Sector: Yuvati Samuh (Adolescent Girls Support Group)
The Yuvati Samuh (Adolescent Girl’s Group) of CORD has transformed timid, shy girls into confident, empowered young women. Yuvati Samuh provides the youth with a platform where they can enhance their hidden skills. In many villages, young women are not even allowed to step out of their homes. This was the case for a young girl named Vandana in the village of Kawari.
After attending a Yuvati Samuh meeting facilitated by CORD in a neighboring village, some of Vandana’s friends decided to start a group of their own. They were excited at the prospect of being able to do something for themselves and their community. The girls could not believe the confidence and drive of their peers and they too wanted to develop these qualities. For once they were able to learn about issues that were not openly discussed such as their changing bodies, hygiene, and other feminine needs. The girls kept in close contact with Sonu, a CORD worker, who suggested they come to the CORD center for a meeting. Although Vandana was hesitant to attend the meeting, her friends convinced her to come. Vandana finished her household chores early that morning so she could attend the meeting.
At the meeting, Sonu discussed with them how to develop confidence and bring out their personalities. She emphasized how they can gain self respect by realizing their essential role in the community. Young women must break gender barriers and stop male dominance which is so deeply engrained in rural society. It was at this meeting that Sonu had the opportunity to talk to Vandana about her life. Vandana revealed that she had completed the tenth standard but could not continue her education because her family was too poor. Vandana put her family first, even before her own education, although she still knew its value. For the first time Vandana was able to talk about her family’s living situation. She lived with her mother, father, and three siblings in a small room in her grandparents’ home. Her family was at their mercy and had no autonomy in deciding their living conditions. Vandana’s grandparents even forbade them to get electricity.
Vandana attended Yuvati Samuh meetings regularly and the once shy girl became one of the leaders of the group. She often remembered her conversation with Sonu and started to feel like she could do something about her situation. She had been living in darkness for many years, and did not want the same for her siblings. Getting electricity was the first step for Vandana and her family to improve their lives. She bravely discussed the matter with her parents and told them she was going to take the initiative to talk to her grandparents on behalf of the family. Her parents said they would not support her in this matter and told her to stay quiet. But Vandana was no longer fearful and was determined to say something. Her interaction with Yuvati Samuh made her realize that females can also fight for their rights and progress in life.
With her newfound confidence, Vandana humbly requested her grandfather to set up electricity in their home. He flatly refused her proposal and said there was no need. Unwilling to accept his decision, Vandana journeyed to the Electricity Board’s Office with her aunt and asked to see her grandparents’ file. This was an enormous accomplishment for a young village girl like Vandana. It was unheard of for a rural woman to step into a government office and demand something, let alone a young rural girl like Vandana. She requested an electricity board worker to come to her house to set up the connection the next day. In the meantime, she gathered funds from her friends in the Yuvati Samuh and waited anxiously for the worker to arrive.
The next day, Vandana’s family was surprised to see a government worker at their doorstep. Vandana’s grandparents were angered that she did this without their permission. When a quarrel ensued between her grandparents and the government worker, Vandana called the Panchayat Pradhan (President of the local governing body) to resolve the situation. Soon, through Vandana’s persistence her house was filled with light.
But the situation at home still remained bleak. Her family was crammed into a single room which was used to store fodder and wood. The room was suffocating at times and made her family feel as if they had no dignity. After brining electricity to her home, Vandana could sense her grandparents’ resentment. Many times while Vandana’s mother would be cooking dinner, her grandfather would throw fodder all over the room including on top of the food. Her mother’s hard effort to provide her family with food were in vain. When Vandana’s mother tried to voice her frustration, it would only end up in a quarrel. Vandana could not stand to see her parents arguing with her grandparents. Acting on the suggestion of Sonu, Vandana went to go see her Panchayat Pradhan. When he tried to talk to her grandparents, it was to no avail. Vandana’s grandparents were set on having everyone live in the fodder room. At this point, Vandana knew she could not rely on anyone else. So with her own hands, she picked up the fodder and wood and placed it elsewhere. With fear she began to cook not knowing how her grandparents would react. However, she did not regret her decision because she remembered the words of her dear friend Sonu. Vandana’s grandparents were moved by her actions and realized that they were not treating Vandana or her parents properly. They then allowed Vandana and her family to stay in two rooms instead of one.
Vandana stayed in close contact with CORD. When her dear friend Sonu left CORD to get married, Vandana applied to fill her position so that she could spread the message of Yuvati Samuh. Vandana often conducts meetings in villages with boys on topics such as gender, caste, alcohol, and HIV/AIDS. She encourages them to re-evaluate their macho image, as it often has negative effects on women and society.
Vandana attributes all her newfound strength and confidence to the Yuvati Samuh. She learned to keep her head high and speak up. Despite her small frame, she is no longer shy and can speak confidently in public. She has challenged the notion that rural girls are weak and helpless and inspires adolescent girls to seek their highest potential.