A Day in the Life of a VOICE 4 Girls Project Officer

Akhil Franklin joined the organization around the time they launched their boys programme, Boys 4 Change as a Project Officer. He comes from an engineering background having attained MTech degree in Biotechnology, He always dreamt of one day breaking away from the mainstream and being of service to society. He had an acquaintance working with the organization and was awestruck by the stories he heard as well as impressed by the work that was being done. When he learned that they were launching a boys programme, his interest to join instantly shot up. On a whim, he visited their office and did an interview.

This is how Akhil’s usual day looks like. 

9:15am – Akhil reaches office and decorates his white board with a colourful motivational message. 

10:30am – 12:45pm – Akhil conducts an online session with the young boys that is a part of the Boys 4 Change programme. These adolescent boys he engages with have already completed the first two phases of the camp: Fireflies and Supernova. They are here to attend the Boys Reunion – Spark. In the usual circumstances, they would have been attending this programme physically, with vibrant energy and laughter. But Akhil does not leave any stone turned to make these online sessions as engaging and fun for these campers as they would have been in person. 

1:00 – 1:30pm – This is lunch time where the usual banter with his colleagues has been replaced with social distancing. Even social distancing cannot keep down the energy of the Operations Team and they find their way to turn it into a fun ‘social distancing lunch table’. 

1:30- 5:00pm – The lockdown has proved to be very critical for the adolescents, as it is making them vulnerable to negative societal influences. During this time, VOICE finds it imperative to work with the adolescents to guide them and provide them with knowledge which will give them the required skills to build a bright future. As a Project Officer Akhil’s work revolves around recruitment activities and field work. Post the online session, the second half of his day is spent conducting critical recruitment activities for the upcoming Fireflies camp next month. 

Today, as a Project Officer he works on the Boys 4 Change programme. There is a general perception in society that “boys are boys. They will not change and so do not need intervention. However, Akhil shares the vision with VOICE that it is important to bring boys into the conversation around gender equality. Through the camps, awareness is spread around topics such as consent, sexual abuse, domestic violence and menstruation which are often concepts they aren’t taught or know how to navigate!  Though it is a slow process to change the mentality that has been embedded over several generations, the organization believes that at a young age the views of these adolescents can be moulded to create a more empowered and equal society. The impact they have is clearly seen through these boys’ journeys. After attending the camps, there are stories of boys who have gone on to starting doing household chores, discuss menstruation with their sisters and even approach their fathers regarding domestic violence. Till date, through partnerships with the Social Welfare Department and Government bodies, Boys 4 Change has reached out to 6000 adolescent boys. 

Before Arun started the camp, he believed that cooking, cleaning and household work were the responsibilities of women of the household which is why he never participated in any of the chores. During the various sessions and role plays at the camp, he realised that housework should be shared work for men and women and must be equally divided.

After attending the second intervention of the Boys Programme when Akhil asked him if he noticed a change in himself, Arun said that whenever he goes home he voluntarily helps his mother with household tasks like washing the dishes.  Although his relatives insisted that he stick to the stereotypes, Arun continued to support his mother.

As Project Officer, Akhil Franklin has the rare chance to collect social impact stories. One that is close to his heart is that of Ajay (named changed), a boy from a small village and a result of inter-caste marriage. Due to societal challenges around his family background, he was suffering with mental health problems and had attempted suicide in the past. However, he was able to gain important mental health awareness at the Fireflies camp. He resolved to channelize all his negative energies into something positive and started playing the violin. He has become an extraordinary violin player and sends his compositions to the organization. 

Today Akhil feels he is where he should be: doing a job that is at the intersection of his passions and interests. He hopes to continue to make a change! 

VOICE 4 Girls is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower young girls and boys from marginalized sections of Indian society. Through interactive camps in different parts of rural India, they provide adolescents with critical knowledge, life skills, and spoken English by which they are enabled to break cycles of social, economic and gender inequality and take charge of their lives. 

Author: The article has been written by Navya K and Naisha Deorah and has been edited by Nayonika Roy, VOICE 4 Girls Senior Programme Officer

Empowering adolescent girls

a100_8555-2Hyderabad-based, Anusha Bharadwaj, is making a difference in the society by educating adolescent girls, from marginalised sectors, about the issues relating to their physical and mental changes. The executive director of ‘Voice 4 Girls’, Anusha is also a documentary photographer.

About the ‘Voice 4 Girls’ she says, “We started this organisation in 2012 and for the past eight years we are working with adolescence girls. We work with government and private schools. This age being really critical for girls, we help them understand how their body is changing and what are the social and cultural changes that are expected from them, etc. We tell them what the importance of everything is and school as well. All these girls have gone through three camps with us.”

“It is a 30-day intervention over a period of a year, we train them on different aspects and after training, they become a leader – ‘Sakhi. All through the academic year of ninth grade, these girls educate other girls who do not attend the camp. This whole circle of empowerment is widening with each generation that they teach,” Anusha adds, who has an MBA in Rural Management.

Convincing the stereotypical and traditional mindset of parents is certainly a task and girls who have families with this mindset have a very difficult life to explain about things happening in their life. “We teach these girls how to negotiate with the situations that are in the society. We give ideas so that they can empower themselves.”

Sharing one of the stories of the girls in the camp, Anusha says, “A lot of these girls have stopped child marriages and in fact one ‘Sakhi’ named Maheshwari, from Jadcherla, saw her elder sister getting married and taking the onus she negotiated with her parents to stop the wedding and enrolled her sister in college again. All these girls now have the desire to be doctors and astronauts. Girls who used to think that periods might be the end of everything are now in a phase where they say that it is natural and normal.”

“Till date, we have trained about 65,000 adolescence girls. This year as these girls become Sakhi, we watch them do their work and give them an opportunity to hear from them. As many of them are from marginalised sectors after camp we take them excursions, picnic, movies, etc to also give them a fun experience.”

After getting trained in these camps the girls are given an opportunity to come back and counsel other girls in different schools and colleges. “We recognise that we need to work with boys and teachers, we are starting to widen. We are doing a camp called ‘Boys 4 Voice’; we are taking them through different aspects of adolescence. We are showing them how it is to be a girl and how they can become gender advocates. Through talking about their own issues and anxiety, we are helping them how to have a shared vision with girls.”

The article originally appeared on The Hans India.

Sharing knowledge is always powerful!

Pallavi and Nayonika, from Voice 4 Girls conducted a session on Menstrual Health and Hygiene at Mana TV, that was telecasted live for the students of Telangana Social Welfare.

It is always a joy when we spread knowledge and create awareness regarding the things that are so important to women. The session covered some of the major topics like, why does menstruation occur, hygiene practices that should be followed during menstruation, how to calculate period dates, etc. It also covered the myths that revolve around menstruation. It was definitely one of the most exciting experiences for us.

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