Leading, Learning and Loving

“Didi, didi, aap phirse kab aaoge ?” said Reena, her eyes giving out a magical sparkle.

“Jab bhi aap bulaoge!” we said.

Amidst Archimedes Principle and co-ordinate geometry, a leadership workshop came by the way of 9th grade girls of R. N Podar School. It was not a typical run-off-the-mill leadership workshop but a platform to accomplish personal and social goals while contributing to society.

The Avanti Foundation –an initiative of Mr. Ashank Desai, Founder of Mastek, has partnered with The Blue Ribbon Movement to run Avanti Young Women Leadership Program (AYWLP) for young women in schools and colleges. This program is geared towards building leadership among young girls through service learning i.e. combining classroom teaching with community service.

The foundation seeks to take young women beyond academic excellence to being all rounded leaders and learn about leadership through direct contribution to society. 

The programme helps in building confidence, taking responsibility for themselves and their communities, working in teams and overcoming their fears. Most importantly, it aims at developing a vision to become extraordinarily successful in their career and life.

These values are imparted through a process including workshops, follow ups and feedback sessions for about 4–5 months. At the closing workshop, each of the teams prepare presentations about their work and recount their experiences as change makers. The workshop ends with an interaction with a successful woman leader who inspires the girls to follow their dreams.

As team ‘Horizon’, we realised that while most projects continually make efforts to ensure lasting impact in society, the most effective form of change is emotional. We set out to bring about an emotional connection in the lives of girls living in orphanages.

The home houses girls from different facets of life, who have been victims of various socially undesirable practices. These girls receive a lot of affection and love through volunteers but it is often short-lived. Most people who interact with these girls do not realise that a one-day meeting or a one -week interaction does nothing better than just paving way for a spot in the social service section of their résumé.

Our aim was to develop an emotional connect, a feeling of belonging and fostering a profound sense of community. We worked with St. Catherine’s Home for a period of 6 months as volunteers and we still maintain a close volunteering relationship with them. 

Upon visiting the orphanage, we learnt that as a part of our project, we could sponsor the education of these girls. Our first task was organizing a fundraiser and raising funds to accomplish this. The fundraiser received a very good response and we were able to collect Rs. 6000 and sponsored the education of 3 girls for a year.

Through a series of workshops, interactions, sessions and talks, we were able to win over the girls hearts and started getting an insight into their lives. From a full-day long treasure hunt in their own home to teaching them dance styles, music and English writing, the girls confessed that they had never seen the home, brimming with joy, as they had with us. They would randomly come and hug us, hold our hands and walk us through their secret hide outs, talk to us about their homework problems and fight among themselves to be near us.

All of this was a constant validation of moving in the right direction towards the objective we were trying to achieve. As a team and as individuals, we became extremely empathetic towards their feelings and steadily developed a strong personal bond with them.

When our 6 month project came to an end- (mission accomplished!)- We felt were able to induce a sense of confidence and leadership in the girls, and reassured them that this 6 month old friendship would never die but achieve new feats.

On our last day of the project, we asked them to scribble out their hearts on papers. There was a scuffle for pens, crayons and paints which we gifted them that day. The entire compound was noisy; but amidst the din, the girls drew flowers and dolls, tried to paint out a shot of the workshops, wrote ‘thank you didi’ in erratic cursive handwriting, stretched on their tippy-toes and held up their drawings as they could. . . . It was overall a breathtakingly beautiful moment which signified that our time in St. Catherine’s Home really had resulted in a lasting impact on countless young girls’ lives.

This article was written by Arshita Malhotra, a student from R. N. Podar School