A powerful transition!

What we do at VOICE is very significant but we never pause to reflect on the power of transition. This summer, I had a moment that was so powerful that it reminded me to take time to reflect and congratulate ourselves on what Team VOICE did… We reached about 5800 campers across Telangana (Parichay, Disha, and Sakhi camps)!

Parichay and Disha

What got me reflecting was Lakshmi, a coy yet confident teenager who came up to me and said, “Akka, do you remember me from Disha camp?” At that moment, I was transported back to the first time I met Lakshmi Prasanna in the second camp, Her VOICE Disha Camp, December 2015 at Thorrour, Telangana. During the time I spent bonding with the wonderful campers and making them comfortable to let me take their pictures in the face of my big camera, Lakshmi caught my eye. My initial memory of Lakshmi is that of an inquisitive and yet a shy camper with two pigtails who couldn’t help but wanted to be in the frame of my camera and not in it all at once. Even yet, she gave me the best picture of the day, the one that I share here, framed against the beautiful Camper Dairies that every Disha camper shares with her friends!

To see Lakshmi transformed into a person bursting with confidence and curiosity was a true reflection of the power of VOICE Camps! After conversing with her, it became evident that the camps had really helped Lakshmi tap into her potential. Gone was the shy under-confident camper and in her place stood a strong capable young woman.  Lakshmi’s beautiful transformation will always remind me of the beauty and power of our camps! These stories that we come across and the changes we notice in our campers ignite our bones and keep the fire burning within us!

Sakhi (2018)

So we are here bringing her voice directly to you, listen to what Lakshmi Prasanna has to share with you!

“I first heard about VOICE 4 Girls when I was in class 6. I was told that I will be attending ‘Parichay’ camp and I was so nervous. But it came out to be one of the best camps that I ever attended. I learnt so many new things including menstruation, good touch and bad touch, violence, etc. I remember how excited I was to attend the next camp ‘Disha’ after that. This year, I attended the third camp which was ‘Sakhi’ and I am so happy to be elected as a Sakhi manager. I can see the change in me as I have built confidence gradually, and I believe that I can be a public speaker one day. I not only learnt how to solve problems but also learnt how to keep myself in someone’s shoes. Being a Sakhi manager, I am now more focused on giving my schoolmates all the information that I gained during these camps so that they give the same to their communities.”

Here is a video of Lakshmi sharing her story!

I hope you like her and do share with us what you think of Lakshmi’s transformation. I would like to hear from you.

(The above article is written by Anusha Bharadwaj, Executive Director of VOICE4Girls.)

When boys talk about gender…

 

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Though VOICE’s chief beneficiaries are adolescent girls, we have long recognized the pressing need to involve boys in discussions pertaining to gender and inequalities that are so deeply rooted in the Indian psyche.

After months of hard work, the first chapter of the We for V program for adolescent boys — Pahal Camp was piloted for 13-15-year-old boys enrolled in Telangana Social Welfare Residential Schools. The curriculum is designed to provide boys with information and skills to make healthy, informed choices for themselves while understanding the intricacies of gender and gender-related discrimination in India. The program seeks to instill empathy and respect in young boys, help them resist harmful social norms, and ultimately become changemakers who will join the crusade for an equitable and inclusive society.

From the 6th to 12th of May, over 300 young boys attended Pahal Camp at TSWREIS, Bhiknoor. To teach these young boys, VOICE recruited and trained male college students from across Hyderabad to be facilitators. Any skepticism we might have had about how well this curriculum would be received by these facilitators was wiped clean by the amount of passion, commitment, and thoroughness with which these college students participated in their training.

At camp, each facilitator transformed into a changemaker, winning the hearts and confidence of their young campers. Pahal means ‘a beginning; this camp was exactly that for our impressionable young campers. They absorbed like sponges every grain of information. They started to feel more comfortable about the disconcerting changes that accompany puberty; they understood the life-altering effects of violence; they were introduced to their rights and thought about their responsibilities. Pahal camp also helped campers think about fostering healthy relationships.

The seven days of camp were truly a magical experience as boys began to question social systems and practices; they learned to tell sex from gender; they began to envision themselves as agents of change determined to make the world a better place, not only for their mothers, sisters, friends, and wives but also for any individual who is experiencing inequality.

