Monday, 19 May 2014

Dare to Care by UNICEF, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Recently I received a wonderful opportunity to work for UNICEF for their widely spread well-known project Dare to Care for UNICEF Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The event was on May 16th, 2014. Before I reached there, I thought it'd be wise to find more about the project. As I dug deeper into the matter, I came to know about their humbling and intricate work strategies for adolescent girls in Gujarat.

The project is a joint venture by UNICEF and the current IPL cricket team, Delhi Daredevils and is laid out for adolescent girls (aged between 14-17 years) who belong to the most backward and tribal villages from Gujarat. According to UNICEF, almost 40% of adolescent girls in the 14-17 age group do not attend school, and 22% get married before the legal age of 18 years. An estimated 56% are anemic and hence, highly prone to poor maternal health and not only to their own, but also to their future offspring. UNICEF works very closely and remarkably to spread the awareness but to make it more effective on the higher scale, they have called upon the IPL team, Delhi Daredevils, to come and help them in the venture. Because of the active participation from the cricketers, the impact has raised by leaps and bounds. Now the villagers are enunciating on the importance of girls' education. They are also barring on early child marriages and child labor. All credit goes to UNICEF's bold initiative, Dare to Care campaign. More on this we will focus later in this article.

Girls with Delhi Daredevils team players

No need to say, I was deeply impressed with the work and much looking forward to the event. The event was in Marriot, the official partner for UNICEF, Ahmedabad. I was sitting in a sophisticated corner with the group of bloggers and journalists when I spotted adolescent girls and the cricketers coming along. There were 11 adolescent girls who had come from the tribal villages of Gujarat and are part of UNICEF's child right initiatives. They intricately work on the grass root levels for thousands of girls like themselves to improve their lives and lifestyles. Basically these girls show dare to care for girls like them. The informal event was majorly based to cover three key issues - Child marriages, Child labor and Girls' education.


Shaking hands and spreading warmth



Girls welcoming the players - 




As I watched from the corner, I observed players mingling seamlessly with the girls, talking, listening and sharing their experiences. Girls looked incredibly moved and enthusiastic meeting with their role models. This all dawned as a surprise to me as I had thought girls might not be much comfortable talking about their issues to male figures but here, the scenario was completely upside down. Where girls were laughing and chattering with the cricketers, the team too was at much ease and enjoying the event with unshakable faith in the work they were doing.


Let's talk!

This all was making me eager to come among them and become as one. Fortunately, after sometime, we were invited. As I sighed happily inside, I made my way towards the IPL team members first. The first cricketer that I came across was Dinesh Karthik. On being asked about "how do you feel about this UNICEF venture?", he was humble with the answer. 

Dinesh Karthik: "This entire venture by UNICEF is a bold attempt to do something remarkable for the girls of Gujarat. I feel proud and happy to be associated with such campaign. Such issues should be covered and UNICEF is a great platform to do it" Yes! It is indeed. Glad to hear about his active participation.

Then I paved my way to Jaydev Unadkat who was immensely busy talking with a girl. I waited patiently and finally when I sat down next to him, we exchanged greetings. Jaydev's big bright eyes and polite smiles caught my attention but when he answered to my queries, I was completely stumped. Finally I bowled my question towards him. 

"Which one of these three issues do you think should be resolved first?" 

Jaydev Unadkat:  "Girl's education. Better education leads to awareness and hence, keeps a tap on early marriages. We should practice for marriages on appropriate age. This all results in good health, children at appropriate age and a better evolved next generation. This way, our nation will lead to good. We are also trying to do our best to spread the awareness through UNICEF". I nodded and agreed. I too believe the same. Education is the key to almost all the issues. Our conversation was interrupted when we spotted a birthday cake on a nearby table. You see! It was not just any other chit-chat session between players and the girls. It was all about spending and encouraging girls from every direction; to fill them with confidence and much required self-belief with the coveted presence of some of the greatest team players. It was the birthday of one of the girls. Below are the pictures and they say it all how team and girls enjoyed with each other. The girl fed cake to the cricketers and in return, they showed the same warmth with little cake smearing act on the girl's face. Overall, it was fun watching the comfort quotient between the team and the girls.






