The small community of VRP Chatram, a suburb of Chennai, has historically been one of the most conservative communities in South India. Girls typically are not allowed to step out of the house to participate in outdoor activities for anything outside of basic daily tasks. The village is primarily comprised of factory and agriculture laborers who commute to the next town for daily work. These workers have very little educational background and work very hard to make ends meet. The views on children, marriage, and gender roles are very traditional. School is for boys, girls must be married off as soon as possible, and boys and girls do not play together after a certain age.
19-year old Kowsalya spent her life thinking this was unfair, so she repeatedly went to the village elders to understand why things were the way they were and if something could be done to "level the playing field" for girls in the community. It was very clear that there were a different set of rules for boys and a different set of rules for girls. But it didn't matter who she spoke to - no one agreed with her.
One year ago, this began to change. Kowaslya, joined Magic Bus as a Community Youth Leader (CYL). Her leadership caught the eye of a female Magic Bus Youth Mentor, Kiruba.
"When I first met Kowsalya, she immediately came across as an independant, confident girl who wanted to empower herself and other women in her community. It was painfully obvious, though, that as hard as she tried, she couldn't muster up support from her community to agree with her views." As a local woman herself, Kiruba realized that Magic Bus could provide her the one thing her community couldn't - a network and platform of like-minded people that could support Kowsalya in fulfilling her potential as a community leader.
Before Magic Bus, Kowsalya felt a bit like a lone ranger, always discussing ideas on gender equality, health practices, and education, but her words were rarely heard. Children would listen to her, but these instances were few and far between. Magic Bus gave her the weekly platform for her to become a visible role model for girls in the community, and also gave her a peer group that could support her and help her grow.
Today, Kowsalya has graduated high school and is currently working on her Bachelor's in Computer Science and well on her way of being a change agent in her community, helping girls like her step outside of the house and into the light.
Over a year ago, Shivam was 18 years old and laying in a hospital bed. His father had just passed away and Shivam before Shivam could even adjust to becoming the head of the household, he had a horrible accident that left him without any legs. With every reason to feel gril about the future, Shivam put his sorrows behind him and worked at completing his education and leading in his community, as a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader.
Fast forward one year, and we're sitting with Shivam's sister Arti, who is a year younger than him. "I joined Magic Bus two weeks ago," says Arti. "My brother, Shivam, encouraged me to join Magic Bus, after he's been with Magic Bus for over a year now." She saw him as a role model and wanted to follow in his footsteps. He supported her in her goals, after seeing how Magic Bus is a great platform for young men and women can learn to work together in a productive and supportive environment.
Today, Arti and Shivam are taking their high school board exams. They both attend a government school in Nangloi, in north Delhi, a few blocks away from their one-bedroom home.
For Shivam, getting around outside fo the home is a physical challenge, but for his sister Arti, getting around was difficult for a very different reason. "My mobility was limited because of my gender," she says. "As a result, my decision to join Magic Bus was challenged by my neighbors, friends, and community." She says that Shivam's constant support gave her confidence to continue to stand up for her personal freedom.
Shivam is a role model for Arti and for other youth in the community. “The best thing about him is his positivity and how he approaches life,” says Arti. They are a family of four - three children and a mother - surviving on a monthly income of $50/month.
“The Magic Bus journey has helped me introspect. From being a rebellious child in my youth, Magic Bus has helped transform me into a leader who takes pride in passing on safe and prudent ideas and practices to children and other young adults. Today my community identifies me as a hero, as someone who overcame great odds," he narrates.
Shivam and Arti both believe that she has the same leadership qualities within herself.
“I want Arti to galvanize her friends and other women from the community to step out and be agents of change.”
With your support, Arti will be able to make that wish a reality.
re are many more Artis and Shivams out there waiting to realise their potential as a leader. They need your support.
Dear Friend,As 2014 comes to a close, I am very excited about what is in store for Magic Bus. Our programs in India continue to grow and we are now implementing the Magic Bus model outside of India - from Singapore to London and soon in other South Asian countries. I would like to personally thank you for supporting Magic Bus and the 250,000 children that benefit from our programs every week. This year, Magic Bus celebrated its 15th birthday and was delighted to receive overwhelming public recognition and validation:
2014 was a watershed year for Magic Bus USA where we raised nearly $2m in funding and in-kind donations from thousands of US-based organizations and individuals, including:
I am very excited to report that a Board Member has committed to funding our growth in 2015 and will cover 100% of our operational expenses for the year. These additional resources will enable Magic Bus to reach out to you - the donor - more frequently and regularly than before. Most importantly, it means that 100% of every dollar donated in 2015 will go directly to programs.All of us at Magic Bus look forward to strengthening our donor relationships as we continue to work together to break the poverty cycle. Here's to a wonderful holiday season and a very happy and prosperous New Year to you and yours.