Friday, 7th July’2006
The Internship’s most exhilarating part, the field visits for the Patna group began on 5th July. I had been waiting for this time because getting involved with communities, and understanding the real scenario and inquiring the depth of problem provides an opportunity to understand the ground realities. Every time it’s a very different experience to be with a group of girls or women and I always come back more sensitized than before.
Our case study topic is “Women Empowerment through Girl Child Education in Socially Excluded Communities”. When my group got changed at the last moment from Bhopal to Patna, I felt more comfortable as issues surrounding women empowerment has been my core area of interests and I had past experiences of working on its various dimensions. In no time I blend well with my teammates Woojin, Ashish and Bhupendra. We are all from different fields and come from different socio-cultural backgrounds but despite that the chemistry among all four of us is worth appreciating.
Each one of us identified each other’s strengths and interests and collectively built a motivating atmosphere by respecting each one’s ideas, views, suggestions and finally progressed as an efficient team. The UNICEF Internship provided me this wonderful opportunity of understanding the strategies of teamwork and how to work in sync towards a common goal.
The first two weeks after coming to our host institute, we spent our time reviewing the literature on our topic and brainstorming. We identified the objectives of our case study and formulated the research tools. The whole process proved remarkable in enabling each one of us to come into close proximity with the issues and approach the problem with sound knowledge about their social, cultural, economic and political conditions.
Women are the largest group to suffer from political, economic and social discrimination. Educational inequality is a major infringement of the rights of women and girls. Nari Gunjan, an NGO that is supported by UNICEF is acting as an agent for social change, providing resources and support to women in the form of elementary education, micro finance and vocational training. Sister Sudha Varghese who founded Nari Gunjan has also been the key proponent of its mission; she’s a lady of great inspiration and has recently been awarded the Padma Shree, one of the highest civilian honors in India for her immense efforts of working with the most marginalized groups. The target beneficiaries are women and children, and she personally feels that Musahars also known as “the rat eaters” the lowest caste in schedule castes are the most needed group and hence particularly focuses on the Musahar community, in helping them procure their rights..
Recently we had a chance to interview her and I felt so engrossed in her conversations and was taken away by the passion she has in her life towards this section of the society.
She shared that it has been a very challenging and self exploratory process, but her determination and passion always showed her the right direction and kept her motivated. She leads a very simple life style, drives a bicycle to various field centers, and is popularly known as “cycle wali didi” among the villagers. She has been successful in gaining trust of the people and has a respected status in the community for her generous efforts to uplift the women and girls of this excluded caste. Today she has 50 centers working in different villages and she aims to expand the reach of nari gunjan to 50 more.
We designed our field visits in a way to cover five of Nari Gunjan centers from five different villages in two blocks of Patna district. Our research plan involved identifying the strategies and interventions of this program in bringing about social change among the girls in this community that were leading to their empowerment. Using these data, we would then document the Nari Gunjan model so that it can be replicated in other areas of need. We have completed visits to two centers so far, and frankly speaking I have never witnessed such an underprivileged class of people who have been left behind in all walks of life. They are extremely poor, discriminated in all spheres of rights and deprived of a decent humane existence. However, their optimism and hope towards life, which keeps them moving is worth appreciating.
After observing the Musahar community up close, while it is clear that they are living on the margins, a change in their lives because of this program is perceptible. The girl child, the most vulnerable group even among the Musahars, are the key beneficiaries of the entire mission of Nari Gunjan. When we visited these girls at the centers we found that they were very thrilled about us being there and instantaneously sparked up conversations. We noticed that these girls, despite living in dire conditions, were as charming as any other girls and greeted us with sparkling eyes full of dreams. Soon the girls enthusiasm about being at nari gunjan was revealed through some PRA exercises, which involved Institutional ranking of government schools, private and nari gunjan. Surprisingly all of them had the same view on majority of the issues. They simply feel at home at nari gunjan and enjoy their learning experience in every way. It was a pleasure to have them share their dreams and their experiences and the drastic changes that they have seen in their lives after they have come to the nari gunjan centers. According to them the opening of nari-gunjan has given them an opportunity to find a school which caters to their needs and provides a platform to expand their prospects. Now they have a place in their community where they don’t get discriminated against and don’t have to fear to talk to their teacher; they get an environment which fosters knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to reduce inequality so that they can be empowered to emerge from the margins and become equal members in society.