Hi! I'm Lipi Gupta.

I had an adventure this summer in Agra, India trying to make a difference in the lives of 35 young women of Nagla Kharga Village. I'd like to share my experience with you; I hope their stories move you as much as they have inspired me! Thank you for reading and feel free to contact me [by posting a comment/question] if I can be of assistance in any way, in a similar endeavor of yours!

Project SHAKTI was funded as one of 2009's 100 Projects for Peace.

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Is it difficult reaching the girls on the phone from America?
  • Yes. The cell phones belonging to the families of a few girls is my primary means of reaching them; and it is imperfect.  It means that I have to call numerous times to finally talk to them.
How are you approaching speaking to the women involved?
    • To the younger girls, like a teacher    
    •  To the older girls, like a friend giving advice    
    •  But, it’s hard establishing the fact that I’m their equal. They insist on calling me Maame even though I’m younger than some of them. But, I think having a degree of respect or authority was helpful. And, I  was able to deal with power structures without any problem; so that was fine.
    What were the most moving moments?
    • When some girls would open up to me and tell me about all the obstacles they see blocking their hopes and dreams. During a conversation like this, Vinita and I cried together; and I felt bonded to her like a sister from thereafter.
    • A lot of little things: when a girl would confidently participate, when I saw a girl "grow up" in front of me, when they'd surprise me with maturity and understanding, when I would for the first time really engage a girl and find something she's interested in, and she would, for the first time in my presence, have a twinkle in her eye as she talked or listened.  
    • When Neelum told me how she convinced her family to allow her to return to school, by fasting and threatening that I would otherwise come over and report them to American police! (I did not give her that idea!) She did this after we talked about figuring out creative ways to work with one's obligations/responsibilities/obstacles with the help of a support system, to realize one's dreams. I never imagined she would come up with such a dramatic method!
    • Each time a girl joined school.
    • On my last day with them, when Beenesh told me that I've changed her life, that she thinks of me every night so she can sleep, when Kusma cried and hugged me lovingly, when Vanita looked at me with moist eyes as she opened her gifts (books and things that I hoped would bring school to her since she couldn't at that time go to school herself), when I asked girls to tell me what they learned and some remembered more than I expected....
    Was it dangerous? 
    • Actually, in a very un-dramatic way, yes, a little. Going alone or with another woman, as I did, into an interior village never felt safe.... I wouldn’t even say shopping around downtown or suburban Agra is safe (there were several purse snatchings near where I stayed during that time, including 2 of my aunts  I was with). All in all, the experience was just unsafe enough to become painfully more aware of the privilege I have of feeling safe everyday at home. 
      Can you really make an impact in a single 2-month program?
      • The potential for impact is dramatically less, of course. But, at the same time, every bit counts.
      How did you gather participants?  
        • I asked Mahipal Singh, my village contact, to make a list of 51 girls who say they’ll come to a “fun program in which they’ll learn interesting things.” So, I went around to meet these girls and get firm commitments. Of those 51, 24 seemed sincere.
            Then on the first day of the class, not a single person came on time. 2 men, whose curiosity was sparked by my sincerity I think, offered to  take my roster of 24 girls and call them all, one-by-one, door-by-door. They did & by 7:10, everyone was there. I could have hugged the two very helpful men! The next class everyone was on time—even more—I had to turn a few away.

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