Since 2002, Women’s Education Project has provided NGO partners in the towns of Madurai, Hyderabad and Kadapa, India, our Leadership Academy – a program for young women ages 15-24 to become leaders, earners and change makers. Over the years, students have attended courses on leadership, health, nutrition, rights, personal finance, English, their local language, and computers. On field trips, they have interviewed beekeepers at their apiaries, lawyers in a courtroom and fisherman at the Bay of Bengal.
The Academy program also provides space to study and hangout. Gathering over tea in the Academy’s center, students would tell stories of convincing their neighbour to halt their 15-year-old daughter’s marriage and enrol her back in school; of asking their parents to decline the loan shark’s offer; and of teaching their mother to grow a kitchen garden, which now were full of fresh tomatoes. From these stories, we knew that our students were changemakers.
But during the pandemic, students told Academy Directors, that the unstaffed clinic in their village and the open sewage canal were no longer annoyances, but serious health risks to their community and asked for help to write petitions to government officials. Knowing the courage and skill this would take, we saw the need for a comprehensive training program for our students to safely and effectively make change in their own lives, families and communities.
A grant from PaxWorks funded the pilot of the WEP’s Ripple Effect program. A curriculum developer from Chennai formed a three-month program for 30 students to participate in arts-based activities to learn how to make positive change, develop projects (of any size), and after guidance from local traditional storytellers, tell their own stories. At the conclusion of the storytelling sessions, students planted small trees, signifying growth and change.