Guest post by Madhulika V Narasimhan
It is not every day that one comes across an opportunity to truly appreciate the privileges in life that are often taken for granted by many of us.
Recently, I had the chance to visit Patna, Bihar and interact with a number of inspiring children, who are part of CorStone’s Youth First and Girls First programs. The programs, aimed at building resilience among students enrolled in classes 6-8 in government schools, seek to enhance the emotional, social and physical well-being of these marginalized adolescents. By focussing on emotional resilience as a key trait that can be cultivated over time, CorStone empowers young girls and boys to thrive despite significant adversity.
A surprising spirit of confidence
I reached the schools located in remote areas of rural Patna, expecting to be introduced to a group of timid girls, and prepared myself to nudge them to speak up. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at the confidence these young girls exuded. They were outspoken, fearless, and determined to achieve big things in life and make their parents proud.
Many of the girls are themselves, or have friends, who are exposed to the prospect of early marriage, and with it, the horrors of dropping out of school, early pregnancy, lack of knowledge about physical and sexual health, domestic violence and more. What is extraordinary is that not one of them seemed held back by the prevailing social conditions that impose severe restrictions on girls.
Resilience within reach
Through CorStone, they are encouraged to harness their strengths, solve their own problems in everyday life, assert their rights, and take control of their own lives. The girls are also introduced to the benefits of good hygiene through the trainings on health and sanitation, where they learn about menstrual health and cleanliness among other things.
Many of the adolescents I interacted with were children of farmers and daily-wage labourers who, as a result of being forced to yield to the pressures of poverty, would prefer sending their children to work. Yet, there was no dearth of motivation among the young girls and boys to attend school.
They showed incredible courage to dream, and aspire to become, inter alia teachers, social workers, engineers, doctors, and in the words of the quietest boy in the room, “a good human being”.
A significant component of CorStone’s programs is also the issue of gender sensitivity. Many boys proudly admitted to having raised their voice against harassment of girls; and every girl was quick to respond in unison to my question on equality: “We are not less than boys in any way. We are, in fact, better at many things”.
Measurable impact with lasting results
CorStone’s programs have had a significant impact on the lives of all beneficiaries alike. While the girls have developed courage and resilience to assert themselves in their families and outside, at times standing up for their right to stay in school and delay marriage; the boys have become disciplined, and are now more sensitive to gender equality.
School teachers and program facilitators now command greater respect in their communities, and are able to bring about a change in themselves as well as their families. All of these are remarkable transformations for the kind of socio-political landscape that rural Bihar has thus far been emblematic of.