Looked nice when they did it :)

There was lot of chattering going around. The atmosphere was heavily sprinkled with the dollops of gaiety. Everyone enjoyed the ceremony and I waited for it to come to its end. Then I saw Wayne Parnell sitting on a nearby chair. He was busy in talking but nonetheless, I asked my question when my turn came.

I: "You have also been adolescent years ago. Could you please share one of the issues that you faced and resolved it on your own?"

Wayne Parnell: "I come from a poor family and the decision in coming into sports field was the most challenging issue I faced. To overcome any of the challenges, it is vital to have the support of family and friends. With them, the journey becomes easier"

I: "How do you think one can resolve an issue?"

Wayne Parnell: "Find strength within. Stop making excuses. You must have faith in yourself but above all, education is the most important thing. Education can not be taken away from you at any cost

I stopped short for a moment listening to Wayne's last sentence. What a wonderful line he had delivered! I truly obliged to his words and asked him to elaborate more on this. He smiled and added further.

Wayne Parnell: "We can get injured, mutilated or can be robbed of everything in our life but education is the one thing that can never be taken away from us. This is the thing that enriches us wherever we go" I was astounded at his words. I was highly pleased and told him that I am going to put your words 'Education can not be taken away' in bold letters on my blog. He chuckled and then I waved him good bye.

Then I could see Mayank Agarwal cheerfully surrounded by delighted girls. He appeared content and was grinning with them. It was altogether a pleasing experience to see how these IPL stars are so much humble and down to earth. They get all the luxuries around the globe and yet, they were there; smiling with hearts and generously sharing their moments with the girls who are stripped of any luxury without committing a mistake. 

Yes! Together we are winners

Finally I got the chance to ask him few questions. I was about to ask when a girl almost ran into us. She was loaded with energy and wanted to get clicked with Mayank. When she was done, then I asked Mayank, 

"Usually we say elders and parents are not supportive enough to educate their daughters. But sometimes, it is the girl not willing to study or do something remarkble in life. What do you have to say for these girls and what suggestion you would like to give them?"

Mayank Agarwal (after thinking for a moment): "I will say that god has given us a meaningful life and we should live it with a dream. It is my desire to see all the human beings/girls educated. Girls who are lucky enough to get supported by their parents, they should grab the opportunity. But the girls, who do not live by themselves, I will say take a step forward and fulfill the dream". Very wise indeed!

Now the time was coming up to wrap up the event. I hurriedly approached Ross Taylor who was an instant hit among girls because of his jolly nature and noteworthy sense of humor. I asked him, 

"Apart from these three issues, child labor, child marriage and girls' education, what else do you think should be covered and resolved?"

Ross Taylor: "These three should be resolved first, especially the girls' education" and then the entire IPL team, Delhidaredevils, waved all of us good bye.

When the players were gone, the high voltage of excitement came down to a level and then I could talk to the girls pertaining to their lives, dreams, careers, issues they face and what not. In short, it was a chance for me to look into their lives. The first girl I interacted with was Umatba. According to her,

"I belong to a conservative family where there was never a much importance for a girl's education but after UNICEF stepped in, things started to change. Now my family emphasize on girl's education. I go to college and study. Started sewing courses at home. I also go to house to house, door to door to encourage people to send their girls in schools and colleges. I have also received an award from Kamla Ben". On being asked about her hobbies, she said,

"Studying and meeting people from various walks of life" which, I think, says volume about the girl and her enthusiasm for the life.

