Karuna Trust

Our vision is of a world without prejudice, in which every human being has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of their background or beliefs. We aim to do this by challenging the ignorance and prejudice that trap people in poverty.
Dec 20, 2010

Realising the reality of Empowerment

The reality

 I know that I take the level of control that I have over my own life for granted. For me, it’s not the absence of options, but having too much choice that’s often the problem.

I find it difficult to imagine what it must be like to have no choice, to have your future pre-determined in some way.

 Let’s take a look at this:

 Scenario One:

No formal schooling. Low self-esteem. Poor communication skills.

 Likely end result on an individual level:

Married under 18. Domestic violence. Poor health.

 Likely end result on a broader level:

Strengthening of discriminatory values towards women in society. Propelling this cycle for future generations to come.

 This is the cycle that many adolescent girls in Pune’s urban slums find themselves trapped in. Lacking formal competencies and not knowing how to realise their fundamental legal rights, these girls are among the most marginalised in Indian society. The Right to Freedom is longstanding in India, yet this has remained a paper tiger for many of these adolescent girls. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Through the work of the Women’s Empowerment Project, things are changing.

 Let’s look at this alternative scenario:

 Scenario Two:

Essential life skills. Vocational skills training. Statutory rights awareness. Hygiene and nutrition training.

 Likely end result on an individual level:

Confidence and an appreciation of self-worth. Financial autonomy. Improved long-term health and reduction in maternal and neonatal mortalities due to poor nutrition.

 Likely end result on a broader level:

Positive changes in societal attitudes towards adolescent girls. More girls living with dignity and respect. Improved lives of many young girls who will become the women and mothers of the future.

 The Empowerment Project has already gone a considerable way to making this scenario a reality. Here are just a few ways how it has been doing this:

 Helping others to help themselves

Many of the adolescent girls that this project works with have appeared resigned to the prospects of their not-so-bright futures. It needs to be clear though, that this doesn’t indicate a wilful acceptance of their ‘lot’. On the contrary it has stemmed from a deeply-entrenched sense of fatalism in many cases. This is changing, however.

This project has been empowering girls by successfully equipping them with essential life-skills. Economic empowerment has been a real area of success:

  • A corporation bank has made provisions for the girls to open a saving accounts, allowing for this to happen at zero balance. Many girls are taking advantage of this initiative and experience a sense of pride and security from doing so. 
  •  60 girls visited a bank on an orientation visit and were trained in vital finance management skills.
  • A total of 248 girls have taken part in vocational training in the areas of IT training and/or fashion design and tailoring.  Many girls are now earning their own money and are less dependent on others for their livelihoods.

 And here’s what all this has meant in practice for Shilpa –

 Before I could not even talk in group and used to feel shy to interact with people. I had very low confidence within me but now I feel I have a very bright future. I got confidence that now I can earn money by stitching clothes in my own business, no need of doing domestic work. - Shilpa Jagnaath Pawale, Vishrantwadi

 From ignorance to agency

The maxim that ‘ignorance is bliss’ doesn’t really ring true in this case. In fact, knowledge is often the vital ingredient that can transform the sense of powerlessness experienced at an individual level to one of agency.  Much of the work of the Women’s Empowerment Group has centred on breaking the taboos that are prevalent in conservative and patriarchal Indian society

Helping girls to access information so that they can make informed choices has been crucial, as has their being well-versed in issues directly impeding their health and safety has been crucial:

  • Health awareness initiatives have included training sessions on personal hygiene, healthcare camps related to Cancer awareness and anatomy training. Girls involved now have a greater understanding of changes in their physical well-being and feel more able to respond appropriately.
  • Expert sessions on sexual abuse and self-defence training have been run. There is now an increased feeling of safety among these girls as they are able to respond actively to the threat of violent situations in the home.
  • There has been a lecture on the Domestic Violence prevention Act (2005) and an orientation visit to a local police station. This has meant that these girls are now aware of their legislative rights and are better situated to invoke these protections.

 Here’s a glimpse of the impact that these initiatives are having –

 I attended sex education through which we came to so many things regarding body changes as well as physiological changes during adolescent age. Nowhere we get such information but this project is giving and helping us to cope with the situation. - Komal, Bhimnagar

 All for one and one for all

It is routinely the case that attempts at realising progressive change encounters resistance from key stakeholders. In the case of this particular project, attempts at change have often come up against deeply-entrenched attitudes on perceptions of both caste and gender roles. This makes it all the more important to build and sustain relationships in the broader community that foster understanding and support for the cause. One of the major strengths of this project to date has been the level of harmony and co-operation witnessed between various stakeholders. This impact, although not lending itself to quantification ought not to be underestimated:

  • Previously resistant parents are giving permission for their daughters to participate actively in vocational training workshops and visits to key societal institutions such as police stations.  Having the backing of parents as central stakeholders in the empowerment of girls adds to its perceived acceptability and the overall legitimacy of the project.
  • The project has been enjoying the support of many local community and political groups. For example, the Mahila Mandal and local youth groups have been engaging with the project. It is well-understood that broad local support makes for meaningful community change.
  • 26 teachers from government schools have been trained in the area of girls’ empowerment by experts in the social field. This has led to the increased confidence, capacity and co-operation of local school teachers.

