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Guidance is key

Government schools offer syllabus-based education, but not any mentoring process. The five finalists aim to provide adolescent underprivileged girls such mentoring relationships to help them achieve their goals.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2014 18:07 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times
lifeskills,Dasra,girl power

Government schools offer syllabus-based education, but not any mentoring process. The five finalists aim to provide adolescent underprivileged girls such mentoring relationships to help them achieve their goals.

While India has seen great improvement in access to education, there are questions about the quality of education and the employability of its graduates. The problem becomes particularly acute for underprivileged students because they have no information network to fall back on or mentors to help them shape their careers.

Members of Mentor Together sit and talk

"The project germinated in 2008-9 when I was a management student in Britain. Later I developed the programme with the help of Rajeev Gowda, professor, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore," said Arundhuti Gupta, Founder Trustee and CEO, Mentor Together. "In the US, mentoring very big on the government's agenda and such youth intervention models is funded by both governments and corporate".

Mentor Together provides adolescent underprivileged girls and boys one-to-one mentoring relationships with volunteer professionals to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Mentees are usually between 14 to 18 years and are identified through partnerships with the government and NGO-run homes and schools. Girls are referred by a teacher or counselor on the basis of need in academic, social and behaviourial areas. Mentor Together screens and profiles the adolescents through interest surveys, engagement activities, psychometric tests and house visits. Those mentees are selected on the basis of who would be most at risk of adverse outcomes if they didn't receive individual attention. Simultaneously, volunteer mentors who are mostly working professionals are screened and recruited. Each mentor commits to receiving 34 hours of training and delivery over 150 hours of in person mentoring to their mentee. The mentor meets the mentee twice or thrice every month for 60-90 minutes.

Till Jan 2014, the organisation has matched 400 matches across three cities (Bangalore, Mysore, Pune) and by June, the aim is to scale up to 500 matches.

The programme is a rewarding experience both for the mentors and mentees:
"It's a challenging programme but after spending two years with my mentees, I can say that my girls have developed thinking abilities and analytical powers," said Kavya Gowda, 27, a programme manager at IBM, and a mentor.

"I did not find much interest in my school course. I did not have a career goal. In fact, I had a lot of other fears like how I'll bring up my four younger siblings if I don't do well in studies. But Kavya helped me reorient my thoughts and focus on my goals," said Valli, a Class X student, and Kavya's mentee.

The hand-holding goes far beyond studies as well: "I tell Kavya about my traumas, troubles and doubts and she listens patiently to everything and never judges me on the basis of such information. Instead she asks me questions and in the process of answering her questions about my feelings I find my answers on my own. I am ever so grateful for her in my life. Whatever happens, whoever leaves me, I know she'll always be there," added Valli.

When Priyamvada Singh started Bal Sansar Sanstha (BSS) in 1992 in Jaipur, her aim was to create an equitable society through her organisation's programmes. In keeping with that vision, BSS launched the Taiyari programme for adolescents in three districts of Rajasthan in 2012. Taiyari is a demonstration model for planned transitions from adolescence to adulthood.

"Adolescence is an important period in a person's life. Unfortunately, adolescents who live in rural India lack mentors to guide them through this critical phase. They also don't have any platform where they can discuss their opinions, fears and problems," said Singh. "Most are unaware about gender equity, girls' education, perils of early marriage, even puberty-related issues".

Priyamvada Singh

To ensure that they don't miss out on critical information and opportunities, the NGO has created 'Taiyari Samoohs' (TS). There are 1,800 youths (900 boys and 900 girls) in these 'samoohs', but the indirect coverage is about 10,000 adolescents. It is in these group meetings that its young members freely discuss and debate the issues mentioned above.

To improve the awareness levels of the members, the organisation has roped in the state's panchayti raj institutions and departments like health, education, women and child development, social justice and empowerment. The first signs of change are already visible: In 2013, TS members convinced parents of seven girls to send their daughters back to school so that they could finish their secondary education. The project aims to cover 30 gram panchyats in Ajmer and Tonk districts in Rajasthan.

