“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai
What does it mean to have a voice? What power does it unfold for one when used to articulate oneself through a process of self-determination? These are very significant and important questions that are pondered over while attempting to understand the crux of Voice4Girls’s work. VOICE takes a clear stand on how they engage with marginalized adolescent girls from low-income communities which reflects in their mission statement.
“To enable marginalized adolescent girls in India to take charge of their futures by imparting critical knowledge, spoken English, and life skills through activity-based camps.”
It’s June 2017 and V4G is close to completing “Her Voice Parichay” camps for the summer across Telangana State. A total of 15 KGBV schools with a strength of 814 students participated in the Parichay camps, which is the first cycle of the three-pronged VOICE programs.
It’s Day 6, and the atmosphere at the KGBV Regode and Tekmal schools are very much bustling with energy. This palpable excitement mingled with curiosity and confidence is shared by both counsellors and campers alike. Counsellors themselves are young undergraduate students or recent graduates who get trained on the Voice Model to impart the curriculum. One can see clearly that it is a reflective process for all involved. Just the previous day, campers participated in the “All about my Periods” session, which has had noticeable changes in the way they are now approaching camp sessions itself. These young voices are slightly louder and clearer, and some voices that are getting heard for the first time in the VOICE classroom. As for the counsellors, they cannot contain their delight that their students are opening up in class and that the teaching methodology is showing results.
A hand-made poster drawing made by one of the campers is pasted on the doors of one of the classrooms, and in bold letters, a powerful caption reflects back at you, “I want to be free in my life”. At many times, during the course of the camp, many of the girls stop by at this poster and have conversations about being independent, of thinking for the self, and of understanding strength as an inherent quality. They have these conversations with each other at length and most definitely with their “Akkas”, as they fondly call their VOICE Classroom teachers.
Day 7 of the camp is noteworthy; the session talks about safety from violence. Violence is so normalized that some of us fail to recognize it as harmful and detrimental to our communities and societies. Discussing violence with young adolescent girls at these camps not only opens up for conversations but challenges the very mindsets that girls are conditioned into. That very evening, across the different camps in Medak district, when counsellors gather together for their preparation meetings to get ready for the next day of camps, many sit down with mixed feelings about the day. Much of what is reflected is done with such passion and zeal, that it does not go unrecognized that talking about violence structures, identifying it and facing it is not only a personal but a shared journey with stories that are often familiar yet different. Counsellors and campers alike have connected with the stories laid out in the activities in the counsellor and camper books, because the language seems to have struck a chord with all the individual and shared narratives. Understanding how to say “NO”, learning consent, understanding autonomy – are all new tools and resources that have been shared with them. Some quivering but mostly confident voices declare the affirmation for the day “I will be strong and keep my body safe”; with each repetition, it is bolder and louder.
On Day 10 witnesses the culmination of Her Voice Parichay Camp. “Those who wish to sing, always find a song” – a Swedish proverb aptly sums up this journey filled with vigor and unfathomable energy. Because these young girls themselves are their own biggest resources and aware of their social realities, it is easy to equip them with the critical knowledge that prepares them for a better tomorrow, a world that they can make sense of on their own terms for the betterment of their families and communities. And what better way to end camp than performances put up by the girls themselves that attempt to sum up their experiences and learning through the course of the 10 days. With few parents present and school personnel, it’s a bittersweet farewell for the campers of Medhak district, June 2017.
The author, Pavana V P, is the newest member of the VOICE Team; this is her chronicle of Her VOICE Parichay camp that she attended in June.