Inspiration comes in all sizes. This statement could not have been more true than on March 13th, 2016, at Asia Initiatives’ New York HQ, when 3 adolescent girls between the ages of 13-18 along with their mentors commanded the attention of a room full of 40+ people. This group, part of the Center for Development Kadam program traveled from Ahmedabad, India to New York, for a week of events organized by Global G.L.O.W. in collaboration with LitWorld.
To cap the end of the International women’s day week, Asia Initiatives hosted Prasad Bhai, Center for Development mentors Meera Rafi and Aliya, and students Alfina and Nimal. They were invited to share their stories with the team and how they went beyond the social and cultural norms and dared to dream big.
The Center for Development (CfD) initially worked with around 220 vulnerable women and created ‘Ekta Nari Sangathan’ and 21 Self Help Groups. Through these organized Self Help Groups (SHGs), the women part of the program are able to understand the importance of investing time and education in the next generations. These women play an important role in helping with social development.
During their visit to New York, the mentors recalled the difficulties they had to go through to counsel the women and mothers in the program, in order for them to understand the possibilities that open up for everyone due to education. They explained that convincing women to work with the center is the biggest challenge they face. There is a level of skepticism, cynicism and lack of ambition which is the greatest roadblock to overcome. Once they are able to convince the mothers about the benefits of sending their girls to the Knowledge Resource Center for Girls (KRCG), the mentors can focus on impacting the lives of the girls themselves.
One of the major sacrifices the mothers make to ensure their daughters are able to attend the center is to work extra hours and earn SoCCs. The goal at the KRCG is to equip girls like Nimal and Alfina with life skills, as well as provide tuition help and vocational skills. It is very common in impoverished communities where CfD operates, for girls to lack the opportunity to be educated past 7th grade. Several instances of child marriage also exist, which can sometimes be a facade for child trafficking. Since its inception, KRCG has evolved to be a safe space for the girls enrolled. Within the center, girls have the opportunity to learn that there are no limitations to what girls can achieve. There are no obstructive personalities around, and the sole focus is to provide a culture of work.
With the integration of SoCCs, the girls and their families are able to redeem points for travel to and from the KRCG, expenses for extra coaching, purchase of laptops, to name a few.
Since being involved with KRCG, Alfina and Nimal are more confident. They are not shy to speak their mind at the KRCG- that no opinion is undervalued and no task is too big for them. They are taught to believe that if they put their mind to the matter, anything is possible. Their authenticity and hopefulness was evident in statements like “I have seen my mother unhappy, but I want to be happy”.
The future is surrounded by uncertainty. Due to the limited exposure before, most of these adolescent girls could never imagine the vast possibilities available. The KRCG and CfD gives these girls a glimpse of hope- hope that they will do much better than their mothers did.They are learning to stand up for their futures and make their families proud. As Theodore Roosevelt rightly said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there”.
Their stories elevated the discourse on how small programs can create large impacts on individuals. It is our hope that they left the room with an ambition to get an education, do better than they originally imagined they could, and be an inspiration within their own spheres of influence. I speak for everyone in the room when I say the rest of us left the room more inspired than when we came in, and with a clearer sense of purpose- to strive to create positive change.
– Ishita Gaur is an Urban Designer in New York City, and Junior Board Member, Asia Initiatives