Family isn’t always those related to you by blood. The young girls of Meera Kishori Samooh of the Gudaiya number one village in Bahraich district have proven this. The Meera Kishori Samooh is part of CARE’s Join My Village Girls’ Leadership Program (GLP).
The program, through its field staff, provides guidance and support in developing interpersonal and leadership skills among 10-16 year old girls in rural areas. This is done by organizing them in ‘kishori samooh’ or adolescent groups. The girls in the group meet once a month to discuss various issues affecting their environment and how to handle them. Currently GLP is working with 120 ‘kishori samoohs’; with 70 in Bahraich and 50 in Balrampur.
One such group is Meera Kishori Samooh. I met the group at the village school on a sultry June afternoon. But the weather was hardly a dampener for these spirited girls. Though diverse in nature and age, these girls are truly soul sisters for each other.
As the meeting progressed, stories of unconditional friendship emerged from the group. The most significant being that of Richa.
Though 16, Richa looked no more than 12 years old and was unusually quiet. After a lot of cajoling, Richa gave us her name and that of her village. It was then that group mentor, Sarita, told me the reason. Richa’s father is an alcoholic and is extremely abusive toward her and her mother. Having been beaten brutally on a regular basis, Richa had withdrawn into a shell and was living in absolute fear, to the extent that she had stopped talking. But every cloud has a silver lining and the ‘kishori samooh’ proved to be Richa’s.
After joining the group, Richa found a friend and confidante in Rinki, another member. Rinki is Richa’s antithesis; she is talkative, confident, bold and speaks her mind. Rinki encouraged Richa to attend the meetings. Today, Richa has started talking a little and I was told that before Sarita and I came for the meeting, Richa had danced to her heart’s content at a village function. When asked if it was true, Richa, who till a year ago was scared to even make eye contact with girls her age, smiled and nodded an affirmation. Rinki and the other girls, in their own way, have started making a dent in the wall of fear that Richa has built around herself.
Another inspiring story is that of Meera, after whom the group has been named. Beaten by her class teacher over a mistake, Meera dropped out of school after class 2. Her father too was against her going back to school, saying he did not want her to get beaten up again. It took CARE’s field staff two years to convince both Meera and her father to enroll in school again. Finally, her father understood the importance of education and today Meera is studying in class 5. But the best part of the story is yet to come. After rejoining school, Meera and her father went around with CARE staff to spread the message of educating girls and today all the girls in her hamlet are enrolled in school—a first in the area. “Thanks to Sarita ma’am and CARE, I am back in school and so are all the girls in my hamlet,” says Meera.
Meera, Shivani and Rinki – who have just completed class 10 – along with other girls told us about a fellow member Deepa, whose family has refused to let her resume her studies after she dropped out of class 2. When asked, Deepa said all efforts to convince her parents had failed. But before we could ask the girls, all of them, led by Shivani, Rinki and Meera, volunteered to go and talk to Deepa’s parents as a group. “If we go as a group, I am sure we will be able to convince them. We will get Deepa back in school,” said an ever-smiling Shivani.
Now that is the true spirit of sisterhood.