“I feel confident and believe I lack nothing.”

Join Devesh Lal on a journey to a slum in India’s poorest state to discover how Viva’s partner network is helping vulnerable girls to seek self-dignity and success, and to choose the course of their lives.

Kamla Nehru Nagar is one of numerous slums in Patna, in the heart of the city – the capital of Bihar state in eastern India.

It has around 1,250 households and a population of about 10,000 people. The slum lacks any civic amenities which results in unhygienic living conditions.

Almost a third of the population are Muslims; the rest comprise people from different marginalised castes of Hindu community. The breadwinners are mostly menial labourers, daily wage earners, rickshaw and handcart pullers, and maid servants.

Girls are especially vulnerable in slums like Kamla Nehru Nagar. They do not enjoy the same status, opportunities and privileges as their male counterparts.

This discrimination is caused by cultural and religious beliefs which are more deeply evident in poorer and ignorant communities where girls are mostly confined to their homes lacking incentive and encouragement to take up education.

They have practically no voice in the families and are not permitted to take decisions about their personal lives, marriage and future. The situation makes them believe that they are meant to serve others and have no right to have aspirations or dreams or even seek self-dignity.

The majority of these girls are given away in child marriages and end up becoming mothers in their early teens.

Viva’s partner network in Patna is intervening through a girl child mentoring programme called ‘Dare to be different’. It gives the girls value-based, life skills training dealing with issues including rights abuse, self-esteem, media impact, peer pressure, sex and sexuality, adolescent health and making the right choices.

Constant interaction through training enables teenage girls to come out of their shells and to discuss their personal and family lives, their struggles and constraints. They begin to have dreams and aspirations when they realise that they too can have an identity and the legitimate right to seek success.

Fifty girls have been enrolled in the programme in Kamla Nehru Nagar. Only three girls who enrolled had passed class 12 exams and six girls are enrolled in class nine or ten. Almost half are Muslims, and most of these girls are not enrolled in schools as their family members deny them education as they fear education will make their girls go astray.

The majority of these girls had no aspirations as they did not feel valued and cared for in their families. During the training they realise that they are a precious creation of God and have a right to seek self-dignity, success and choose the course of their lives.

They are realising that education is their way of freedom and development. Six Muslim girl were able to ask their parents to allow them to enrol in schools: four of them are already successful while the other two are still trying to convince their parents.

Mukund Singh, Viva’s Network Co-ordinator in Patna, who is also an expert in teenage health, is very pleased to see visible changes among these girls.

She tells me, “These girls were unaware of menstruation hygiene and were using dirty clothes. Now they are using clean clothes. Not only this, after I shared with them about the symptoms of UTI, many girls stood up to say that they have those symptoms and, on my advice, are assessing medical treatment.”

Girls are displaying their confidence that the training has made them more knowledgeable, aware and equipped to face challenges of teenage years. There are many barriers, though, and Mukund adds, “I can sense that some of these girls are being abused in their homes but I am patiently waiting for these girls to open up.”

Both Mukund and I are now thrilled to see remarkable changes in these girls, especially in their attitude.

Uma (16), whose father is a road side vendor, said that she was always made to believe that she was destined to do only home chores as she is a girl, but after attending this training she said she now realises that she can do all the works that boys are able to do.

Seventeen year-old Puja, who has a disability, suffered from low self-esteem because of her physical abnormality. She said that the training has infused in her the realisation that she is unique and beautiful, saying, “I feel confident and believe I lack nothing.”

And Jubaida, a 15-year-old Muslim girl, is jubilant as the training gave her the confidence to impress upon her parents to allow her to go back to school. She displays her new achievement with a constant smiling face and confident manners. She has become a model for other girls from Muslim community in the group.

Please join us in praying for this crucial work in Patna, and in other cities across India, and for the girls whose lives we’re impacting.

Devesh Lal is Viva Network Consultant in India and master trainer for the Dare to be Different programme.

See the work in Patna by watching our video from the 2016 Christmas Appeal