Saturday, 12 March 2016

Opening up a Girls Club in Harike!

What to say about my first few months here in Harike? 

When I first came to Harike, I thought my project was off to a slow start. The center was just opening and the three musketeers—Maria, Tommaso and I—along with our beloved Ethan, the center manager at the time, were in charge of establishing the centre within this new village. This meant that a great amount of time was to be spent engaging people, creating relationships and establishing trust with key individuals, while doing our best to always make a good impression. There was one thing we had not quite anticipated, however, and that was the extent of the language barrier in this village. Oh and being the only white people in the village, thus making us the object of constant scrutiny. 

Now, we all knew that community engagement was to be a part of the initial stages of our projects. I, for one, could not develop or implement my project without this crucial first step. Therefore, our first month consisted of what I felt was a series of failed attempts at verbally interacting with community members; we did not speak Punjabi and they did not speak English. Other than reading out a long list of Punjabi vegetables names just to get a laugh out of a group of school girls, there wasn’t much more I could say, and vice versa. How were we supposed to develop, let alone implement our respective projects?!

Then one day, it happened. As we were preparing to host quarterlies, Mr B took us on a visit to a neighbouring village called Makhu and introduced me to a timid, but very lovely girl—Harjwinder. We could not do much more than exchange smiles, head nods or hand gestures, and a few dance moves (my “go-to” place when we are so verbally limited). I, then, asked if she was interested in having English lessons and soon after, I had a list of names, ages and phone numbers of girls who were excited to learn English with me. I opened up a Girls’ Club only two weeks into the internship. This was going to be my baby, the center of my attention for the next months! Needless to say, I was equally excited. 

Playing Musical Chairs with our Girls’ Club in Makhu
In the meantime, as a center, we formed ties with a school that was happy to have us deliver sessions on various topics. I learned that the school had no Sex Ed programme and the kids were not taught about crucial life changes such as puberty. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to teach young girls about menstruation and give them the necessary knowledge and tools to cope with this new and natural process. As expected, the girls were shy but—thankfully—also very curious. To my surprise, the teacher that was translating for me said she had also learned some things. This was incredibly rewarding and I would do it a hundred times over. 

My first session on Puberty and Menstruation at Shri Guru Hargobind School. The students were aged between 13 and 16 and very keen on learning about this topic.  

Some time before the holidays, some changes happened and we received, Sabina—also a Women’s Empowerment project manager—who was transferring from Paro to Harike. We were now two interns working on Women’s Empowerment projects at the center and I knew we’d make a great team. Only two weeks after the holidays, things happened, again, so suddenly and in the span of a week, three Girls’ Clubs were up and running in three different communities—one in Makhu and two in Harike. 

Sabina and I with school staff, principal and some students after our session Puberty in Menstruation at Secondary Government School Harike Pattan

To this day, I am amazed at how this country works. It is so easy to get discouraged and be tempted to give up based on the impression that everything feels like a struggle. All you need is to have all the elements perfectly aligned for things to happen. And they do (happen). In other words, be patient…but stay focused and continue to work hard. Things will happen when you least expect it.

One of our most recent Girls’ Clubs—they are the most enthusiastic girls you will meet in Harike!  

Jessica Cialdella
Women’s Empowerment Project Manager, Harike (Punjab)

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