Guest post by Namrata Bhalla
I recently visited Patna to meet CorStone’s team and learn more about the girls who went through the CorStone Girls First resilience program. Welcomed by a group of beaming and enthusiastic girls at the office, I had some good conversations with them privately. During one of the conversations the subject of eve teasing came-up. I questioned the girls, “Will women forever remain targets of such harassment and violating advances? Disallowed the basic right to live with dignity?”
I promptly heard a resounding “NO” from an incredibly confident 15 year old, Neha, who studies at a government-run school in Bihar.
Narrating an incident at school, Neha said, “I was often troubled by boys in class and on my way home. I constantly felt scared and anxious and I could not identify who to reach out to for help, without causing further damage.” This did not sound like the girl sitting in front of me – she was so fearless and confident! And as she went ahead with her narration, I was able to identify the source of this shift in her personality.
Neha continued, “One day I decided to confront the boys. All that it took was for me to speak up to them. The Girls First sessions helped me drop my fears and inhibitions, enabling me to tell my male classmates that I do not like it when they tease or follow me. It is not a film we are living in, where the hero stalks a girl and she falls in love with him! While they were taken aback by my comments, to my surprise, they collectively apologised and promised not to mistreat girls. As per them, the fact that none of the girls ever reacted or talked to them, made them oblivious and feel that their behaviour was acceptable.” Today, these young girls and boys are all friends and share a rapport that they believed could never exist, given the norms of the community they live in.
This was just one of the cases that reflected the impact of CorStone’s resilience-based program for adolescent girls. Most girls that I met agreed that they have felt similar shifts within. After participating in the CorStone program, they felt their issues like fear, anxiety and low self-esteem decrease significantly.
The organisation develops and provides personal resilience programs to improve well-being for youth worldwide, focusing on adolescent girls as critical change-agents in their communities. In a state where 95% of women have less than 12 years of education, and nearly 70% are pregnant by age 18, I experienced how this program is helping more girls stay in school, stand up for their rights and fight gender bias, advocate for themselves to stop early marriage, develop ambitions and improve their mental as well as physical health.
The program curriculum integrates positive psychology, social-emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and restorative circles. Simple hour-long sessions on goal setting, listening skills, problem solving, and identifying personal strengths, end up creating a ‘eureka moment’ for children, making resilience a ‘must have-must use’ trait. Some teachers that I interacted with recommended the program to be initiated from 6th grade, to develop an even stronger foundation of emotional resilience amongst the students.
Apart from students, facilitators are finding the training useful too. As Sushila Kumari, a community-based program facilitator said, “I was very happy to seek this training. CorStone’s training program helped me harness my strengths and develop life altering skills. I feel confident and fearless…it has truly empowered me. I can vouch for the value it adds to lives of these young girls. Now girls in my community are enabled to take control of their lives and independently solve everyday life problems, no matter how big or small.”
As CorStone relentlessly works towards scaling-up the program to reach out to the youth across India, we hope more and more children in Bihar, and across India, develop resilience to survive and thrive.
Namrata Bhalla is a senior client servicing director with Footprint Global Communications and is a specialist in development sector communications.
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