A message to you, from Pranali
Name: Pranali Mahendra Khandagale.
Education: 10th STD
Age: 15 years.
Before joining life skill class I was very introverted and shy. I did not feel comfortable to go out of the house and mix with other girls.
After joining the class, I started to change as my confidence built up. My mother was very happy to see these positive changes in me. I really developed trust towards the people in my class and the Project. Every day I used to go to the class.
We girls all visited the orphanage home and felt very sad about the orphan children. We also visited the police station and bank to know how they function. We were happy to play, sing and come together in class.
I was very happy to participate in an adventure camp at Mumbai (Bombay-Karjat). For the first time in my life, I got opportunity to participate in such type of camp. I was very frightened at the time of crossing the valley but bit by bit I started to feel that I can do it - and I did it!
The Project will also be helpful for my future life, and now I feel that I can successfully come out from any obstacles and problematic situation in my life.
I read an article recently by UNICEF exactly about Adolescent Girls' Empowerment clubs in India. It made me understand that projects like ours are on the rise and are making real in-roads all throughout India. The article reaffirmed to me that if long-term poverty, inequality and gender discrimination are to be eradicated in India, the empowerment of adolescent girls is a necessity.
As UNICEF observed, 'early marriage can lead to a vicious cycle of gender discrimination, illiteracy and high infant and maternal mortality rates'. Girls thus find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of marginalization on multiple fronts. Here's the link to the article in case you're interested: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/india_58294.html
In my opinion, it's one of the many paradoxes of India that it has some of the most progressive and impressive acts of legislation in the world. For example, child marriage has long been outlawed, and there even exists the right to free and compulsory education of children to act as a buffer to this. The reality on the ground, however, is that there's often a lag between the law on paper and the attitudes and practices of people in society. Of course, this is a massive generalization and there are many exceptions to this. What I'm trying to say, though, is that gender equality remains an uphill struggle in India, which makes projects like ours even more vital.
We know that through this project, progress is being made, minds are being changed, and girls and their communities' are beginning to transcend the mindsets that have long kept girls confined to the house, restricted in accessing education and prone to early marriage.
I met Sonali's family when I visited the project in March (you may remember her, I shared her story with you). They had tried to arrange her marriage a few years ago to a boy that she had never met and against her will. They were at first adamant that she would be married. As Sonali grew in confidence thanks to the project activities and support from Karunaprabha and her team, she was able to resist and insist that she be allowed to continue her vocational training. She now has a job, is earning money independently and when I spoke with her parents they said that they were glad that they didn't get her married young and that they're proud of the life that Sonali has made for herself.
With your support, we can continue changing hearts and minds like this, to create a new generation of empowered and independent women in India.
Jyoti's story shows how this project is slowly but surely creating a new generation of empowered young women -
Jyoti Tusamad, Aged 15 years (participant of Life Skills class)
One day Dr. Mune madam came to my house and gave information to my mother about the life skills class and asked her to send me to the class.
She teaches us about confidence - which factors affect our confidence. Through this class we have visited an orphanage. We felt very sad when we saw the condition of the children and infants there.
Through the bank visit we got information and the confidence to open a savings account in it. I can save money and also can withdraw money from my bank account.
We very much enjoyed the adventure camp at Mumbai (Bombay- at Karjat), especially the valley crossing which was very adventurous. We stayed there for two days.
We also learned about the menstruation cycle, and hygiene and how to take care of our body. I also participated in an environment camp arranged in our school and got to know many important things about the environment.
The life skill class has developed confidence in me, so much so that I decided to become a air hostess.
In the future I will oppose any kind of calamity or disaster in my life. I am courageous now.
When I was in India visiting the project, I got to speak to Shubanghi who has been going to sewing classes run by the project. I was quite amazed by how much impact learning this skill seemed to have had on her life. What remains strong in my mind is her drive and enthusiasm when she spoke about her ideas about the future.
Here is her story:
Name: Shubanghi Raju Diwar - beneficiary of women’s sewing class
I started sewing classes six months ago and have completed the course now. When I started I had never earned any money in hand. I just relied on my husband all the time. One person’s money wasn’t enough. Karunaprabha came here and I came to know about the project. She said I could earn my own money and I wouldn’t have to pay fees to learn how to do this. I thought it was a good thing. My husband didn’t want me to leave the house - he wanted me to just stay home and look after the kids. But after I started to learn sewing and I could sew things, he liked it - he even helps me with it now! I taught him how to sew and he does it too! He comes home from work after 3, eats lunch and then he helps me with the sewing.
Thoughts about the future
Now I just want to take this further and further. I can do blouses now and I want to learn fashion design and doing dresses. I could open my own shop or work from home.
What has been the biggest change in your life since doing the sewing classes?
The biggest change has been that before I didn’t have the confidence or aspiration to do anything with my life. Now it’s changed and I want to do lots of new things.
I'm back at the Karuna office now in London and have just managed to go over my notes from my visit to the project. I was lucky enough to meet Sonali and her family at her home and she shared some of her experiences with me. I went with Karunaprabha, the leader of the project - she was very handy as my Hindi is not 100%!
For me, Sonali is real testimony to the possibility that can lie before girls like her. I hadn't quite understood how important skills training is for girls like her. In her case, it really does seem like a passport to a better, more meaningful life. Here is a short bit from the interview that I did with her -
What is the best thing about the WEP? (Women’s Empowerment Project)
The best thing about the project is all the information that we get about so many important issues. We get good exposure to the outside world. I can stand on my own two feet now and feel financially empowered. Now I even have a job, I work in a mall – I do billing work.
[Karunaprabha tells me that she never used to speak up and was chronically shy two years ago. Now she is cheery and confident]
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes now are to do something for my whole family, to make their experience of life better and to do something for myself. After the life-skills course, my confidence has just turned around. I can communicate really well with customers now. My hopes for the project now are that they could run new classes for vocational training and more advanced computer and life skills classes.
I also got to visit one of the life skills classes and see how that works in reality - probably the highlight of my visit to the project. I loved how informal and comfortable the set-up was, which is reflected in how at ease and relaxed the girls appeared. So from what I learnt, the whole idea behind these classes are to give the girls a safe space in which to bring up and explore all sorts of issues in their lives - I mean all sorts, ranging from things like learning new hairstyles and talking about the latest Bollywood films to sharing experiences about domestic violence within the home.
I asked the girls if any of them wanted to share any reflections that they had about the life skills classes. Here is some of what they came up with:
‘I love coming to class, especially when they take us on trips to places like the bank and the police’
‘If any girl has a problem, we can all talk about it together and help them. It’s really good to share things’
‘Here we can talk about things that we couldn’t talk about with our parents’
‘I like coming here and meeting new people. We do loads of things, like we teach other new hairstyles and personal hygiene’.
‘We don’t get to play at home at all, but here we get to play and be playful’
‘I have confidence in life now just from meeting people from here’
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