 Looking ahead

 A huge thank you for your generous donations that have been turning the vision of empowered adolescent girls into a reality. In particular we’ve seen donations coming in more and more since our last update, which is just great. I hope that you find this update useful and can share in our joy at the changes taking place on the ground.

 As ever though, a lot of work remains to be done in order to maintain the momentum that has been built up so far. So please continue to give what you can and also to raise awareness about this critical cause.

 If you have any feedback or any specific questions about the project then I would love to hear from you.

 Many thanks again.

Nov 24, 2010

Girjia's gratitude

A recent testimonial from Girjia, one of the many girls reaping the benefits of this project:

Name: Girjia Hosmani, 22 years old.

Community: Burma cell

I am Girija staying at Burma cell. My personality is somewhat introverted. I never shared or opened myself up in front of anybody before I joined this life skill class. Side by side I have completed my computer class as well. Though I am an elder in the class, I feel ok because I am getting good knowledge about how to lead my life independently. I would like to share my testimony. I have come from a poor family and I have a big number of family members. We don’t get a proper diet. I used to feel giddy and sometimes tiredness but I ignored it all the time. One day the Women’s Empowerment Project (WEP) ran a programme of free haemoglobin (HB) check-up and I had one myself.

Dr. Mune told me that my HB is only 6, whilst the minimum normal level is 12. She gave me information on looking after my diet and gave me medicines. From that day I decided to look after my own diet. I took medicines and it helps me to improve my HB level.   

I am very much grateful to the WEP and send my warm thanks.       

Nov 24, 2010

Successes to celebrate

The Child Resource Centre back then
The Child Resource Centre back then

Hi all,

So this is my first post on global giving as a fundraiser for the Karuna Trust. It's clear that we have strong support here for this incredible project that really is transforming the lives of over a thousand children on the ground. Thank you very much for your continued support.

I'm happy to be able to share even a few of the many successes that this project has enjoyed over the past few months.

First and foremost, the Child Resource Centre that lies very much at the centre of this project has been completed and its activities are in full-flow! This is a massive achievement given that its construction was such a massive undertaking. The building of the Child Resource Centre was impeded at different times by a number of barriers, including a shortage of trained labourers and a surge in the prices of building materials. All's well that ends well, however! and through the determination and consistent efforts of our partner, the building is now fully in operation and has been hitting the ground running. Vocational and other training programs, counselling and a well-equipped library are some of the many initiatives that are being run from the Centre at present. You can see from the 'then' and 'now' pictures the amount of work that has gone into building this wonderful space.

At the core of this project is of course getting kids out of child labour and poverty and instead getting them into school. With the help of our local project partner, NISD, all the children of the village are now attending school. That’s up from 72% when the project work began in 2003. If you're anything like me, it's easy to let statistics like this go straight over your head, but this one really struck me. An increase of 72% over the last 7 years really is something to shout about.

The achievements that have stemmed from the consistent and concerted efforts of all stake-holders with the help of NISD in the areas of education and health are equally as impressive: 

  • 140 school children received appropriate and timely education support materials. This played a significant role in encouraging them to continue their schooling.
  • 843 children are reaping the benefits of support classes to improve their reading skills.
  • Computer classes have helped many children to overcome their fears of using a computer and have enabled them to appreciate the uses and importance of the internet in the modern world.
  • Child Protection Committees are working to cultivate a safe and secure atmosphere for children in their villages. 30 of these have been set up.
  • 742 young children are receiving care and attention through supplementary nutrition and pre-primary education during the absence of their mothers whilst at work.
  • 157 kitchen gardens have been developed and entire families are benefiting from the nutritious vegetables that they are yielding.
  • The growth of 531 children is monitored on a regular basis.
  • The Child Parliaments have mobilised children to understand their rights and have equipped them to access education.
  • NISD’s activities have been given added impetus at a grassroots level through the growing strength of youth-led groups such as the child parliament and self-help groups.

Not all positive change can or indeed should be measurable in terms of numbers. At Karuna we strongly hold that mind change, that is a change in consciousness, is needed in order to bring about meaningful social change. So feelings of self-worth and agency among our beneficiaries is one of the most important things for us. The impact of the project in this area can be best summed up by the words of the Executive Director of NISD in his recent progress update:

NISD is also experiencing success in making changes in the mindsets of local people, particularly about the burning issues of child care and development, child participation and child protection. Now people are actually starting to think and are also paying attention to child-related issues, committed to securing a brighter future for their children. The bidi rolling women had very little expectations about the future of their girls as they were resigned to the likelihood that their daughters would start working as bidi rollers too. Now, however, these women have started to think that there girls will not actually enter into this hazardous line of work. On the contrary, they want to educate their girls so that they can enter into other lines of work.

When considered in the context of a society highly stratified along the lines of gender and caste, such changes are not merely a small step, but a big leap.

I hope that you will share in our happiness at the progress that is being made and as ever, thank you for your continued support.

...and now!
...and now!

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