Monday, April 27, 2009

More news from Sambhali

Final Impressions

Report by Eliane Luthi Poirier

I came to Sambhali Trust not knowing exactly what my responsibilities would be. It was clear, however, that I would be helping with the English classes, and this turned out to be one of my major responsibilities during my three months.

In the beginning, Johanna and I divided the classes up according to ability: one Basic class, and one Advanced class. We would develop lesson plans revolving around the same subject, for instance Food & Health, and simply feed more complex vocabulary and grammar to the Advanced girls.

After about five weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to touch base with the girls and see how they felt about the classes. I conducted individual interviews with each girl and the help of Mukta and Tamannah. This turned out to be a very worthwhile exercise, as we discovered that many of the girls were interested in improving their reading and writing skills. This need was articulated through various requests: the illiterate girls said they would like to learn reading and writing, both in Hindi and in English; the Advanced girls requested more writing exercises in class and more homework assignments, with the ultimate goal of being able to read newspaper articles in English.

We shared these results with Govind and discussed the possibility of hiring a teacher of the Hindi language for the girls. Meanwhile, Johanna and I established a daily Reading and Writing class, in which we used a phonics-based approach to teach the girls English letters and the sounds they are associated with. This class has worked very well, and I am proud to say that after six weeks of study, the girls that were once illiterate are now able to recognize and write a variety of three-letter words such as “ant”, “pin” and “hem”. Finally, I introduced more reading, writing and grammar into the Advanced class. However, in general, the progress and the learning curves of the girls were quite modest, as many of them have not been exposed to much teaching in their lives.

During the first month of teaching and getting my bearings, I began thinking about all the things I’d like to do for the Trust. My main reason for coming here, after all, was really to work on Women’s Empowerment. Govind gave Johanna and I the responsibility for organizing our March 8th celebration, which will remain one of the highlights of my time here (see our report on the subject). Being able to bring all these women together and to speak to them about the issues that affect all of us regardless of our nationalities, religions and cultures, was a very powerful moment for me. I was thrilled to be able to follow up on that special day with our Women’s Health and Awareness Workshops and my Women’s Rights Workshops, both of which were immensely satisfying and rewarding for me as a volunteer.

I have also had numerous other responsibilities, ranging from manning the Market Stalls, to trying to find high-profile visitors to invite to the Trust, to going to Setrawa to present the Setrawa project to visitors, to aiding and advising Govind in preparing his presentations. At times I even felt slightly overloaded, which didn’t necessarily have as much to do with the actual workload as with the way the work was planned. Coming from a relatively strict corporate background, I was used to long-term planning, deadlines and punctuality, all of which I learned were difficult to apply to this particular context. For instance, my attempts to establish a timetable and have the girls actually read and respect it were repeatedly foiled. I ended up learning how to deal with the day-to-day planning that Govind, Tamannah and the girls are all used to, and to make the most of it. This meant, for instance, that instead of getting upset about the Advanced class regularly forgetting that we have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would begin reminding them gently every time they left on Monday and Wednesday that we were to have class the next day and to be sure to bring their notebooks and their homework.

I also discussed structural and management ideas with Govind, such as what I felt was the need to establish clear working hours for the volunteers at the Jodhpur project. (I personally have felt that living in the same building I work in is quite a challenge). Govind was very receptive to these ideas and has decided among other things that volunteers should now be expected to work from 10 AM to 4 PM.

Finally, in the free time I had, I spent time with the girls. This, I have found, has been quite easy with some of the girls and quite challenging with others. There are girls that have been at Sambhali for quite some time and, I believe, no longer wish to get too close to volunteers they know will be eventually be leaving them. The girls that have been here for six or seven months, however, arrived with good English skills and higher levels of self-confidence, and seem more curious about the volunteers. I will always remember the afternoon the girls were asking me about my wedding, and we were discussing the differences between Western “love marriages” and arranged marriages. One of the girls, Jaya, who had been sullen for a few days, suddenly burst into tears. I went to her and the girls explained to me that she was about to get married and that she was very scared and sad. We spent awhile just hugging each other and at the end we were both laughing and smiling again. The girls here are so strong and never fail to amaze me with their courage.

My whole experience has been so positive that I cannot really find the words to thank Govind and everyone at the Trust enough for making this opportunity a reality for me. Working with them and these wonderful girls has been an eye-opener and an inspiration for me, and Sambhali will remain in a special place in my heart for a long time!

* * *

Something very good happened to us at Sambhali Jodhpur project few days ago on 27th April 2009, we were invited at Women's leadership conference 2009, it was hosted and organised by two of FSD organization's interns Mr.Jason and Ms.Savannah.

