Written by Manu, Barefoot Enriche Training Coordinator
She is from a last-mile village in Madhya Pradesh and came for six months training at Barefoot College, Rajasthan. It must have been one of the very few visits outside her village/state.
I remember her sitting clueless in my workshop when she first came in. She was lost as if she was on a land full of aliens, where everyone talked about something she had never heard of in her entire life. They were talking about Women Health, Women Rights, Women Empowerment, Gender, Women Entrepreneurship etc. At the back of her mind, she must have thought “Why are they expecting a lot from women who are like us? Someone who was less fortunate to have been introduced to any kind of formal education.” She was very shy and you could easily sense that she wasn’t getting a word being said.
I remember when I was asking the trainees to draw their Self-Aspirations as an individual being. She said to me with a very innocent face “Didi I cannot understand what you want us to draw, what aspirations are you talking about? We are women and we are supposed to do the household chores and take care of our family. We don’t send our girls to school but instead, we teach them to do household chores because they will be going to the Paraya Ghar soon (In-Law’s House).” I wasn’t surprised on hearing this, because being from the same kind of rural society, I know how women are taught to follow gender roles strictly to an extent that they forget their own identity or aspirations. And if they even dare to think or dream about their aspiration or to live their lives freely, the Patriarchal Society portrays them as a “Characterless Woman”.
The second time, I was introducing the trainees to the Human Rights. And this same beautiful lady asked me, again innocently “ What is Adhikar (Rights)”. It was very tough for her to understand let alone digest the concept of Rights and Human Rights. She was thinking, why do they have these many rights?? Because she had always seen people around her either snatching the property, or oppression of the poor and weak, from people who are superior to them.
These are the only two incidents which I am sharing at the moment to shed light on the level of exclusion of women from various rural parts of India. The irony is that they themselves are unaware of this reality. The staunch belief or taboo that only the men can do work outside of the home, and are able to understand and are equipped to make decisions, or anything related to education, lingers in various parts of rural India.
But the silver lining was when I saw changes in the same woman during her six-month stay at Barefoot College while receiving Enriche Training.
She was staying with other Indian trainees from different states and different age groups. Her regular company was two young girls from Ladakh in their early 20s. She started living as the best example of “Age is just a number, as long as you have a young heart”.
I saw her changing to a level where she started participating actively in the workshops.
She started asking questions to clear her doubts and also started sharing her opinions with her peers.
She used to take a lot of time to understand something that was a bit difficult, but now she was grasping quickly what she learned. We went to visit a post office to understand the importance of saving accounts, and she was the only one who bombarded the manager with many questions without a hint of hesitation. She was determined to open a bank account. There was a period in her evolution when she was clueless in the workshops, and then there was one contrasting wherein she was the most active lady, which attributed to her great transformation. I saw her laughing at the jokes of the two young girls in her company, and also saw her listening carefully to the other participants in their mid-age who were sharing their life struggles.
For me she was a “Rocking Nani”. Nani is a term used for a maternal Grandma. When she realized her potential, she didn’t let the chance go where she could learn. I will not say all of this happened because of our workshops, but peer to peer learning played a major role in it. I am also not saying that she is so transformed that she will change her way of living in her community. But I am sure that a seed has been sowed, and she will definitely start thinking critically whenever something goes wrong around her. And I call this “A success story”.
For more information about The Barefoot Enriche program please contact Co-Directors Anu Jain or Lucie Argelies at email@example.com or support our programs by contributing: