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Supporting vulnerable women

488. Polly Harrar

A woman from London founded the SHARAN Project charity to provide support, practical advice and information to vulnerable South Asian women based in the UK.

As the world marks International Women’s Day today, Polly Harrar is one of five women who are making a difference around the world that will be recognised as Points of Light this week.

Having left home when she was just 17, Polly Harrar recognised a lack of specialist support available to South Asian women who have been disowned and who require long term help towards leading successful independent lives without fear and so in 2008 she used her life savings to establish the SHARAN Project. To date, Polly has personally helped over 500 women on issues ranging from forced marriage, cultural conflict, honour based abuse and domestic violence and has received over 500,000 visitors to the charity’s website, where women can access critical information, resources, advice and support.

The SHARAN Project, which is currently run by a growing group of volunteers trained to understand the wide range of harmful practices faced by South Asian women and the barriers they face in seeking help, provides assistance to develop key life skills: for example, in supporting vulnerable women in their transition to independent living. Polly and the team offer women one to one, online and phone support as well as access to specialist services, ranging from help filling out housing & benefit applications, advice on how to write a CV, interview skills, guidance on managing money, and counselling. The charity also aims to reduce isolation and provide a voice for those who are unable to speak out.

Through the SHARAN Project, Polly is also leading on developing outreach projects and events to raise awareness and generate debate within communities. For example, the Being a Good Neighbour project, developed in partnership with the Women’s Interfaith Network at HM Holloway prison, delivered a 6 week programme to bring 43 women from different faiths together through creative writing to better understand different beliefs and create a sustainable peer support group. Similarly, the Harnessing Change programme succeeded in developing a network of high-profile Ambassadors, including BBC presenters, national journalists, playwrights and entrepreneurs, to help challenge existing attitudes towards forced marriage.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Through the SHARAN Project, Polly has empowered thousands of vulnerable women, giving them the vital tools they need to make informed choices about their future. Polly’s outstanding drive and determination have turned her idea of supporting vulnerable women to escape abusive and violent relationships into a reality. I am delighted to recognise Polly as the 488th UK Point of Light.”

Polly said:

“I am delighted to receive this award in recognition of my voluntary work at SHARAN and will sharing this with my team who work so hard to support some of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is my hope this Award will go some way to highlight the vital role we all have to play to build a better future for everyone and how small grassroots organisations really can make a difference.”

This week Points of Light are being given to four other inspirational women who are making a difference around the world:

Monday: Kate Hardcastle, 40, Wakefield, set up the Positive Image campaign she in 2012 which has seen women around the world give their time to go into schools and talk to girls about positive body image. This ranges from one off talks to ongoing mentoring and support. Kate has expanded the project to Australia and the UAE, reaching over 5,000 girls.

Wednesday: Lesley Rudd, Slough, was appalled by the many stories of abuse suffered by children in South Africa. 10 years ago she set up the Infant Trust to protect vulnerable children and prevent infant rape and abuse in five of the poorest provinces. The Trust empowers women to identify and confront abusers and provides training in setting up and running crèches as a place of safety. Their flagship Caring for Crèches programme alone has trained over 2,000 leaders who have helped to protect over 160,000 children.

Thursday: Judy Westwater, 80, Inverness, set up the Pegasus Children’s Trust after spending part of her childhood on the streets of South Africa. The projects the Trust set up give street children in the country a better quality of life, helping over 4,000 young people to access education, food and healthcare.

Friday: Angela Jack, 46, South Lanarkshire, is President of The Ups & Downs Theatre Group – the only theatre group in Scotland for young people with Down’s Syndrome and their siblings.  She has grown the group, speaking to local communities, promoting the group in the media and making YouTube videos of the children rehearsing.

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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