Not just your average teenager – this 17-year old is a Community Youth Leader!
Seventeen-year old Swetha is from a small slum community in the South Indian city of Mysore, Karnataka. The AJ Block in Gandhinagar that Swetha calls home houses many families like hers. Swetha’s 5 person family survives on just just 6,000 Rupees a month, the equivalent of $98 USD, and the combined income of both of her parents.
Swetha first came in contact with Magic Bus in 2011 when she was 15 years old. Her mentors, or Community Youth Leaders, nurtured Swetha through a learning curve that covered the importance of education, healthy behavior, and instilling the confidence and skills needed to lead a life that is in no way lesser than her male peers. This is a challenge since her community is one that strongly discriminates against girls.
In just 2 years with Magic Bus, Swetha has seen her and her community's views change rapidly, giving her the belief that she herself, can be a changemaker. With the help of Magic Bus as support, she finishd high school and then set her goals on becoming a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader herself. She has since enrolled and is proud to say that she's paying it forward, undergoing intensive training designed to show her how to apply the Magic Bus curriculum with children from her community.
“Swetha has been volunteering with Magic Bus for almost a year now,” says her mother, who works as a domestic helper. “The drastic changes I have seen in her from the time she joined –- in the way she talks, handles life’s challenges, takes active steps to do good -- brings me so much hope. I am no longer alone; I feel she has taken over the responsibility of bettering this family’s future. It feels like a weight has been removed from my back.”
Swetha’s father is battling alcoholism, a problem that affects many men in the AJ Block area. With her newfound confidence, Swetha engages with her father daily, helping him break his addiction. She also makes sure her younger brothers take education as seriously as she does.
“I learned not just about education, gender equality, but also things like how to control your emotions and plan for a more ambitious future,” says Swetha. “If I could overcome all of the obstacles in my life, I know others can too!”
As of today, Swetha is studying hard to gain admission into a local college, which would make her the first college student in her entire family.
Swetha is one of the beneficiaries of the GlobalGiving campaign "Create 4000 high school graduates in India."
As 2013 comes to an end, we are honored to share with you a recent article by Joanna Griffin published in The Guardian. After visiting Magic Bus, Joanna was inspired by the change she saw in girls and the their communities, and by the potential that these women were reaching.
We hope you are just as inspired, and in this holiday season, we hope you will consider giving once again to Magic Bus. More importantly, if you feel moved by these stories, please post on your social media, urge your networks to get involved, email three friends, circulate amongst your families. Anything and everything helps those willing to help themselves. Thank you for your continued support.
In a small room in the south Delhi re-settlement community of Madanpur Khadar, a women's group meeting is drawing to a close. The women have been discussing the challenges faced by their daughters, and fear of sexual harassment in public places has been a major theme.
But some young men in this community are fighting back. In the aftermath of the fatal rape of a Delhi student last December, Arvind Kumar, a young training and monitoring officer for Magic Bus, which works with 2,700 local children, independently established kickboxing classes for the community's girls. Participants meet for sessions once a week before school and the classes are free.
Sonal Shukla, director of Vacha, highlights the important role of men and boys in achieving gender equality and eliminating violence against women. "Girls will marry and move away," she says "but boys will remain in their societies and perpetuate behaviour."
Another local boy, a cheeky 14-year-old named Arjun, is also playing his part. He is captain of the football team run by the Community Aid and Sponsorship Programme (CASP), which works to empower local children and families.
"I used to bunk classes and was involved in substance abuse," he says, "but sport is my focus now and I know this is not acceptable." He is combining his fierce personal ambition to become a journalist with his self-appointed role as an agent of social change, and is making a documentary to raise local awareness of Eve-teasing.
Here in Madanpur Khadar, things are changing, and gender is no longer just a women's issue.
Sujata , 19, is a Magic Bus youth mentor in the small village of Manjarli, 51km north-east of Mumbai. The 800-strong population belongs to the lowest strata of Indian society: tribal communities. The men are agricultural labourers but it is uncommon for women or girls to work outside the home. Sujata became a community youth leader at the age of 17 and has been supported by her father, Ananta.
"It is uncommon for fathers in this rural area to send their girls to work," he says, "but it is not like she is going to the urban area. Her work is here in the village and I am comfortable with that."
Ananta has noticed changes in Sujata since she took up her role as a youth mentor. Becoming involved in sport and mentoring has improved her confidence. She is more vocal and respectful and he likes the changes he sees. The arrangement is also of financial benefit as she brings in an income.
