It’s a great pleasure to bring to you news of a joyous day from our girls' lives.
On Sunday, 9th June, 255 girls of Vacha braved heavy downpour, and a soggy ground to participate in a Sports Meet organised by girl leaders from eleven bastis (slums) in Mumbai.
Girl leaders from Vacha projects had made several plans to challenge the restrictions levied on adolescent girls by their families and community. The first one was to take out a rally in their communities to raise their voice against gender discrimination they face in homes and in society. They also performed street plays in their own and in neighbouring communities on the same theme. The last of the series was the Sports day event. With great enthusiasm they conceptualised and planned this Sports Event. With the unceasing rainfall throughout the previous night, organiser group thought their dream of having an exclusive girls’ sports event would remain only a dream. How wrong they were! 255 girls – more than the number that had been expected even on a sunny day – turned up to participate in the sports event with an eagerness that was as incredible as it was infectious!
The day started with simultaneous cricket and kabaddi matches between teams from each basti. In the Cricket field, while a few girls were not able to hit many balls delivered, some batswomen were hitting making four runs again and again, defying both the rain and the fact that they had hardly been able to practise. While players on the cricket field kept breaking assumptions that girls can’t play cricket, kabaddi matches continued in full swing nearby. The girls were not bothered by the mud and the rains and pounced on players from opposite team to guard their field. The kabaddi teams played with the sort of grim determination that only teenagers, playing for the ‘honour’ of their basti, can have. Other than these sports, games such as basketball, darts, bowling alley, weight-lifting had also been put up in stalls. As a girl leader who had helped organise the games remarked, “We have gone on many outings and events of Vacha before, but never have we had so much fun! I had only planned on a sports day, but today we had a water sports day!”
Other activities have gone on regularly but we are limiting this communication to share girls’ and ours joy and excitement on Girls’ Sports Day.
Greetings from Vacha.
This report tells you a spectrum of activities that took place from January 2013 till date.
As part of the project the girls are encouraged to acquire new skills and knowledge and take action on issues that concern them. The girls released their own community newsletter and sold it in their communities. They also performed street plays and delivered speeches at the public functions at the Indian Republic Day celebrations.
Vacha had organized two major events as part of the One Billion Rising -OBR- campaign. It was celebrated across the globe in almost 165 countries and women and girls were expected to rise against violence by singing, dancing and protesting. More than 500 girls participated in a fair in Kalyan, Thane district where they sang and enjoyed kite flying as well as participated in many activities in various stalls that encouraged them to express themselves, talk about their bodies and safety. In another event organized as part of OBR more than 1000 participated in the event organized at Juhu beach in Mumbai. A women sand sculptor prepared an appropriate sculpture and the girls shouted slogans, performed street play, recited poems and encouraged the men in the gathering to support their campaign against violence. The girls have also taken out rallies in their communities to raise the issue of gender equality.
One important development that we would like to report here is that during the Fair in Kalyan many girls reported inappropriate behavior of a few male teachers from their school at a stall where they were encouraged them to write on topics such as why is it like this? I would like to bring about change in/ I am happiest when./ I do not like that .. This issue of teachers inappropriate behaviour was followed up with the school and action was taken against the relevant male teachers by the school authorities.
8th March -Women's Day was observed as Mothers' Day by girls in all centres. This year, in addition to the fun filled activities for the mothers like singing, dancing and some indoor games, an innovative initiative was taken up. A questionnaire was prepared with some very simple but important details about the women such as the name of their best friend, their favorite food, age at marriage. The answers given by the family members were cross checked with those of the women themselves. The family in which maximum members knew maximum answers was honored in a public function in each centre. The objective was to make families realize that the woman, who cares for the whole family and caters all their likes and dislikes, has her own preferences in life too! It was also to highlight that women's personhood needs to be acknowledged and respected by families. The girls were trained to use the questionnaire in their families. Some of them had discovered new role models in their mothers by the end of this whole process as they came to know of hidden qualities, achievements and silent strengths of their mothers.
The Diwali festival was in the middle of November and so schools had a 3 week Diwali/winter vacation during the month. This was an opportunity to have fun filled activities and workshops. Regular sessions in English, library, general knowledge and computer use continued. Many girls are comfortable using computers and that makes their mothers happy and proud. The skill will help girls work on their own publication in form of leaflets and newsletters in January. Added is another empowering skill in form of photography for a relatively new group in Pisavli near Kalyan in Thane district. A 2 day workshop in photography was held. It was originally a village that is now under the impact of urbanization. The girls had never used a camera before. After a workshop they have learnt to take pictures of people and objects of their own choice instead of being only objects of a photograph. With basic knowledge and techniques of photography, they are encouraged tell their stories of daily life through their own pictures, in short to document it.
The girls under this project also attended a 1 day workshop on gender to contextualize their daily experiences of discrimination and control of their mobility etc. Some of them shared their perceptions and feelings about this situation, which were discussed by the group. It seemed the girls do feel strengthened by being together and doing activities collectively.
A hundred girls attended a health camp where their blood samples were tested for identifying their blood group, hemoglobin count and body mass index. This is important for adolescent girls, most of whom are denied necessary nutritious food because of traditional mindsets. This, coupled with heavy household chores, leads to a lot of girls and young women becoming anemic and having a low body weight. A session on low priced healthy food was arranged for girls and young mothers. However, it must be admitted that girls have very limited choice in selecting what to eat due to male centric household menus and son preference for good food.
