Andrew Dubock travelled to Delhi to see how a new Viva mentoring programme is laying down strong roots for girls to help them flourish into the future.
There is a buzz in the room. The group of 20 teenage girls create a positive energy, listening to and respecting one another, and talking about plans and hopes, with an air of confidence.
Rewind six months, and I imagine I would have felt a very different atmosphere here, marked by shyness, fear, anger, and plenty of eyes looking at the floor.
These girls’ remarkable journeys are as a result of a new Viva programme being rolled out by the partner network here in Delhi, in other cities in India, and across Asia.
Flourish is a life skills course for teenagers, which introduces knowledge, skills and attitudes that teenagers need in order to keep themselves healthy and safe, to build resilience, to raise aspirations and to prepare for life as valued members of their communities.
In a society in which they are discriminated and abused, India’s girls desperately need protecting, educating, motivating and empowering – and Flourish aims to do just this. Its impact will be seen for years to come as girls continue their studies, are not forced into child marriage and know how to say no to exploitation and abuse.
Preeti Masih, Viva India’s life skills co-ordinator, tells me about the default position for girls in Delhi. “Each day, the children I meet face a lot of issues regarding self-esteem and they have very little confidence,” she tells me. “There is pressure from teachers and parents about their studies, and they can often feel that they are worthless and not good people.”
She adds, “Teenagers are confused about the changes they are going through. Parents cannot always see it and deal with it. Our programme makes girls aware of this transition – their physical, behavioural and emotional changes – and how each of them can enhance their skills and ability to be the best they can in the future.”
Flourish consists of 17 sessions, taught over a six to eight-month period. There are clear values and principles running throughout it – see box. It covers three main areas: ‘Knowing myself ’ (self-esteem; goals and purpose; puberty; emotional intelligence), ‘Relating to others’ (friendship, positive peer influence; respect for differences; team work) and ‘Making decisions about my life’ (good health, decision making, keeping safe; social responsibility).
Preeti says, “In the introductory session, the girls were unable to respond or participate in any activities or answer any questions. When we involved them in role plays and craft activities, they slowly started learning, coming up with good ideas about improving their self-esteem and telling their stories.”
Viva’s network model makes the programme especially effective because local individuals and churches in the network can work together to provide quality training, and to have a greater influence together across a city.
I’m meeting some of the girls that have been impacted through this year’s pilot of Flourish, to understand just why its input has been so crucial at this point in their lives.
Fifteen-year-old Kajal bubbles with confidence as she tells me, “I have learned so much about dealing with peer pressure and improving my self-esteem; about setting goals and having a purpose in life. If I feel unsafe, I know now how to report a problem, follow a process and to get to a safety zone. I know now I can make a difference where I live. I don’t want Flourish to stop and I’m ready to take the same sessions again to answer any more questions I have!”
Whilst Preeti teaches the main Flourish sessions, Sangheeta provides one-to-one mentoring for the girls in their homes. I join Sangheeta on a visit to the Mayapuri slum community in south west Delhi, to understand more about the girls’ background situations.
Walking through narrow alleyways, I am moved by families living in cramped, makeshift homes that are squeezed into a small strip of land, with factories on one side and the railway track on the other. It’s unclean and unhygienic – no place to bring up a child. But these families have no choice. Most parents are uneducated and working in a nearby factory where they only earn the equivalent of around £150 a month.
Flourish aims to break the generational cycle of underachievement and low self-esteem. The girls from Mayapuri don’t have positive values passed down from their parents because they were unable to value themselves. Sangheeta and Preeti are providing a new way for both teenage children and their parents to live their lives, have positive values and be more confident.
Sangheeta tells me about a girl called Karishma. When she came along to the first Flourish session, she was abusive, did not respect her parents and had unhealthy friendships. Flourish has instilled a remarkable change in Karishma’s behaviour – she talks positively and respects her parents. It is helping her to be a better person – she knows God has a plan for her and that she is not worthless, which is how she used to think.
Sangheeta says, “I want to give these children a better life, not to stay in slums, but to guide them along the right path. Parents now want to send their children to Flourish – that’s proof of impact! When I visit the houses, the parents welcome me in and give me respect. Parents feel their children are gaining values, which can be seen in their lives.”
“Whenever I work with children I am motivated because they are very vulnerable,” adds Preeti. “They are the future of the nation. This course is not just important for a child but it’s important for human beings – to do good in life. It gives children an open platform to think for themselves.”
This year, Viva has piloted Flourish for more than 250 girls in India. Our goal is to reach 100 teenagers in each of the seven cities with a Viva partner network.
After visiting Delhi, I had planned to see the programme in action in Patna (with sessions for both girls and boys in children’s homes) but it was unfortunately cancelled because of extensive flooding in the city following monsoon rains.
It’s a stark reminder about the fragility of the places in which Viva works – and why our grassroots partner networks are so essential.
Andrew Dubock is Viva’s Global Fundraising and Communications Manager.
Flourish features in ‘Expanding Horizons’, Viva’s Christmas Match Appeal 2019. Go to viva.org/christmasappeal to watch videos, find out more and to support our global mentoring work.
This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 12