Getting to Know You

By: Allison Gross

After the initial excitement of realizing that this project we dreamed up will become a reality, it then hit us hard that the real work is now beginning… and the time is ticking.  Our overall objective is empowering girls, and the camp will work to improve the English speaking skills of female high school students through a curriculum that focuses on building understanding of what it means to be a woman:  our bodies, our families, our ambitions, and the unique role we play within our societies.

Empowering is an interesting thing – lots of people talk about it and strive to impart this enlightenment on others, but the truth is that empowerment is somewhat of an Inception like concept.  The idea has to come from that individual alone, and that simple realization became the single most important and daunting task ahead of us.

While all I wanted to do is dive into the deliverables of content creation and logistical planning so we could feel like we’re really getting the process moving, we actually had to slam on the breaks to take a step back and really get to know our target customer.  Frankly, it didn’t hit me until I was sitting there listening to the one-on-one interviews with the girls how important this step really is.

With the help of our partner Ignis Learning Center, we sent out a group of amazing women to go to the schools to perform the interviews, which were more like conversations from woman to woman.  The girls were asked a long series of questions that included various inquires about their families, their likes and dislikes, ambitions, religious traditions, changes in their bodies, and personal hygiene.  The girls were surprisingly open, and when they felt shy talking about certain subjects the interviewers were quick to offer examples from their own experience as a woman that lead the girls to open up about things that are not generally discussed but so important to address if we are going to really cover challenges and nuances of being a woman.

As we start to conceptualize a forum for learning, sharing and self discovery, it was becoming obvious that there are many taboo subjects that girls across all schools know NOTHING about.  It became very apparent that with topics like menstruation and pregnancy, the girls don’t come to know about it until they are already going through it.  This provides a challenge when topics like teenage pregnancy and sexual assault are widely prevalent particularly to these girls from low income communities and there’s a fine line we can walk when opening conversations around these “off-limit” topics.

Empowerment is certainly a tricky thing, particularly in India’s traditional culture and socially prescribed gender roles.  We are not trying to challenge the embedded family structure or traditions that are so important to India, but instead want girls to be more aware of all the facets of being a woman in order to make better educated decisions for herself.

The beautiful thing about this project is we all have so much to learn and so much potential to grow, from us as three young women from America, fresh out of college and trying to navigate the space of gender issues while also constantly evolving our own understandings of ourselves, to the camp counselors responsible for leading sessions and being mentors and confidants for their 30-50 campers, and of course for the girls that haven’t been encouraged to think for themselves and decide who they want to be.

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