Written by Manu, Barefoot Enriche Training Coordinator

My first Enriche workshop with the new batch of the international Solar Mamas from Myanmar, Afghanistan and Madagascar. I experienced a deja vu, which left me with so many questions and doubts. I am sure they will be answered gradually with time.

Towards the end of the workshop, in an effort to relax and lighten the mood of all the trainees I played some traditional music of their respective country of origin. It was a time for them solely to enjoy and be in the moment. Music spreading joy, wherein they can grow closer, and start opening up as a step to motivate each other. Everyone reciprocated happily but there was a dark cloud of uneasiness radiating from the trainees from Afghanistan. The idea of dancing without a care in the world seemed exciting to them but something was holding them back, or maybe the whole idea of dancing in front of so many new faces was too much for them to adapt to? They must have never danced in such an open yet non-judgmental environment. The preconceived notion of women not being able to dance and that it’s not elegant for a woman to dance, was keeping them from being who they really are.

Watching the other trainees enjoying and being themselves, the idea of them (Afghan trainees) dancing began to seem very harmless. The Afghan trainees decided to dance but it came with a condition. The condition stated was “We will dance but we do not want anyone to make a video or click pictures of us dancing”. I agreed to their special request, since it was more important for me to see them enjoying with the rest of the lot. I motivated the mamas by telling them that the six months they have at hand are for them to grow, enjoy and learn as much as they can. On hearing this I could sense the electricity of excitement buzzing in the room and they joined with the rest to stay true to their true identity. Most of these trainees from Afghanistan unfortunately were widowed due to the war, and are struggling/working hard to feed their children all by themselves.

After listening to their condition my mind was flooded with many thoughts. Are they afraid of being judged or humiliated if anyone in Afghanistan would get to know about this small act of freedom? Or was religion shackling them from breaking out into dance? Or was it that they themselves couldn’t think of dancing as they never thought they could? Or was there an underlying fear creeping up in their mortal hearts? Foundation of any system like patriarchy or religion depend on the depth of fear. So many questions unanswered but I’m optimistic that we will figure everything out slowly, fingers crossed.

One peculiar enthusiastic group had varied levels of participation. There were two to three mamas who came forward and started dancing, three from the group were watching them dance and were responding to their efforts by applauding them as a means to raise their morale and two of them were sitting and watching them with a straight face. I could sense that they were confused neither enjoying completely nor opposing. I saw one trainee who was not at all enjoying this. She wasn’t even watching other women dance. My first impressions was that she looked angry or as if someone had done something which was ethically wrong. But then I could sense that it was her all along who was making it tough for herself and it had nothing to do with the other women. I don’t know how to describe the scene in words but she didn’t want to be a part of it. I tried to talk to her but couldn’t, because of the language barrier. After this she left the room and came back when the music was over. She wasn’t upset or anything, on the flip side she was cheerfully talking to everyone.

At the end of the day I am only excited to see how she will mould herself during these six months of training. I can see how they don’t even realize what patriarchy have done to them. Left with few hopes and questions. Will she ever be brave and confident to adapt to this new environment and learning set-up? Will she leave the burdens in her closed shell and come out to enjoy truly? Will she embrace herself as a free women?

Even if they will be able to enjoy themselves truly and openly, it will make a difference. It will be their first step towards breaking gender dogmas. It will be a head up, a step towards redefining what it means to be a free woman.

For more information about The Barefoot Enriche program please contact Co-Directors Anu Jain or Lucie Argelies at enriche@barefootcollege.org or support our programs by contributing: