but I first realized that fitness is all about self-care.”
Girls who work as prostitutes or are the children of prostitutes and have been exposed to that milieu can benefit significantly from fitness.
When Patkar visited Prerana’s safe house, Braganza brought 15 pairs of running shoes to give to the girls.
She says, “They’d never worn shoes like that before, and they were jumping all over the place, loving them.”
Patkar and Braganza hope Soni will train at Prerana’s safe house and serve as a mentor.
In Patkar’s 30 years of experience, she has seen girls as young as 14 forced into the sex trade.
They remain in the safe house until they are 18, reaching adulthood with a skill set that will enable them to earn a living.
Braganza plans to begin fundraising for her organization in November, so fitness training is now on the list of possibilities for girls.