Empowering Poor Girls in India with life skills

by Reach Global

2015 was another important year for Reach Global, marked by some key accomplishments in South Asia and Africa.

In India, working with its longstanding local partner, Reach delivered education on health, livelihoods and family finance to 416,479 adolescent girls and 65,662 women. Since 1997, Reach’s pioneering social franchise has delivered education to more than 1.9 million women and girls across 14 of the poorest states of India. The Reach partnership achieved this by training 8,852 trainers from 1,903 community organizations.

In Africa, under the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s YouthStart Program (funded by MasterCard Foundation), Reach finalized its support to microfinance institutions in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda, which introduced new financial and education services for poor youth, especially adolescent girls. As of March 2015, YouthStart partners had helped youth open more than 560,000 savings accounts totaling $14.6 million, and loaned US$9.6 million to nearly 80,000 young people. With Reach Global’s support, YouthStart partners trained 560,000 youth in financial education. Reach Global also designed financial education for Women’s World Banking and its local partner, NMB, the largest bank in Tanzania. NMB is now working with the Tanzanian public school system to equip primary and secondary school children with new knowledge and skills to manage money.

2015 marked Reach Global's10-year anniversary. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your financial support and thought partnership.

 

Sincerely,
Sean Kline
Executive Director

 

As I prepare for another field visit to rural India, I want to share with you what excites and inspires me most about Reach Global’s work.

It’s not the attention Reach Global gives to regularly evaluating the impact and effectiveness of its work, though that does give me confidence. And it’s not the colleagues who bring years of education design and research expertise, and a deep commitment to putting girls and women at the center of our efforts, though I feel honored to work every day with such smart, dedicated individuals.

No, it’s the women and adolescent girls who demonstrate their capability and commitment to supporting themselves, their families, and their communities in new and profound ways that I find most exciting. I'm proud that Reach Global and its longtime local partner, Reach India, can play a positive role in young women’s and girls’ stories. One such story, shared with me by Reach India, is about a young woman named Chandni.

20-year-old Chandni Malto is one of the most effective facilitators Reach India supports. As a facilitator, Chandni was of course trained on the content of Reach education—for example, knowing your body, choosing healthy foods, and understanding the importance of family planning. But just as important was the training she received on how to most effectively engage adults and youth, the important role of “positive deviants,” and how to facilitate Reach education among the self-help groups of women and girls that exist in virtually every village.

Chandni is from one of the poorest areas of Jharkhand State in east India. To reach her remote village of Shivlong Pahar requires a one-hour trek—uphill—from the nearest accessible road. The village has only one primary school and no health center. Her community is made up primarily of tribal people who observe age-old cultural beliefs and health practices. Many girls are married off in their early teens, some as young as 13, most often with little knowledge of sex, their bodies or their rights.

Chandni was trained by Reach India on “Learning Games for Girls”—a unique education methodology specifically designed to engage adolescent girls. She was excited to discover how participatory the education sessions were, and eagerly committed to facilitate this sexual and reproductive health education for all the adolescent girls in her village and those at the nearby school. She regularly follows up with these girls to provide support and encouragement.

Chandni is an everyday hero who supports girls and young women—her peers—to make better choices about their health and future. And in her own powerful way, Chandni is helping nudge the deeply held beliefs that define what is possible for girls in her village. It turns out a lot is possible when girls have the right knowledge, opportunity, and encouragement to make positive changes in their lives.

So, as I prepare for travel, I want to thank you for helping us support these amazing women and girls—the inspiring protagonists in their story…and ours.

Sincerely,

Sean Kline

Links:


Earlier this year, I attended the World Toilet Summit in Delhi, India. The agenda boasted several items likely to appeal to attendees like me who came to the conference with education access and female empowerment on their minds.  Over the two-day event, panelists discussed topics like “School Sanitation: Nurturing Young Minds for Swacch Bharat (Clean India Mission)” and “Dignity for Girls/Women through Sanitation Access.”

But conference attendance is inevitably as much—or more—about the “who” as the “what,” so my most meaningful hours were spent not at the historic Vigyan Bhavan Convention Centre in New Delhi, but visiting many rural villages in the state of Odisha (formally Orissa) with representatives of the organization Gram Vikas. 

Gram Vikas (“village development” in Hindi and the local language Oriya) partners with rural and tribal communities to address critical needs like education, health, safe drinking water, sanitation, and livelihoods. I was particularly interested in Gram Vikas' initiative to equip all communities in Odisha with toilets and clean water. That’s a daunting task. According to UNICEF, Odisha has one of the poorest indicators on sanitation in India. Only 22% of households have access to toilets (see more at http://www.unicef.in/StateInfo/Odisha/Challenges).

Thrive Networks, of which Reach Global is now a part, also has an ambitious sanitation program, which builds an average of 6,000 toilets a month in rural Vietnam and Cambodia. So, I was keen to compare approaches. And with my education hat on, I was particularly keen to understand how critical sanitation and hygiene education is, or could be, in India. Gram Vikas mobilizes communities using a very particular approach, one built on foundational community governance and financing principles. This approach requires communities to agree that: 1) everyone in the community—from the most well-off to the poorest Dalit (also known as “untouchable”) member—will be included; 2) every family that is able will contribute to fund clean water access and toilet construction; and 3) no member may defecate outside of a latrine within the community. To achieve this last agreement in India is huge, as India has the single highest rate of open defecation in the world, reflected in the graph below. To give you some perspective on what that looks like, UNICEF estimates that 1,200 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea in India due to lack of proper sanitation. This is one of the silent killers that new knowledge and practices can address right now.

