The Camp Days!

{This post is written as a sequel to this post here.}

Day 1 of camp dawned, and we quickly set about with our preparations. We asked the caretaker to have the two rooms cleared out, the mats arranged for the students to sit on, and the various charts to be put on the walls of the classrooms. I was excited and nervous, I really wanted the young girls to like me. I entered the classroom and silently went on to prepare the board, at the same time giving time to the still arriving students to settle down. I turned around, waited a moment, and mustering all the enthusiasm I could, I welcomed them to the Voice4Girls Sakhi Peer Leadership Camp. Most of the girls were shy, but the ones who had attended Voice4Girls Camps before were active and consistent in their participation. I could truly see the difference the camps had brought around in them.  There were around 50 girls, ranging from the age of 7-23 years in my class.We started by doing an activity that introduced the girls to each other, which led to quite a few laughs around.

We started by doing an activity that introduced the girls to each other, which led to quite a few laughs around and from there gradually proceeded with the introduction and main motivation of the camp. Very soon I was able to figure out who were the active students and who were the non-active ones. Dire measures had to be taken. In order to remedy this and involve everyone, I went around to each person and asked them if they understood the lesson, if the answer was a yes (which in most cases, it was, regardless if it were true or not), I proceeded to ask a few questions on it to the student concerned. If the answer was a no, I would take time to explain the activity and the lesson learned again, and again…until I was sure all of them understood it. If the answer was a truthful no, I would explain the lesson to the whole class again. Gradually, the students themselves became familiar with the pattern and started focusing on the lessons learned from an activity so that they could answer the questions at the end.

By the end of the first day, we were all tired and it was 6:30 pm by the time class got over. And we still had to prepare for the lessons next day, i.e.the counselors and co-counselors. Needless to say, it was almost 11 pm by the time we finished going over the next day’s class and turned in for the night. As the days progressed, I could feel the class opening up to me more and more, students who hardly ever answered for the first couple of days, were jumping up and down to answer questions now. And the lessons grew more fun, with eager participation from everyone. One of their most innocent qualities had to be their innocence. All of them had dreams of making a difference, and insufficient means to do so, but they were trying to make ends meet, whether it was by taking sewing lessons or teaching tuitions to students, they found a way to make money on their own, and quite a few of them were paying for their own education too. In their own way, they were an inspiration. I don’t know what it was about them, that while going through life conquering the mountains of troubles they faced, they remained child-like, from the continuous calls of “Didi meri drawing dekho, kaisa hai? Didi look at my drawing, do you likr it?.”, to ” Didi, aapke liye thodi line likhi hai. Didi, I wrote a poem for you..”, it filled my heart with warmth. 🙂

Very soon, the first camp (of 7 days) was over, and we parted ways with the first batch of students amidst many tears and promises of spreading what they were taught to the girls in their community.

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Having already prepared once for the first camp, the second camp was much easier to teach and left us with a bit of precious free time. The second batch consisted of older girls, from the ages of 13-22, and required a bit more of pushing and prodding to make them come out of their shells. But when they did, they were equally brilliant as the previous batch and keen to learn.

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I must admit though, it was not as pretty a picture as perhaps I make it out to be. We faced our own problems, the food provided to us and the rest of the campers wasn’t really what I would call healthy. The kitchen had huge rats that walked along the roof corners and electricity wasn’t available for half the day, except when there were any officials visiting, in which case there was miraculously enough money to put diesel in the generator back up. Being one of the major centers for Mahila Vikas (Women empowerment), the center was also supposed to provide free menstruation pads to the girl campers, which was not done either. The girls were asked to pay the MRP of the product. In all fairness, however, this seemed to be the case only in this particular center, when we talked to our counter parts about it, they supported the claim that their center provided free hygiene products to the girls. We communicated this issue to the Voice4Girls representatives, who informed us that they will talk to the management about the same. We faced a similar problem when many of the girls started complaining of stomach aches. On investigating, we learned that the water tank the girls were drinking from had fungus like material growing inside it. We did communicate this to the person in charge there, and he hopefully will be taking up actions to resolve this issue.

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So yes, there were a few set backs, but one of the things I liked about the internship was that it involved physical field work, wherein the change you were bringing about was almost palpable. Knowing that the girls left the camps perhaps informed a bit more than when they came in and that my friends, is all the contentment you need. It also leads me to believe that we lead more privileged lives than we realize.

And soon enough the camp was almost at an end, the other counselors returned from their assignments for a final meeting on our post-deliverables and reports. By the time it was the next day, most of the counselors had returned to their homes. Having stayed in Jais for almost 20 days now, and not yet having gone outside the center, me and Shikha planned to go explore the town. We got the required permissions from the authorities there and left for the town, sometime around 3 pm. Our co-counselors, along with the caretaker of the center came along. We got a free ride into town on account of the caretaker being known in the area. The town seemed to be more or less one main, crowded, pothole filled street, with humans, animals, and vehicles all tumbling around in an organized mess. After having chaats and ice-creams, the caretaker invited us into her home in the town. When we entered it was almost the time to break the Eid fast for the day, and everyone in the family was sitting in the front room with plates and bowls full of dates, fruits, and pakodas. Her family consisted of three younger sisters and her parents. After introductions, we all quietened down for the evening prayer, as their father began the Salah or the Namaz, after which all of us broke the fast by eating a date. I absolutely adored the experience, to be welcomed into such a loving family, a family who shared perhaps a tiny part of their lives with us. After saying our goodbyes, we made our way back to the center, in anticipation of the next day, when we would all go our separate ways.

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I left Jais with the hope that maybe, just maybe, I created a tiny ripple in this world we live in. 🙂

Until next time, cheers!

 


Side Note: RGVMP, over the course of the past almost 15 years has impacted the lives of the women living in rural Uttar Pradesh positively by spreading awareness about their rights, educating them and providing them training in sewing, candle-making, etc in order to empower these women. If you visit the place and interact with the young girls and a few of the older women, you can see the difference this has brought in their lives. And this was one of the many new things that I learned during my volunteering.

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