Next in line was Gayatri from Bhaavnagar. She is 15 years old and studying in class 10th. Being asked about her family, she enthusiastically claimed,

"My school is 3 Kms far from my home but I go by cycle everyday. Mummy wants me to study further" She added further, "I take my stand and deal with boys when they try to harass me. From UNICEF, I learnt lot of things like confidence, courage, and we girls are no less powerful than boys. When I meet such players (Delhi Daredevils team players), I feel very confident". Her hobbies are - Reading novels and magazines, and playing Harmonium. She wants to become an IPS officer. She also thinks that girl's education is the biggest issue for which we all should work.

Third girl that I met was beautiful Padma. I complimented her for her beauty to which she smiled politely. Padma is 16 years old and studies in class 11th. She says,

"I want to study further as I love it. My favorite subject is Accounts. My family also wants to educate me further but because of financial issues, it seems hard for me to fulfill my dream" I prodded her further what she would do, if suppose, she has to drop out. She said she would seek help from the teachers and aacharyas. I could see she was determined to do her best but was gloomy inside with the fear of leaving the education in middle. She told me proudly, "I have claimed first position in Race competition in Gandhinagar. I get scholarship but that may not be sufficient for my studies. I don't know what would I do in future"


Letting girls to teach me more about life

I was touched. My heart twisted as I wanted to help her. I told her, "Education is not limited only to schools and colleges. If, unfortunately, you won't be able to pursue the studies, always read books. They will help you to enhance the clarity of your vision, increase the knowledge and will make you stand apart in the crowd" She nodded as she absorbed my words. I was right and so she beamed with a smile.

Her hobbies are to study, singing, making friends and cricket. As elections were going on and May 16th (the event date) was the precise date to declare the future prime minister of our country, I asked her expectations to the new PM of the country. Padma replied after mulling over. "In villages, we have no electricity, scarce water, no roads, very less schools and a bad infrastructure. It is also very tough for us to commute if we want to go somewhere. I want our next PM to look after these matters" I believed that Padma already has a great and clear vision. She just needs guidance, right education and correct path to move on to. Then she will certainly be a star one day.

Where Sonal (18 years old) faces the financial crisis for her further studies, right there Gopi's (17 years) mother wants her to study but because Gopi has no father, it is tough for her mother to educate Gopi. Sonal's father is a farmer. She has studied till Std. 12th. Sonal runs a beauty parlor at home, and sewing courses but whatever amount of money flows in, everything is galloped in her mother's treatment. Sonal wants to be an engineer and has one brother who is in class 10th. 

Gopi apparently has less issues than Sonal. She has 3 sisters and her mother does a job. Her hobbies lie in singing, playing Volleyball and meeting people from different backgrounds. As she added further, she chirpily claimed she wants to be an Air Hostess. I was amazed to hear this. Where rest of the girls visioned to do something on land, Gopi sounded different. She wants to touch the sky, she wants to fly in it and leave her name on the clouds. She was confident, loaded with enthusiasm and carried a glint of a future that she is determined to comply for. 



This was it. But was it really? No. I was also compelled to have an altogether different journey as an aftermath of the event. I myself have seen hardships in life but the way those 11 adolescent girls dare to care for other girls just like them made me salute their work. The determination they have in their voices and the way their eyes were filled with passion to do something for good wrenched my heart as I dove deeper into my thoughts. Those 11 girls could have thought only of themselves. Their lives are already challenging to live through let alone thinking about changing others' but yet...they are a part of UNICEF initiatives. They indeed justify the campaign "Dare to Care" and are exemplary examples for others to take an extra step and contribute to the society. And yes...I also got autographs of the players along with some selfies. It was another reward for me. :)

At the end, I am extremely thankful to UNICEF to provide me such a wonderful opportunity and hence, an unforgettable experience of life. I wish to work for them in future again.


4 comments:

  1. Congrats bhabhi ji to get such an opportunity. I really moved to read it. Hats off to UNICEF, DD and you guys who are doing such incredible work. I wish good luck to such girls for all their successes in coming years.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Vikas. It was indeed a wonderful experience. Such works bring you closer to yourselves. At least, I believe so.

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  2. Seems you have re-lived the moments while putting this write-ups...! Kudos..!

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