It's been over a year now that we've been working in Gajner and you can’t even imagine how much we’ve seen the community develop and grow, especially when it comes to the young girls of the community. Take Rekha for example, my chotti - her nickname, meaning little - who has just recently started her own henna “small business” as she likes to call it. Rekha is now eighteen years old and can speak English with ease, although she still needs to continue her work with grammar, she has improved so much in the language that now she’s actually really sassy with it, often making cute little jokes and when told how beautiful she is, she now replies, “yes, I know” with a cheeky grin on her face. Her henna – known as mahindi in India - services have always been in need and in use in the Gajner community, as her head is seriously full of the most beautiful mandalas that she can effortlessly execute on the fragile surface of human flesh with the tip of a henna cone. Having done mahindi for multiple weddings before any of us came into the picture, Rekha realized she had a skill that she could hone in on but had done nothing about. After working with her one-on-one, as well as aid from her extra-curricular English classes, she has quickly been able to grasp her second language and is able to speak confidently and engage and take on clients from new interns coming to Gajner for induction weeks and project work. Her “small business” may be small now but if we continue to encourage her to work on her English and aid with marketing and mentorship, her small business may turn into a small team of ten with Rekha as the manager. This vision is what drives her everyday.
Rekha's cousin, Mamta, is also eighteen years old and used to be one of the shyest girls I knew. Now, Mamta's up doing yoga with our interns, going for runs, starting with making even sassier jokes than Rekha in English and is always out and about in the community like she owns the place - you wouldn't have even know she existed 11 months ago. Her confidence has grown so much since our influence of just hanging out with her, having dance parties, encouraging her to study and practise her English and having slumber parties. Incredible right? All we did was have fun and now her confidence is through the roof!
I recently learned the driving force behind why all the young girls in the migrant and marginalized community of Gajner have continued to go to school since April, is because of me… I almost can’t even believe it. After engaging a local woman in the community, Anjuman - whom I’ve written about before; she’s an older woman who runs eight self-help groups with the help of an organization called Urmul Trust – to help me with the women and girls in the migrant community, together we were able to discuss more in depth why education for girls is so important. Ultimately in these cultural settings in rural India, the father is the holder of his daughters future and if he doesn’t want her to go to school, she doesn’t go. End of story. Back when my Hindi was still pretty beginner, Anjuman was my rock for giving the speeches I just couldn’t due to the language barrier. Note that she wasn’t translating for me, Anjuman doesn’t speak a lick of English, her and I just seem to have the same view on the importance of education and women’s empowerment. I still remember sitting there aiding the young girls with their first batch of homework, while Anjuman continued to speak about how education could be the end of poverty – by sending their children to school, their children’s children have a better chance at breaking the cycle.
Another happy story of women’s empowerment: my sanitary pad project is still on its way! I spent quite a bit of time with Doctor Jitu at the Gajner hospital this past month gathering information on vaginal infections, prevention and treatment and was able to include a lot of valuable information in the women’s pamphlet, therefore making the information easily attainable without the embarrassment of having to ask – which can often be the case. As we enter the final stage of the health information pamphlet, which is currently written in English and needs to be translated to Hindi and possibly Marwari for the greater Gajner community - Marwari is the language of Rajasthan - the project is so close and tangible it's hard to not get excited about it! The pad is actually in really high demand right now by the girls in the community, which is fantastic, but has definitely put a stress on locating the proper textiles to ensure we complete the prototype. Once the prototype is completed, we will need to test the product with a girl in the community. Once tested, either the self-help group takes on the project and runs with it OR we teach the girls how to make their own pad – which could and would be a great skill development workshop, and educational as this would introduce a great safe space to ask any questions they may have about the menstruation cycle.
You know what’s so great about these four stories; they all have something in common – confidence. When we’re there to support our girls, aid them with English, encourage them and find alternative resources and answers that keep them in school and engaged – like avoiding the embarrassment of a menstrual leak – we are empowering our girls! This is why I love focusing on women’s empowerment so much. Even though some of our initiatives may seem small in the grand scheme of things, making a difference in one girl's life is so powerful. Imagine if every person just helped one girl to build their confidence and feel empowered in their community? Women’s empowerment is a ripple effect and it is ageless; confidence is ageless and still attainable at any stage in life with the right motivation, encourage and support.
So if you haven't answered it yet, confidence is what happens when we empower our girls. And my goodness it’s such a beautiful things to see.