 

There are downsides to Gram Vikas’ approach. It usually takes many years and the consistent presence of paid community advocate in each village to achieve the goal of an open defecation-free community. Perhaps more importantly, this “all or nothing” approach means the whole community has to participate or Gram Vikas won’t work with it, even though we know that a partial reduction in open defecation reduces the health threat it poses. Nonetheless, in a country with such a daunting challenge, I find their approach compelling.

In my conversations with Gram Vikas I raised the question of which element of the approach is most critical to their success, and hardest to get right. Is it the toilet technology? The financing of community toilets? The community mobilization? In fact, it’s none of these. The “hardware” of toilet and water technology is not the critical need. Money is not the issue, as the current government has made sanitation a priority like no other before it, allocating huge amounts to toilet installation. No, it turns out the critical issue is getting people to use the toilets that are built. Behavior change is the thing. Full stop.

Now, that is a challenge I know something about. Reach Global and its in-country partner, Reach India, have trained thousands of community organizations across 14 states of India to facilitate behavior change education for hundreds of thousands of groups of adolescent girls and women. This education has spanned sexual and reproductive health, family finance, malaria, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and how to avail the benefits of government programs that provide low-cost health insurance and rural employment.

Reach Global is keen to identify ways it can help communities across rural India improve sanitation and hygiene practices. This, in turn, will go a long ways towards reducing malnutrition, diarrhea, and a host of other health threats women, girls and their families face regularly.

Thanks again for your support,

Sean

                  

At Reach Global we have long recognized the tremendous value of savings groups as a platform to provide education to women and girls. An estimated 100 million women gather weekly in these groups, which in India are known as "self-help groups." This International Women's Day we want to introduce you to one of the many powerful women who are a part of this movement.  

In her village in Bihar, India, 41-year-old Lalita Devi strives to make education for women happen every day. As secretary of her local self-help group, she's a respected community resource, working to empower the women around her by raising their awareness of crucial health and hygiene topics.

It wasn't always so. 
As a teenager, Lalita took the only path available to most poor women in her remote village: she left school young, married at 16, then gave birth to five children in a row. With little way to gain knowledge of health, nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene, she struggled to keep her children healthy and in school.

Then Lalita began participating in Reach life skills education. 
She gained new knowledge and discovered the power of education. The importance of handwashing; the symptoms of malnutrition and anemia; the prevention of common illnesses; sexual and reproductive health and rights--all can enable women to make smart choices for themselves and their families.

Once Lalita realized the power of that knowledge, she wanted to share it.
Now Lalita trains self-help group leaders in other villages to share the knowledge that has made such a difference in her life. It's a simple and powerful way to help herself and her community.

We know that investing in adolescent girls and women is both the right thing to do and smart for families, communities, and society. We thank you for your commitment to our work and invite you to continue supporting powerful women like Lalita by making a secure donation at the link below or at our website.

On behalf of the Reach Global team, thank you!

Sean

Reach Global has long recognized that savings groups represent the world’s single largest form of microfinance, encompassing an estimated 100 million women in India alone. Reach Global also recognized that savings groups in India, referred to as self-help groups, represent a tremendous platform to provide education. Leveraging this platform, Reach Global works closely with its local partner organization, Reach India, to support girls to manage money.

Reach education equips girls with new knowledge and practical skills to budget and save. The powerful combination of saving, knowledge, and skills prepares girls—the next generation of women—to cope with crises like the death of a breadwinner; manage life-cycle events like the cost of a funeral; and seize new economic opportunities like starting or expanding a microenterprise. These capabilities can literally define a girl’s future and that of succeeding generations.

Rigorous research confirms that combining saving and education in a group setting brings positive impacts. Additionally, combining services in the powerful existing phenomenon of self-help groups offers tremendous potential to support millions of women and girls—mothers and daughters—over time. Finally, training local organizations to facilitate the education leverages and strengthens the capabilities of local organizations.

The experience of one girl named Mohima illustrates the capacity of financial education to empower. Young Mohima walks down the main path of her village in rural Jharkhand State, along with two friends and a woman she affectionately calls Anwara Didi, or big sister. Anwara is a facilitator for a local community organization trained by Reach. Soon after joining her organization, Anwara became a mentor to Mohima and the other young women who participate in weekly Reach education sessions of their local self-help group.

In their group, Mohima, her mother, and 10 to 15 community peers join Anwara for lessons on family finance and mutual support—issues they would not otherwise be exposed to in their rural village. The use of songs, games and structured discussions accommodates different learning styles. The topics cover essential knowledge that equips both mothers and daughters to make smart decisions, such as saving for a goal, negotiating decisions with family members, or financing the expansion of a family microenterprise. The lessons present tangible solutions that can be applied right away, even before participants have completed all of the 7-8 weekly sessions of a given topic. The girls’ and mothers’ animated laughter reflects the fun and engaging nature of this learning. 

Following their weekly meetings, the girls talk about the knowledge they’ve gained and the importance of sharing it with peers and family members. Mohima reflects on what she’s learned in the group about saving money and using it wisely. Every week, the facilitator gives each girl two rupees, which she can use as she wishes. Mohima always spends one rupee on food and saves the other. She hopes that one day she'll have enough to start her own embroidery business. She says she also values being able to contribute to her family. “My savings is sometimes all the money there is to buy food. That makes me feel useful to my family.”

It's clear that others believe, as we do, that investing in adolescent girls and women is both the right thing to do and smart for families, communities and society. We thank you for your belief in our work and invite you to contribute to it again by making a donation at the link below or our website.

Sincerely,
Sean
 

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Organization Information

Reach Global

Location: Oakland, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.reach-global.org
Reach Global
Project Leader:
Na Na
Berkeley, CA United States

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