"Our scholars are passionate about creating a culture that values girls and women."
From Scholars to Leaders
By Kendra Nicolai, Program Officer
December 16, 2019
Growing up as girls in India, our scholars face many challenges. Society teaches them that they are born a burden. Many believe girls shouldn’t leave the home, be educated or speak up. On a daily basis, they interact with these predominant attitudes, and negotiate for their futures. Rather than being married at an early age, they want to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Our young women scholars, in partnership with local NGO’s, are passionate about creating a culture that values girls and women. The Community Leadership Projects are one way we support them to address and challenge these ideas, and affirm for the community what can happen when you educate a girl. Community Leadership Projects enhance the scholar’s leadership skills, public speaking, and confidence. The projects provide a structured avenue for scholars to have greater impact in their communities and further develop their leadership skills.
Every Shadhika Scholar is required to complete a Community Leadership Project during their second year of the program. Each scholar chooses a topic that resonates with them based on a personal challenge they face in their community. 27 scholars are completing projects across India on topics including: health & sanitation, right to education, child marriage, freedom of mobility, voter & democratic rights and girls’ rights. Project implementation strategies range from large group presentations to case studies. This year, scholars received training from our local partner organization, Vacha Charitable Trust, at our Leaders for Change Summit. They were taught how to plan, implement and evaluate their leadership projects. Each scholar begins by surveying their community to ask specific questions about their chosen topic. From the survey results, scholars create and implement workshops, street plays, campaigns, rallies, and other creative methods to raise awareness and address the issue and help the community develop solutions.
During our November site visits, Sabah and I visited with all of the Shadhika Scholars and observed their progressing projects. As a staff, we were blown away by the excitement, the stories, the high impact and the personal growth that these young women have experienced throughout this process.
Beauti, one such scholar, lives in the Birbhum community in West Bengal. She chose “access to toilets” as her project focus. Initially, she had great difficulty surveying her neighbors. Her efforts were met with many negative responses. She shared with us that many people asked: “Why are you doing this? You’re just a young girl.” But this didn’t stop her. She persevered, successfully surveying 20 women in her community – all of whom she knew did not have access to a toilet in their home. Because there are no public toilets in her village, and few people have a toilet in their home, girls and women routinely walk to the forest or riverbed in the early morning and late-night hours to “use the washroom” This becomes a safety issue for women as they travel into dark, remote areas, and is also not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
She wanted to understand the reasons why toilet access is so limited in her community and why these women choose not to build a toilet in their home. Through her survey and subsequent conversations, found that these women do not know how to talk to the village officials or how to apply to get a toilet built near their home. Beauti has decided her next steps are to meet with the village officials to understand the community toilet application process, and then hold a workshop with these women to teach them how to apply. What began as annoyance from her neighbors to see a young woman freely asking the difficult questions, has turned into an opportunity to advocate for her community to have life changing solutions to ease their difficult lives.
Beauti is just one Shadhika Scholar out of the 27 who are intentionally creating a groundswell of change throughout India.Read more