Tina Mann: Empowering Adolescent Girls Through Self-Help Groups
SEPT 15, 2008 – MAR 15, 2009
EMPOWERING ADOLESCENT GIRLS THROUGH SELF HELP GROUPS
Tina Mann, August 2008 Fellow
Halo Medical Foundation
Background and Project Vision
Halo Medical Foundation is a grassroots organization that aims to empower rural and urban communities through health awareness. In this manner they will be able to take on a more active role in their own health care and that of their families. The Sure Start project is a relatively new venture of HMF to provide maternal and newborn care through Self Help Groups. This project aims to incorporate adolescent girls within the broader spectrum of the Sure Start project. Currently the focus has exclusively been on self help group members as well as potential and current mothers. This project will provide adolescent girls with holistic knowledge in order to make better decisions in their overall lives with special emphasis on maternal and newborn health care. My role will be to create and oversee the initial phases of including adolescent girls into the overall Sure Start project.
Project Goals and Future Plans
The overall end goal of this project is to create a needs based training of trainer’s manual for the facilitators at HMF. This manual will include in-depth sessions on topics that have already been determined through a needs assessment I previously conducted in several slums with the adolescent girls. This manual will be paired with a training program with the facilitators which will go over the sessions and how to best implement them. Other goals related to the project have been broader in scope. These have included relationship building with the office staff as well as the communities HMF works with. I spent most of my initial months at my project trying to learn as much about the organizational structure of HMF as getting to know the people I would be working with on a daily basis. Field visits into the community with facilitators helped to introduce me to communities. Continually visiting the communities and even doing home stays has helped to create a rapport and build trust. In order to build on this I plan to do a one month trial stay in one of the community’s in order to achieve a greater understanding of the community and in particular the lives of adolescent girls. Previously I had almost exclusively visited only two of the slums that HMF worked with but now I hope to visit more of the target communities with the assistance of different facilitators thereby also building on workplace relationships.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
Throughout the term of the project the long term goals and the project itself have changed and evolved. Once relationships had been established with one of HMF’s communities I proceeded to take the lead in trying to create and run an adolescent girls group. This became an uphill battle largely due to my lack of language ability in both Marathi and Hindi. I was able to plan and help implement a one day adolescent girls program for thirty girls in a local slum. The pride and feeling of accomplishment after this event were huge but I realized that the way I was going about this project was neither beneficial to HMF, the adolescents nor myself. By January the facilitator that had been assigned to me was no longer able to provide the time to help me create these groups. Without a facilitator it became virtually impossible to try to go into the community and create these groups. After almost a month of frustration it led me to completely revise the way I would implement the program. Instead of trying to create and run these groups myself I would put the onus on the facilitators to do so. I decided to create a TOT (Training of Trainer’s) manual for the facilitators. I pitched the idea to my NGO mentor who was keen on the idea but insisted that the manual be based on the needs of the adolescents. In order to determine these needs I created a survey to determine what issues the girls faced in their lives, what their personal interests where and what topics of training they felt they could benefit as well as other topics. I was able to have fifty surveys completed and use them as baseline data in which to structure the content of the manual’s sessions. At this point there was a lack of clarity as to how I would implement the actual training of the trainer’s. This uncertainty was largely due to lack of workplace communication. Recently I have had a meeting with both NGO members directly in charge of my project and this helped to clarify my project goals and implementation. We were able to come up with a clearer and more detailed plan of action.
Detailed Goal-setting & Implementation Planning
Short Term Goals:
- Meet with my NGO lead person to go over my overall time table for the project and review all work relating to the manual that has been completed thus far. In addition this meeting will help to set up contacts with professionals (doctors and health experts) that I will be able to provide additional resources and learning’s for the manual.
- Conduct a documentation workshop for the office staff in order to create a more effective and efficient way to document work activities. Although this is not directly related to my project goals it is an issue in the office that I feel I could use my particular skills to help improve.