The organisation's Sambal programme focuses on developing skill and entrepreneurship of rural youth and has a special focus on adolescent girls.

Thoughtshop Foundation (TF), which was started by advertising professionals in 1993, develops innovative communication tools on issues like adolescent reproductive health, gender equity, child rights, water and sanitation. In addition to this activity, it trains youth to become effective peer educators using its interactive and innovative participatory curriculum and tools. These programmes are conducted through Youth Resource Cells (YRC), which are essentially community-based youth groups.

A class in Thoughtshop Foundation

"We incubate the YRCs and develop their capacity to address social challenges such as gender inequality, early marriages, and domestic violence," said Himalini Varma, director, TF. "The aim is to ensure that these YRCs become active change makers in the society by developing their own identities, supporting their communities, play a watchdog role and take collective action and build awareness within their communities".

The Foundation currently works with 24 YRC groups, most of which are in areas that are within four-six hours from Kolkata.

In 2013, the YRC programme directly impacted over 600 adolescents, over 400 of which are adolescent girls. In 2011, the organisation documented the impact on the YRC programme on communities. According to the assessment, among other things, there has been a distinct reduction in child and domestic violence and these occurrences are being openly challenged by the YRC groups in their areas.

When Rachna Yadav was 15, her father, a cook at an eatery in the Santacruz-Juhu area in Mumbai, took her to his hometown Jharkhand to get her married. But Rachna was not ready: she was aware that it is illegal to get married before 18 years and was also keen to take her Class 10 exams. When her father refused to listen to her, she sought the support of the Vacha Charitable Trust (VCT). Finally, her father relented and she rejoined school. But even though she had lost three months trying to convince her father not to get her married, Rachna passed Class 10 with 60+marks and got admission in Class 12.

The VCT was established in 1990 to focus on issues of girls from marginalised communities like Rachna. Its primary aim is to empower girls by reducing and removing their vulnerabilities so that they become productive members of society.

The Trust has two major programmes: Urja and Tejasvi.

Urja exclusively for girls and is carried out in most conservative of communities where girls are not encouraged to work with boys. Tejasvi is for both boys and girls where they are both taught to collaborate. Both programmes are for children between 10-16 years and face vulnerability due to caste, ethnicity and minority status.

"Vacha fills the gap that exists in both the school system and within government programmes by providing supplementary education and facilitating community action for implementation of government schemes," said Sonal Shukla, director, VCT.

The students learn English, digital skills, general knowledge, and receive training in lifeskills such as self-expression, knowledge and use of area resources.

A major part of the programme is focused on discussing gender discrimination. "While we tell boys that patriarchy hits boys as well, girls are told that they should not think that they are morally superior," explained Shukla.

Voice 4 Girls empowers marginalised adolescent girls by imparting critical knowledge, life skills and spoken English through activity-based learning. The organisation believes that knowledge and decision-making power is fundamental for a girl to advocate for herself, leverage educational opportunities and pull herself and her family out of poverty. Her Voice, the flagship programme, provides 90-hours of English and life skills training for girls between 11 and 16 years.

The camps are held in summer and winter holidays.

The curriculum, written by the staff of the organisation, is designed to build leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, and interpersonal skills by focusing on learning English. The programme is currently being implemented in low-income private schools in Hyderabad, residential schools in Andhra Pradesh and government schools in Uttarakhand.

Nikita, a Class 9 student of a government school in Hyderabad, is one of the stars of the programme. She has been with the programme for the last three years and speaks English fluently. "Thanks to the programme, I speak English very well. But what I like about the programme is that it goes beyond teaching English; we have classes on puberty, reproductive health and careers," she told HT.

With the help of local partners, VOICE transforms schools into girl-safe environment, where local students, recruited and trained by VOICE, become counselors who then implement the curriculum at the camps that are attend by the girls.

Speaking on the challenges, Averil Spencer of Voice 4 Girls, said: "Girls, and especially adolescent girls, are some of the hardest people to reach in a community; they are isolated in the name of safety. So we utilise the social power of these community leaders to involve girls".

First Published: Mar 03, 2014 15:49 IST