In February, one of GEF’s Board members – Boli Medappa – and I spent two weeks in India visiting our current partner grantees and speaking to a couple of past partners to check in on their progress. In addition to our partners, we spoke with others involved in education and attended an International Education Funders Group (IEFG).
There were many highlights of our time in India and, as with other trips, I learned a great deal and left feeling such respect for our partners’ teams and their work. My first visit to see the pilot SuperTeen work of Guru-G – a new partner since 2015 – is a great example.
Guru-G’s SuperTeen pilot is being implemented in 18 rural schools in the state of Karnataka, India and is reaching 705 girls in the 5 – 8th grades. The pilot program began in the last quarter of 2015 and is led by a small but very able and dynamic team; 4 SuperTeen facilitators (all women from the local areas) and two Guru-G field staff (also women) plus one project manager who supports the SuperTeen team and other Guru-G initiatives. The two Guru-G field staff provide support to the local facilitators. Together they are engaged in ensuring the sessions make sense within the local context and culture. Other Guru-G staff from Bangalore provide additional support and oversight.
The SuperTeens pilot program was half-way through its scheduled sessions at the time of our visit. During the two-day visit, we spent time in three schools – hearing directly from the girls about what they had been learning and what they still hoped to learn in the next part of the program. We also spoke with local teachers and school directors and spent time with the SuperTeens teams and collaborators to listen to their reflections of lessons learned to date, challenges they were working through and their plans for the coming months.
The first half of the SuperTeens program focuses on hygiene, reproductive health and awareness. Facilitators and Guru-G staff use different types of activities such as games, group work, reflective journaling and writing to deliver the content of their SuperTeens curriculum. They aim to ensure the girls access key facts and information while also facilitating and challenging discussions related to some of the taboos regarding, for example, menstruation. The second half of the SuperTeen sessions begins during the next school year (which in India is April). This next half will focus more deeply on leadership development, becoming a change maker, and developing solutions to local problems and issues. The Guru-G team is hoping to include 100 or so boys in one school for the second half of the sessions while continuing with the girls already enrolled.
During our time in the schools, numerous girls spoke up about their newfound understanding of their own health and physical development and maturation. Many spoke to the taboos that exist, and how they are now trying to deal with them. For example, more than one girls stated that “we were told the blood is impure and that we could not touch food or go out of the house”. They then went on to say that they now understand the blood is not impure, that it is a normal process of becoming a woman. They then described how they now take care of their hygiene during menstruation – for example ensuring that the cloths used during menstruation were washed regularly and that they bathed more frequently.
Even more encouraging was the fact that a number of the girls described actions they were taking to share their new information and learning within their families (especially mothers and sisters) as well as with other girls they know who are not part of the SuperTeens program.
- ‘We are learning things and need to teach others who do not have these sessions’
- ‘We are learning about better nutrition and what to eat at our age’
I observed girls who were already demonstrating leadership qualities and acting as advocates for themselves and others. These are clearly small and initial changes – but ones that seem to be affecting their daily lives now – and which we hope will lead to a growing confidence within the girls far into the future.
At the end of each day, Boli and I had time with the Guru-G team and their local NGO partner Aide et Action. I wanted to share some of their responses when we asked them to describe what success would look like with this program a few years from now:
- ‘It will break stereotypes with regards to gender’
- ‘Relationships between the girls and their parents improve – allowing for better/more sharing and exchange and openness ‘
- ‘When these girls face difficulties she can imagine solutions and possibilities’
- ‘They (the girls) have and can seek new hobbies and skills with the new confidence gained through the SuperTeens program’
My reflections of the visit continue now that I am back in Colorado. I remember vividly the girls who spoke up during our sessions eager and proud to share with us what they found most interesting and useful from the SuperTeens program. The potential of these girls is clear – but more work and support is essential to enable stronger foundations and pathways for them to continue their education and find their way forward. This is where the insights, intelligence and commitment of the Guru-G staff will be important. There will be the inevitable bumps, challenges, and necessary revisions required in the coming months and years as they refine and strengthen the program. That is to be expected, but also worth the effort if it means even more girls (and boys) can benefit from and have access to improved versions of the Guru-G SuperTeen program.
– Kathy Bartlett, Executive Director