- Continue to research the chosen topics of the manual (Puberty, Menstrual Cycle, HIV/AIDS, Gender, Leadership/Confidence Building, Maternal and Newborn Health Care) and work on the sessions.
- Visit a NGO that is currently working with adolescent girls in urban slums. This will allow me to discover new ideas as well as learn from their missteps.
- Have a meeting with the entire office staff to ensure all people are apprised of my project plans so we are all on the same page and can go ahead as a collective.
Long Term Goals:
- Conduct training of trainer sessions for the facilitators and then testing out the training by co-facilitating adolescent girls programs that they run.
- Through the above mentioned process revise the adolescent girl’s manual and create a final edited version.
Understandings & Personal Growth
The last six months have taught me that no matter how much we think we know about anything until you experience it in the flesh with your own eyes you really only have a one dimensional perception and understanding. I remember reading a book by an Indian author where she was describing driving on a major road and seeing women hide behind bushes as the car lights fell on them. She discovered that these women were answering nature’s call because they had no sanitation in their villages. Therefore they had to wait for the cover of darkness in order to do their business. I remember thinking how awful it must have been for these women and about how a society could fail to provide its women with this one basic human dignity. It angered me at the time but somewhere down the line I forgot about it.
Last month I spent four days in one of my communities and I discovered that they had absolutely no sanitation in the slum. Many slums have common toilets set up but this slum did not have them because it was ‘unrecognized’ by the government and as such did not receive the kind of government assistance given to other communities. Only two homes out of a population of 7,000 had constructed their own sanitation. When I asked some of the girl’s in the community why this was so they seemed puzzled by my question. Having sanitation in their homes seemed to be a secondary priority to having things like a television. That night after suffering my own physical pain at not being able to relieve myself I headed out with two of the adolescents to the ‘bathroom’. This involved crossing the street into a lane barely covered with bushes and still somewhat visible to the major highway nearby. I remember almost tripping over a woman who was crouching in the lane because it was so dark. As my eyes adjusted I saw several other women in the lane. The area was swarming with mosquitos due to the open defecation and one could see all the passing cars in open view some hundred feet from the lane. I finished my stay in the slum but this time I didn’t just forget about the incident. But I also did not use this anger to mobilize the community and conduct rallies for proper sanitation. Instead what happened was that I gained a deeper understanding of how things are. This issue wasn’t black and white. It involved lack of government support, health risks of open defecation and having no sanitation. But this was also an issue that not all the women themselves viewed as a pressing concern.
There are countless other examples of things that I have viewed in one way but by being here have added rich layers to this knowledge. I have gained a greater understanding of the difficulties women face, especially adolescents in trying to carve out their own space and independence. I have learned the hard way how frustrating it can be to mobilize people, especially when you think it is for something that is for their own betterment. One of the most important lessons I have learned was echoed by my professor last year when he said that development was a slow process. Being here I have finally understood the weight of those words. What we are all doing in our fellowship year will not necessarily culminate in some huge tangible achievement. I have learned to accept that and realize that I may never see the visible results of what I have done here.
At the end of the day we are only accountable to ourselves. Therefore I must constantly try to push myself and not remain complacent with what I have done. I am my own harshest critique so I constantly have to keep myself in check because no one else is going to be consistently checking on my progress or making me ‘do’ anything. This requires a great deal of self-motivation something I am continually improving on as the fellowship year progresses. Finally one of the greatest lessons I have learned, and continue to do so, is that of humility. I frequently catch myself dismissing people I come into contact with as having nothing to offer or lacking the intellect that only a ‘western’ education can create. I never came into this fellowship thinking I knew all the answers but I think I thought I would know who would have them. I became narrow minded about who would have something of value to say and who had nothing to bring to the table. But this viewpoint constantly became challenged the more people surprised withe their incredible insights and perspectives in ways I would never have thought of. I realized that my greatest learning’s were coming from the most unexpected places by the most unexpected people. What I learned is that whether it is my co-workers, the shop keeper or the children on the street they all have a wealth of knowledge that I can learn from. Not only learn from but become a better person because of it.