Few words from Ms. Savannah

The 2009 Women’s Leadership Conference included four capacity building workshops on the topics of health, personal banking, microfinance, and women’s rights. Through open discussion women were encouraged to share experiences and stories with each other and ask questions to the guest speakers.

Jason and Savannah hope that by attending this conference women will be able to return to their self help groups, villages, and communities and share the information they have learned. By this transfer of knowledge the organizers hope that a sustainable method of education and eventually development will ensue.

In addition by networking and sharing, women in attendance with have taken away a valuable lesson in women’s unity. Hopefully this will be the beginning of women’s support networks and empowerment through the people rather than only through large organization. Development for women must start at the ground level once women are assembled this will grow organically.

Ms.Eliane, Ms.Johanna, Mr.Gabriel and I with Meera, Shalu, Saraswati, Bharati, Monica, Sandhya and Soniya went there.

Monica had a chance to speak about her personal life in front of these women participating in the confrence from other NGO's in Jodhpur and Meera got interviewd by the State Television Channel.

The program started around 10.00 in the morning and lasted till 3.00 pm, it was a wonderful day. We had crafts done by the Jodhpur particpants displayed there and it was very much appriciated by other ladies.

I would like to share with you some photo impressions from this day and Mr. Jason's Photo Link from the conference.

Second good news is about the Women’s Rights Workshop which took place here at Sambhali Jodhpur Project.

A Report by Ms. Eliane Luthi Poirier:

One of the reasons that inspired me to come to Sambhali Trust was the dismal state of living, working and social conditions that most Indian women spend their lives in, which I had witnessed firsthand on a previous trip to India.

I had also been told that women in Rajasthan led especially challenging lives. This turned out to be quite true, as coming to the Jodhpur project, I began to hear stories about fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls that have already been married off by their parents, or about girls getting beaten by their fathers for attending school or Sambhali. In the areas where our girls live in Jodhpur, if violence isn’t happening directly to them, it’s often happening in the house next door. This all got me thinking about coordinating a women’s rights workshop and arming the girls with the legal information they need about their rights as women and as Dalit women.

Govind was very supportive of my initiative and gave me the name of a reputable lawyer in Jodhpur, with whom I sat down for several hours to discuss the various provisions for women in the Indian constitution, as well the punishments for crimes against women in the Indian Penal Code.

I organized the workshop over five days and Govind, Mukta and Tamannah all helped translate for me. On the first day, I introduced the theme of the workshop by asking the girls to brainstorm the following question: What is violence against women?

The following days focused on the specific types of violence that the girls had pinpointed, namely:

- Sexual Harassment & Rape

- Domestic Violence & Dowry Death

- Female Feticide & Infanticide

- Child Marriage

- Discrimination against Dalit women

I would introduce each type of violence by showing a video clip of a news report or pointing to a poster and asking them to comment it. Then I would:

  1. Give the legal definition of the crime. (For example: What is sexual harassment?)
  2. Discuss the extent of the problem in India. (Is sexual harassment a big problem in our community?)
  3. Give them a checklist to help them identify a crime. (How do I know if I am being sexually harassed?)
  4. Give ways to react to the crime. (What should I do if I am sexually harassed?)
  5. Describe the punishment for offenders.

The overall feedback from the girls was very positive. On the first day in particular, the girls were very open about sharing stories on the various forms of violence they had witnessed or encountered in their lives. Many of them were of the opinion that any form of inequality between men and women was a kind of violence. Some mentioned how differently they had been treated from their brothers, from not being allowed to play when they were kids, to having to eat their brothers’ leftovers mixed with water. What saddened me the most was that several of them also said they would not like to come back as women in their next lives.

At the end of the workshop, both Mukta and Tamannah told me that the girls felt much more confident about the prospect of getting married, which is often a source of stress for them. Many of them also wanted to know more about their rights as Dalit people, so I obtained a full copy of the 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act, which we went through in more detail afterwards. The girls spoke of many forms of discrimination they had experienced as Dalits, such as not being allowed into certain temples or to drink tea from reusable tea cups like non-Dalits do. We encouraged them to act as role models for their communities by filing reports on these acts of discrimination and by spreading the word about this law.

This act, the 2005 Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, and all the electronic material I used during the workshop will be available at the Trust for the girls and any future volunteers that want to consult them. It is my hope that this workshop be reconducted for future participants in the Empowerment Project, and that future volunteers and Trust staff touch base with the girls on this subject on a regular basis. It now seems to me that, unfortunately, knowing what to do about violence is of much more practical relevance to the girls than learning scholastic skills like English grammar...

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