If you were to sit at any table during lunch break at MUWCI, chances are you’ll be drawn into a conversation about inclusion, the oh-so-many exciting things happening in Triveni, a really potent class on intersectionality, social change and what that really means, and so on. All of this and more was showcased in it’s most comprehensive form yet at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference that took place in Salt Lake City, Utah from August 26-28, 2019. Representing MUWCI on this most prestigious global platform was our Head of College, Soraya Sayed Hassen – who spoke on a panel centered around building truly inclusive communities.
And that wasn’t it. Soraya, in collaboration with Harsha Joshi (former Head of Akshara) and three UWC alumni – Deepali (UWC Waterford) and MUWCI’s own Lily and Shruti from the Class of ’19, also facilitated a workshop – Empowerment through Education & Sports – Experiences from Rural India. This workshop became an opportunity to truly delve into the story of Akshara and present it to the world. Akshara’s work in the villages for the past 13 years has been a success due to its commitment to establishing strong relationships, gaining an in-depth understanding of the community’s needs and developing models of change that are rooted and sustainable. According to Harsha (former Head of Akshara),
“This was achieved through employing people who had knowledge of the local language, socio-cultural dynamics, and the inner lives and aspirations of the individuals in these villages.” Soraya feels, “That really gets to the heart of what sets MUWCI’s understanding of community apart. The fact that we truly immerse ourselves in the lives of the people before we even think about being changemakers.”
Other than Akshara’s many community development programs, another one of it’s key functions is also as an interface for students to engage with the local community through service learning. Komal Bharam from Asde village (who unfortunately only could make her presence felt through a video at the conference) started her relationship with Akshara as a beneficiary of the Kriya program. She was part of a group of 16 women from the Mulshi valley that successfully completed a Himalayan expedition in 2014. “Being able to complete that was a huge confidence booster! For someone who had barely stepped out of Mulshi, to be standing at Stok Kangri – it felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it,” says Komal. This newfound confidence led her to raise her hand when the opportunity to be one of the co-ordinators of the Amaavasyaa program came along. Amaavasyaa is a menstrual health program conceptualized by Lily and her co-year Josephine. “Having learned from a UWC alumni mentor, Raisa Mirza, about the ideas behind Human Centred Design,” says Josephine, “The key question would always be – what do the women we are working with want to learn and discuss rather than what do we want to teach them’’
“There’s two moments I really wanted to share when I spoke – firstly, when Dipali told us that she had stopped sleeping outside of her house on her period, and when Pratiksha, our co-year told us about her experience hosting a session on menstruation in her own village. These moments represent a culmination of two of our goals, to bring about a positive change in menstrual health management and role-model leadership to the women around us so that they can own this process and not merely be the beneficiaries of it,” concludes Lily.
“You can be so caught up in the daily grind of a place that it is only when you step back and look at the larger picture do you go – hey, we’re doing some really great things here!”
says Soraya about her experience of being at the Conference. We hope many such opportunities present themselves to MUWCI!