Yet there is a sense that Sujata's freedom is fragile. "As long as she continues to balance her work with her traditional duties at home, and does not become involved with boys," says Ananta , "I am happy for her to continue." But every day is a small step towards independence as she slowly demonstrates her capabilities and builds her father's confidence. For now, his message to the men of the village is clear. "Fathers should give opportunities to their girls."
"All my friends got married and are housewives," says Akhilesh, discussing her 19-year-old peers in the North Delhi community of Bakkarwala. "I"m the only one who is working."
Akhilesh has completed her secondary education and is currently the only female youth mentor in Bakkarwala's sport for development programme. She was attracted to Magic Bus by its inclusive approach. "In our community the mindset of people was that boys should play but girls should not. I liked the concept that boys and girls should play together."
But it hasn't been easy. She explains how, as the only female youth mentor, she initially felt shy and awkward, but with family encouragement she has overcome this. She now faces the challenge of encouraging other local families to enrol their younger girls in the programme.
"Most parents in our community know that boys and girls should get equal opportunities but in practice that doesn't happen. They fear sending their girls outside to play as there is a question of safety."
Akhilesh has been an important role model, and central to the involvement of the local girls. "Looking at me, girls were motivated and came and joined the sessions. Also the parents allowed girl children to come and play with the boys."
As for the issue of safety? "There are many crimes that happen on the road," she says, "but girls cannot remain closed in the house. We have to be empowered."
Eighteen-year-old Zia Mansoori (name changed) looks forward to Sunday afternoons. Leaving home on the pretext of college-related work, she meets up with 20 others who have assembled in a room. They slip out of their hijabs, don t-shirts, long socks and shoes and it’s football time.
Encouraged by NGO Magic Bus, these Mumbra girls began their kicking pastime in October last. The game has since become, for them, a metaphor for freedom rather than a mere sport.
Girls playing this male-dominated sport are no longer a rare sight. But in this Muslim ghetto of Mumbra, it is no ordinary feat. Located on the outskirts of Mumbai, this township is home to a large population of communal-riots refugees. Twenty-four per cent of its women are illiterate, 92% don’t work and 28% are married before the age of 17 (Mumbra-a Status Report —TISS, 2011).
Zia’s family doesn’t know she plays football. To preclude confrontation, she finishes her share of household chores — cooking, cleaning and caring for her 2-month-old sister — before leaving for football training. Besides her parents, Zia has four brothers and two sisters. “Abba thinks girls have to stay at home so I don’t tell him I play. He doesn’t even want me to study but I fight and go to college,” she says.
Magic Bus initially intended to train 14-17-year-olds from Mumbra in football. But after the girls voiced their concern about playing alongside boys, the NGO made an exception. It decided to exclusively train girls of all age-groups here. Masood Akhtar, a member of Magic Bus, is the coach.
Aliya Shaikh (16) has got her father’s support but faces resistance from her three brothers and mother. “My father says this is my age for fun and play even though my brothers try to stop me,” she says. Most of the girls’ parents work in the unorganised sector. In many cases, they are single parents. A majority of the girls study through correspondence, as they eke out a living on the side.
If assembling enough girls to constitute a game of football was a challenge, making them stay on was far more complex. “We started distributing pamphlets in schools and colleges urging girls to come for training. Forty girls signed up but the enthusiasm petered out. We are now left with a team of 20 girls,” says Saba from the Forum Against Oppression of Women, one of the social workers. “Finding a ground was difficult too. Finally, we approached a temple trust which agreed to give us a ground that belonged to them.”
Girls’ entry into the grounds has already changed mindsets. Today, Mumbra has even seen a tournament between girls and boys. “Earlier, the boys didn’t let us play on the ground where they played cricket. Now, we play together. We recently had a mixed cricket and football tournament with them,” said Muskan Sayyad, a Class 10 student whose father encourages her to play as a recreation from studies.
For the oldest player, Kausar Ansari (33), Sunday sessions are a stress-buster, especially after her recent divorce. “I would just watch the young girls play until I couldn’t resist stepping onto the field. Now there is no stepping back,” she says. Her 14-year-old son often comes to watch.
Now, equipped with a certain level of skill, fortitude and heightened self-esteem, the girls want to enter professional football. “We want to have our own club and maybe call it the Mumbra Girls Football Club,” says Fatima Mirza (20), who plays the game despite severe opposition from home.