By Neha Kaur, VOICE Field Coordinator
It was so much fun going on a bike to the different schools across Hyderabad. What started out as a pleasant bike ride in beautiful weather turned into an exciting adventure at the schools. I set out to visit four schools to get feedback from campers and teachers about camp, and the moment we set foot in the schools, all the campers were peeping their heads out their classroom doors, excited to catch a glimpse of my colleagues and me.
We started out our rounds of interviews talking to the school owners and writing down their feedback. This was the first time I had ever talked to school owners one on one, so I was a bit nervous. I remember vividly my conversation with the owner of the Little Century School. He said that he wants his school to participate in VOICE camps every year because he felt that by joining camp, his students have developed and grown so much. For him, student development means school development. When he said this, I was really impressed and could tell that he clearly understood the point of camp. That was when all my nerves really died down. I knew that though I may to talking to strangers today, we have all come together for the same purpose, for girl empowerment.
Since the school owner had said that the school has developed as the students developed, I was excited to talk to the teachers and counselors at the school who led camps. As we started talking, I could clearly observe confidence and good spoken English in the counselors. From what they said, these were all results of going through camp. This made me so happy because as someone who was a counselor in camp, I have definitely had my share of learning and growing.
After talking to school owners and counselors, it was finally time to talk to the campers. This was such an amazing experience because just the sheer level of energy and excitement in the room when we started our interview was so remarkable. This was definitely the best part of the day because I could see how much the girls enjoyed Camp VOICE, and see their constant efforts to speak in English.
A girl told me that her parents had encouraged her to join camp to gain knowledge about a variety of topics, and she really feels like she has. Most of the girls I talked to were full of stories of how their parents or relatives see so much improvement and change in them. Of course, every girl took something different away from camp. Some became less inhibited and lost their stage fright; some improved tremendously in English; many became aware of important information about nutrition, health, and hygiene.
The conversations just kept going. I had expected these girls to be shy, but here I was unable to write fast enough to capture everything each girl was saying. They all had so much to share, and I really wish that I could have stayed at the school for the rest of the day and play with them. After a long day at school, we drove back on our scooters to the office. On the ride back, I could not help but think about the difference that VOICE and programs like it had made in the lives of girls. It has opened them, calling them out of the shell, and it has also made their parents and community much more receptive and sensitive to their needs and dreams. I am very happy to be a part of such a great team, and I know that this is just the beginning—we still have a long way to go.