Wow, the first week of the project really flew by! Of course, there were minor hiccups here and there, but in the end it has been one great learning experience. With every passing day of the project, I am constantly expanding the scope of the program under the umbrella of empowerment. I’m tailoring the project as I understand what teaching techniques and topics work and what don’t as I get to know the kids better. They are all so eager to learn and I’m really lucky to have such a bright, lively and attentive bunch. At the end of week 1, I gifted the kids a small journal. They asked me why? I said “to share your thoughts, experiences and questions because what you have to say is important.”
The school (Ramagondanahalli Government school) I teach at is a Kannada (the vernacular language) medium school. I’m familiar with the language, and the kids can speak English to an extent. However, I was sure that having a translator would keep the message intact and allow the kids to be comfortable receiving a message they can understand fully. Now, I have a translator, Ms Varaja who is a part time teacher at the school. She has committed to staying back after school to help me.
Everyday, I continue to emphasize that our biological changes make us, girls and women, beautiful. As a result, we should be proud and confident. I explained that women everywhere in the world experience this unique process — girls in America, and down the road all go through similar challenges. I told them about my experience with it, and how I experience cramps, and headaches with every period. I wanted to create an environment where they could all share.
I’ve been doing a lot of activities with the kids. One time, I asked the kids to draw some injustice they see in their lives or environment to get things going. They went around the circle explaining what their picture was. One girl Priyanka, explained her picture: it was a girl who was walking back from school and was taken into the woods and raped. the girl was some relative of hers and that she had even seen the body. She said this with a sense of nonchalance and even shrugged at the end. It was like she had been so hardened by circumstances in her life. It was empowering and emboldening to see them sharing these intimate details with me. It reminded of what a wise soul had once told me: “It’s times like these when we as women come together and become open with each other. I think this is what empowers us and makes us stronger.”
Another activity included the kids writing sentences in English or Kannada that described a situation related to their environment and them being girls. How do they precisely articulate the gendered discrimination and injustices happening around them? The sentences included strong words like ‘shame’ or ‘torture’. They see these situations as painful, irritating and potentially harmful and not something they should be subject to.
During the last session of the week, we had a question and answer session. I asked all the kids to tell me some question or situation that they want to share. The questions and situations included: why do men stare at us, why do they whistle at us, why do they touch us, why don’t brothers touch their sisters, what if an elder man touches me, I’ve seen an older man touch his young daughter, a random man hit me on the road. We had to coax some kids to share and when they did, it was like something heavy tormenting them inside was pouring out. One girl even broke down because she couldn’t share something that was eating her inside. I could tell it was really hurting her because she found it hard to share. She was obviously going through something really tough. I tried my best to answer them in a helpful manner and direct them to people who had more experience than I do.
A meeting with renowned Bangalore based lawyer and former UNICEF consultant, Ms Divya Mundkar was eye opening. Her advice was simple and helpful. Education is the best way to empower these young girls. Their survival instincts will supercede any other desire to learn and open their minds to world around them. A lot of them drop out because they have to support their families. Making sure these girls stay in school till they graduate will ensure that they can have a fair shot at life and remain economically independent when they are married. That will ensure long lasting empowerment.
All in all, it’s been an exciting and tiring week. I can’t wait to get started on week 2! I’ll keep all of you updated. Stay warm!