Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.

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The girl’s hostel has 30 girls in residence, coming from Bihar, Maharashtra, and Nagpur. The girls, aged 10–22, are studying in nearby schools or doing university degrees by correspondence. When the girls first arrived at the hostel, many were so shy they could not speak in a group. Some were undernourished. Others suffered from worms, iron deficiency, head lice, and other conditions. Slowly the girls learned the routine at the hostel and developed their ability to study and focus. Now they can’t wait for the classrooms to open so they can practice their computer skills, play group development games, and share their opinions. On Saturday night the girls watch movies about inspiring people such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Gandhi. But what they enjoy most are Bollywood movies with fantastical plots, wonderful costumes, and lots of dancing!

Their growing confidence, laughter, and joy in learning is a privilege made possible by the kind volunteers and donors of Buddhist Global Relief.

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One hostel resident named Anjali, age 19, writes:

At home I spend all day serving my father, who drinks and is bedridden. Sometimes I felt like committing suicide because all my dreams for a better future were impossible. But since I found the hostel, I feel so happy. I have never been able to focus on my studies like this. I also really enjoy the extra programs like computers, counseling, classical dance and yoga. I feel myself growing in confidence. I never thought a woman’s life could be like this. Now I feel that I can be stronger in the future and secure employment and a better life. I hope I can get a good job and help my family and our community. But most of all I look forward to being independent.

Another resident, Nikki, age 14, reviews her experience:

My mother is a sex worker. Last year she was sent to jail. My father is an alcoholic and drug user. My brother and I were often alone in the house. We had no food and had to beg neighbors to give us something to eat. My father sold our food to get drugs. Some friends of my father came to the house and tried to molest my brother when I was away. I was afraid I would have to become a sex worker like my mum. I had given up all hope of having a normal happy life. How can you think about study when your brother is in danger and your father threatens to sell you?! Ever since I can remember I have had to fight for life, fight for food, fight to be safe, fight to be heard. Bodhicitta Foundation is like paradise for me. I am happy my brother is in boarding school, although he is still very naughty. I know this is my one chance to make sure I don’t end up married to a laborer or working like my mum. If you don’t have education people will cheat you, you will be a slave your whole life. I feel so safe and free here. I hope to become a social worker and activist. I want women to get good jobs and have better lives. Thank you for helping me!

As part of the project Bodhicitta has funded a small community center. This center provides vocational training, training in life skills and capacity building, counseling on domestic violence and sexual abuse, family and relationship counseling, meditation and yoga, and internet facilities. The center continues to offer tuition to slum children, meals to undernourished children, and vocational training to women.

Women receive loans and education to enhance their business acumen and empower them to start their own businesses. The income gained will directly increase the well-being of their children, families and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates offers health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum.

Kunta Bhai, age 43, a sewing course participant, writes:

My husband and mother-in-law threw me out on the street. I had nowhere to go and no education. Through the sewing course I can get piecework for shops and make more money than collecting recyclables from garbage. Meeting other women and hearing their problems gives me hope and comfort. After so much pain, meeting with the women in my micro-finance group once a month is like having a family. We cook for each other and help watch each other’s kids. I feel happy and more optimistic about my future now. I hope my daughter will finish college and have opportunities I haven’t had.

  Jessie Benjamin contributed to the writing of this article.

 

 

 

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