An Educational Fair was held for about 150 girls in Pisavli, where there were gender and health based games and activities. This was a good way to expose a large number of adolescent girls to the issues of gender. It was also a way of creating a space in the community which was meant only for girls, and where they would be able to just play without inhibitions. Their amazement and joy at having been invited to such a place was infectious. It was a task to close the Fair and pack up for the day that evening!
In Netivali community, girls participated in an Anti-Superstition workshop and saw how it is that self-acclaimed religious gurus use sleight of hand to perform ‘miracles’ and cheat them. The belief in superstitions is a huge problem in many communities in India. These beliefs take on religious significance to the extent that many people refuse to go to a qualified doctor and instead rely on superstitious practices to cure themselves. It was important to expose the younger generation to the deceit and irrationality involved in these practices.
Girls in Malwani community participated in a puppet making workshop and also learnt to use the medium of puppets to express themselves. These girls being from conservative Muslim families are not allowed to take part in other self expression activities such as dance or theatre which require them to perform in public. Therefore, puppets are a good way for them to express publicly while being behind the curtains, literally, as puppetiers.
Participating girls in all three communities plan to use these skills to make public presentations to their community members based on their thoughts on various issues of girls and of the larger society.
Greeting from Vacha team and Vacha girls.
This phase has been eventful for the girls having attended workshops, gone on educational visits and participated in discussions and debates.
A two day workshop on street theatre was organised in Pisavli community, which not only taught the basics of street theatre to the girls but also helped them become more confident about performing. There were games and songs and many exercises that channelized the collective energy of more than 40 girls towards expressing themselves through theatre. These girls - most of whom had never before performed in front of people - wrote, prepared and presented three different plays in three different areas surrounding their settlement at the end of the workshop. These plays were all on the issues surrounding girls’ education such as lack of money, families giving little importance to educating their daughters, etc. that become obstacles to girls going to school. After the performances, the girls asked their audience – which comprised people like the girls’ own families - what they thought of the issues raised. Women and men alike appreciated the girls’ efforts and asked them to perform more such plays to raise awareness.
Other than this, there was a workshop organised for the two centres in Malwani community on anti-superstition, or the futility of believing blindly in superstitions. It was shown to the girls how self-appointed religious gurus trick people into believing their magical powers, but that these powers are nothing but sleight of hand. Demonstrations of how this ‘magic’ is actually done were given. Whenever people face any obstacles to their work they tend to go to these fake religious gurus to get their problems solved. It was shown how fraudulent these gurus are. The girls were impressed and for many, this was a revelation of sorts. They now plan to take their new found awareness to the people in their community through some sort of presentation of their own.
Lastly, girls of Netivali community were taken on an educational visit to the nearby police station. This was the first time they had entered the feared premises of a police station and were slightly mollified at finding some of the police to be quite friendly. A woman police officer explained the processes of registering a complaint at the station. They witnessed this process first hand when a family entered and interacted with the police to register their complaint. But what interested the girls the most was a room full of guns! It saddened them a bit when they were not allowed to touch them.
There were also regular sessions taken where among other things, girls debated the entry of FDI in retail in India on the one hand and learnt to read the world map on the other.
It is a pleasure to connect with you through Globalgiving network. Regular sessions in English speaking, computer use and general knowledge and the multilingual mobile library continue in all our centres for girls. The high point of last two months was the week long celebration of the Indian Independence Day on August 15. A lot of preparations, including two workshops speech making, took place prior to it. Our girls have released the 8th issue of their own newsletter titled ‘ Hamari Batein’ . In the four new centers that have emerged from your support, girls are receiving training in collecting news, conducting interviews, Hindi/Marathi typing etc. In the meantime they produced their first wall papers and disseminated them in their bastis carrying them in their rallies. Creating newsletters and wallpapers as well as organizing public programs is an integral part of Vacha's interventions with girls. It is an empowering experience for girls to leave their private space and participate in public life and be vocal about their issues. Girls in this project had also worked on fund raising, typing and finally on sale of their newsletters.
On other days during this period, girls had also organized public meetings to spread awareness about Right to food and the Need to educate girls. They delivered speeches, performed street plays and made power point presentations. Total 470 individuals attended these events. 102 were adults including the parents, community members and local community leaders. 378 youth, male and female both, attended these functions. It was the first time for many of the girls in the new communities in the project to move freely across the narrow lanes of their crowded localities and talk to people on social issues concerning themselves. They received mixed response. While in two very conservative communities the parents were initially reluctant to allow their daughters to give public speeches and had to be persuaded. However, when they witnessed the confidence and the passion with which the girls spoke, they appreciated girls the perseverance of their daughters and of Vacha's facilitators. In a new centre in Netivli near Kalyan, the local community leaders appreciated girl performance and have agreed to cooperate with all Vacha Initiatives and provide free space for them in a large socio religious building.
Besides regular activities, a trip to Yusuf Meher Ali Centre for 119 girls was organized. YMA Centre is named after a great youth leader during the Independence struggle. The centre gives training in eco friendly production work and has small production units in materials for daily use. YMA Centre also conducts educational facilities and health care activities and relief work for the rural poor. Girls gained exposure to different social settings and concerns with this visit. A group of 25 girls also attended a public lecture on malaria and its prevention.
Your contributions have made this work possible. Our team continues to be grateful to you for that.
With best wishes and regards,
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