From living in Mumbai’s red-light district, to winning a scholarship at Bard College in the US, to delivering a TEDx talk in India, to even winning a UN award, Shweta Katti’s journey has been extraordinary.

At the 2014 United Nations Youth Courage Awards ceremony on September 22, the 19 year old, dressed in a simple white and orange tunic with saffron-colored harem pants, smiled nervously amid resounding applause.

As one of the six awardees, she got up on stage and shook hands with Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the UK and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Katti, who is studying psychology at Bard College in New York, will be among other awardees, aged between 14-29, whose names will be announced at a special Youth General Assembly that will be hosted alongside the UN General Assembly on September 22 in New York. The inaugural Youth Courage Awards were announced at the United Nations on Malala Day in 2013.

It was through an NGO called Kranti (revolution), which empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light districts to become agents of social change, that Katti got into a programme that changed her life. “Children of sex workers in this locality go to BMC (municipal) schools or don’t attend any school at all,” says Robin Chaurasiya, founder of Kranti. The NGO runs various educational programmes and offers therapy to help young girls overcome their circumstances and those of their mothers and their community as almost all of them have faced sexual abuse, rape and other types of violence, apart from the emotional burden they carry.

Chaurasiya says Katti joined Kranti when she was 16 but the plucky, bright and intelligent girl was able to adjust to the world outside her own marginalised background and make a change for herself and those around her. Katti plans to finish her studies in psychology by 2017 and set up a mental health centre in Kamathipura.

“We have a home in Marol where more than 10 girls, between the ages of 13-19 stay, learn through therapy, music, drama, sports and travel to break free of discrimination and share their stories with the world,” says Chaurasiya. They are India’s youngest voices giving speeches at workshops on issues such as child sexual abuse and sex workers’ rights.

Kranti’s aim is to show that these youngsters are as good as any other if given the opportunity to get educated. Standing as an example of courage and determination, another girl, Sheetal Jain, 19, who wants to be an ace drummer, has secured admission for a one-year diploma course at a music school in the US.