 

 

Among the many stories of change that we witnessed at Pahal Camp, this 14-year-old’s words are still ringing in our ears…

“Today I learned about violence. Before coming to this camp I used to beat up and tease others; I would often make fun of the younger boys. Now I have decided not to hurt anyone ever again.
I did not know about the different forms of violence women face. I used to whistle and tease girls but now I have decided not to do these things; I know that this is violence.”
– G. Chaitanya                                                                                                                                                        Class 8

Disha Camp 2017 – Hearing VOICEs of Hope

“Hello Akka, Hi Akka, ni peru eniti?” (Akka, what is your name?)

Enquired a multitude of voices, within minutes of my arriving at Her VOICE Disha camp, at Telangana Social Welfare School in Kammadanam. Having only recently moved to Hyderabad from Mumbai, I couldn’t understand then what these girls were asking me – little did I know then, that I would be tutored and coached by the most spirited young girls!

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About six months back, I chanced on Voice 4 Girls’ handle on Twitter and found myself completely intrigued. So much so, I applied for a job, even though it meant moving to a different state! As luck would have it, a few months later, I found myself in a rural district of Telangana, for my first experience at VOICE camp!

The 10-day camp definitely changed my life and opened my eyes!

Kammadanam was one of 9 locations in Telangana where VOICE was conducting the Her VOICE Disha Camps. At ‘my’ location, 380 campers (students), 11 counsellors (trained college students) and a field coordinator have come together for one larger goal – to equip teenage girls for their future.  I was all set to join the movement – to learn and share all that I could!

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“I will be strong and make my future bright!” The voices, filled with enthusiasm and conviction, resound in every corridor of the school, perfectly synchronized and giving me goosebumps! After the affirmation (they have a new one for each day), girls are ready to start the day on a high note.

This is a government school, and girls here come from very underprivileged backgrounds. In addition to all the pressures these girls face, they lack basic knowledge about things like health, safety, and rights – putting them at risk of violence, discrimination, low literacy, early marriage, teen pregnancy etc.

Looking at their beaming faces and the hope in each of their eyes, I felt more driven than ever to do something for them.

Over the next 10 days, I came to understand the content that VOICE is delivering at these camps. The content of Disha focuses on subjects like – physical and mental health, the importance of education and careers, future and family planning, negotiation, and even gender diversity.  I thought it would be extremely overwhelming for these girls to learn so much about such complex issues, some of which are even considered taboo. But the campers proved me absolutely wrong. They listened to their Akkas (counsellors) eagerly, especially since these sensitive topics are dealt with through activities fun-based games.

I think the most challenging day for the counsellors was Day 6. Campers explored more their identities and learning about various feelings that they might experience as they grow up – closeness, commitment, and attraction. Campers also explored aspects of gender identity and sexuality in this chapter.
Initially, I could sense some reluctance in the classroom, but soon, the counsellors were deftly fielding a barrage of questions. It was very tough to handle this intense curiosity, but at the end of that day, girls left with widened horizons. It was indeed an amazing session!

It had become a routine for me and kids to meet after their classes. Every day, they would ask me, “Thinnava” (Have you eaten?). From them I have learned so many Telugu words. A girl said to me, “I would always wonder, ‘Why do these girls cry on the last day of the camp?’ Now, I can relate to them.” That is what a VOICE camp does to you. The bond that I formed with these campers will be something I will cherish always. The faith, trust and love I received has determined me to work harder for them and their futures.

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Before we knew it, it was the last day of the camp. The air around our campers was thick with excitement (girls were ready to put up a show on the last day) and tinged with the sadness of leaving their Akkas behind. The final performance beautifully showcased the amount of knowledge, confidence, and courage girls have gained in these 10 days. They were full of energy while performing their sets and each performance was spectacular!

As I set out to leave with the counsellors, girls surrounded us with their final goodbyes and long messages. Two girls came to me and gave me a card that was drawn and decorated so creatively. I was overwhelmed with love and affection. As I looked back, I knew that nothing would keep me away from these camps!

 

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The author of this blog entry is Saleha Paatwala, who recently joined the VOICE team as Content and Communications Officer.