The Other Side in Anupshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India, April 2015
by Melanie Closs
My work in Anupshahr is focused on gathering groups of girls to connect with our groups of girls in New York City. I organized my classes to match up with each participating Other SIde group. For example, we have 4 different participating schools in New York City (Bronx Writing Academy, Isaac Newton Middle School, Global Tech Prep, and Nightingale-Bamford) and I organized 4 different classes at PPES to coordinate with each New York group, to create a more personal exchange.
Each group spent 2 weeks with our curriculum. I also have 3 ambassadors, teachers at PPES, who assist, translate, and continue with the exchange for the rest of the year. Madhu, Anjana, and Reena are these ambassadors, as well as Taruna and Usha who help out with some video and tech.
The girls started by playing games to get their bodies used to expression. This has always been a big challenge with girls at PPES, as they are not used to expressing themselves, or being asked for their own opinions or feelings. We then do a Theatre of the Oppressed activity proving that we can change the way we think about things, and turn that change into actions, by following opposite action directions. (For example, I’ll say walk, but you do the action of stopping, and when I say stop, you do the action of walking.) I actually did this activity in Hindi, all I needed to do was learn the words for “walk” (ghumo) “stop” (ruko) “jump” (kudna) and “clap” (thali). This then leads to the concept of “Stereotypes” which was difficult in some ways to define, but not hard to identify stereotypes about girls in this area. Some examples include; Girls should be housewives, Girls do not go to school, girls should not wear jeans, only Sari or suit, and girls should not go outside of their homes for something like school or a job.
From this list, girls think of stories when they’ve experienced one of these stereotypes. Maybe they wanted to go to school, or wear jeans, or tried to convince a friend to go to school. From these stories, plays are developed through our play-building process.
The second week focused on watching videos from each participating group in New York, in which the girls there shared their own stereotypes, hopes and fears, and questions for the girls in India.
The final product was a film that included the girls’ plays, plus introductions (“Hi, my name is Sonam, I am 13 years old, I love to play cricket…etc) any answers to questions and new questions themselves. All the footage was gathered, and a few select students who were particularly engaged in the activity got to help to edit, choosing music, titles for plays, and captions.
The workshops culminated in a screening of all the videos for all participating groups at PPES. These films are also a part of the final days of workshops back in New York, which will end in May.
From Sheeba, participant in The Other Side, Call Centre trainee at Pardada-Pardadi:
Hi friends, my name is Sheeba. I am about to graduate and now I am taking call center training. I hope to get a job through this training. Our class is doing The Other Side workshops with Melanie and learning about girls at Nightingale-Bamford in New York City.
Now I want tell you about girls in U.S.A. and girls in India. They are both thinking different things about each other. We watched a video from the girls in the U.S.A. and they performed a drama and an introduction. They told us that they are always with us and they will help us, if we are having any problems or a bad day. They also told us not to think about what anyone says, and to be ourselves and follow our dreams. They asked us, when we have daughters, will we allow them to wear jeans, go outside and give them all facilities?
When we discussed our own opinion and stereotypes of U.S.A. girls, we thought that they are always free. The are very confident and very intelligent and they don’t care what people think. But we learned that they have just as many problems as we do. They care so much about beauty and looks, and we told them how beautiful they are. They told us that we can do everything we intend to do, just make sure that we want to do it and to know our goals that we want to achieve. We should make a goal in our life and we should follow our passion to achieve that goal. Indian girls think that they can’t get an education and their parents will not allow and education, but some people think that girls should be allowed to study and go outside for many future opportunities. Nothing is impossible if we will do hard work, and we can do everything.
Skype Session: Some girls from Pardada-Pardadi talked to girls from Nightingale-Bamford on Skype last week. They talked about the way they think and asked some questions about what life is like for a rural area girl. The Pardada-Pardadi girls performed a play about how one girl wanted to go outside of her home to study, but their parents did not allow her to go. She requested again, and her mother said, “You can’t go outside to study.” She said, “I want to complete my dreams so I want to go.”
The girls in Nightingale asked us some questions. They asked us, “when you are a mother, will you allow your daughter to wear jeans and go outside their homes to study.” We said “yes!” The Nightingale girls asked us what we like and what will we do in the future. The girls were very excited to talk to us and we saw their feelings and expressions. Pardada-Pardadi girls asked some questions like, “What is an famous building in the US?” and “What is your favorite subject?”
It was so much fun to learn about the girls at Nightingale, and to spend time with Melanie Mam. I hope we can keep in touch with the girls. We can’t wait for next year!