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."
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