COMMENT:

I hadn't travelled to India before and although I was told by those who had that it would be an assault on the senses, nothing can really prepare you for the sights, the sounds and the smells.

It's a fascinating place and I was privileged to go into communities that your average tourist might not see.

I met parents who were desperate for their children to become educated but India is a tough place to live in if you're not born with money or superior cricketing skills. An accident or an illness means an already precarious place within the community can be lost and any slender advances made by the family up the ladder are gone forever.

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The stories I compiled with our visual journalist Mike Scott are the basis of the Not For Sale campaign that was launched in conjunction with World Vision at a breakfast on Friday.

The stories of the girls I met will be published in the Herald and online over the next fortnight as a fundraising initiative and an awareness campaign. I hope I do the young women justice.

They were so generous sharing their stories with me. Their stories broke my heart.

These are young women who, because of an accident of birth, have no hope of ever fulfilling their potential. They may be bright and hardworking and succeeding at school, but in a family that is already living on the edge, any misfortune that befalls the family can see that future scholar withdrawn from school and put to work — mind numbing, often dangerous and always poorly paid work.

The hours vary from between 12- and 14-hour days and, if you're a girl, there are household chores to do as well. It seems so cruel that something as simple as money is denying these young girls the opportunity to achieve.

Just $300 can set up a family for life, by giving them the means to establish a grocery stall or a small sewing business. But it might as well be $3000 to the families I met.

They don't want charity. Not one of them wanted, or expected, to be given a handout. I suppose the lack of a welfare state leads to an acceptance that you're on your own.

They can apply for grants to help develop their businesses and the money isn't given over all in one hit. They're given enough to establish the business and if it looks to be a goer, the rest of the money is advanced.

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That's what I loved about the work World Vision was doing. They're not there, wagging their fingers at people and telling them how dreadful they are as parents and people. They encourage the communities to identify where they want to improve prospects for the children and how best they can go about doing that. They support the establishment of child protection agencies in villages and mens' groups in all communities that encourage men to change sexist attitudes towards women, including their mothers, wives and daughters.

It appears to be quite the status symbol to belong to one of the mens' group. It appears men who are members are considered more sophisticated, more marriageable, to have more mana in their communities.

So these people aren't hopeless — not in the least. They want to be in charge of their own communities, their own destinies. We met some stroppy, fearless, fabulous young women. They just want a chance.

And it's so easy to give it to them. I know there are so many charities worthy of support and so many problems in this country that need to be sorted. But the problems for many families in New Zealand are inter-generational and deep seated in addiction and violence.

You can't save everyone, I know, but as a woman and the mother of a daughter, I know how lucky I am that I was born in New Zealand where there are safety nets and second chances. The young women I met don't have those luxuries — unless there are generous people willing to provide them.

To donate to the Not for Sale campaign go to World Vision