Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sweet Dreams in Girls’ Club

As I look back to our first Girls’ Club meeting in March, career pathways other than teacher and doctor and the word “aspiration” appeared to be intangible concepts, too big for our girls group to grasp. Every week, we begin Girls’ Club with an icebreaker activity to get to know one another better. We also use these activities to assess their understanding of the abstract concepts that we try to present. Our first ever icebreaker activity involved sitting in a circle and asking each girl what they like about themselves. The range of 12 to 14 year olds struggled to understand the question, as their responses focused on the people and things they like instead. After noticing the difficulty the girls had with the activity, we tried to gauge which physical attributes they liked about themselves, thus, shifting the focus back onto them. When planning this activity, I anticipated responses, such as, “I like my creativity”, and “I like that I’m different.” This first Girls’ Club discussion, however, was met with “I like my hair”, “I like my eyes”, and “I like my cheeks.”

Since then, we have used crafts and games to encourage self-expression and to foster a sense of self and individuality among the group. Although on some Sundays, they can be quite restless, our attempts at building the girls’ confidence and showcasing women’s potential and achievements seldom fall short of meeting the objective.

Throughout May, the women’s empowerment interns experimented with introducing the girls to various female role models. We began this series with Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, who opened the first school for girls in India in 1848. The girls read the summarized biography of Phule, held onto every detail of her life, but they could not explain why she should be important to us all. They missed the fact that she is the reason they can get an education today. Evaluating this first role model discussion, we observed that not all of the girls were engaged, sidebar conversations took over, and in all, the interest was not there. Preparing to try again the following week, we thought, “maybe we should introduce someone more recent”, “maybe we should make the summary more concise”, “maybe this activity is too much like school”, “maybe we should highlight the points we want them to remember, by acknowledging one key detail each week.”

We began again with Mary Kom, a famous professional Indian boxer, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and a gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games. Upon introducing Mary Kom, some girls were familiar with her story. Each week, we presented a new detail about her life: from being bullied as a child because she came from a poor family, to her father saying that boxing isn’t something a girl should do. The aim of this revised weekly conversation was to introduce the girls to influential Indian women, who faced challenges on heir path to making a difference. Unfortunately, emphasis on these different points didn’t generate the kind of conversation we hoped for. The girls were aware that Mary Kom was a successful boxer, but they were still missing why she was someone we could look up to. And when asked to elaborate on their thoughts of the way Mary’s father felt about girls boxing, not much was stated.

The next few weeks involved taking a break from the role model discussions. We facilitated more hands on activities: we talked about the environment, made bracelets, drew pictures, and we played games to practice our English. Our final Girls’ Club meeting for the month of May combined an abstract concept to a tangible activity. After our opening icebreaker, we asked the girls about their dreams. Two girls immediately expressed their dream of having long hair. Another girl said her dream is to be an IPS officer. After hearing this, the rest of the girls chimed in with more hopes and aspirations: doctor, teacher, and pilot were of those mentioned. In talking about our dreams, we introduced a brief cultural context on the dream catcher. We explained that according to Native American custom, when you hang a dream catcher above your bed, it catches your bad dreams in its net, and filters the good thoughts and dreams, which trickle down the feathers, onto you as you sleep. We shared pictures so that they could see what a dream catcher looked like. The girls greeted each photograph with a soft “wow!” We then pulled out some bangles and thread, and began making our own. Weaving the web was a challenge for some of the girls. As others caught the hang of it, they helped one another make their dream catchers. Because we couldn’t find feathers in any of the local shops, we embellished our dream catchers with beads instead. A photo session was soon in tow, as the girls showed off what they made.

Besides a cool ornament to hang in their rooms, I can’t really say how much was taken from the activity. But to see the progress these girls have shown from March to now is a reward in itself. The first time we ever talked about careers, their most immediate thoughts were teacher and doctor, but now, these girls are expressing dreams to fly, hopes to help others and make a difference.

Alanah Grant, USA
Women's Empowerment Project Manager - Rait

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