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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Ethical Questions and Considerations

How community-driven was it and how much do the participating young women really "own" the new perspectives that I guided them to see?
  • I was honestly at first frustrated and disheartened by the absence of a girl who wanted to lead, a sense of movement in the community that I could follow. So, I was more active and prodding than I intended, more "how about we do this?" than "ok, so, you want to do that, let's figure out how to get there and how I can help!" Yet, it was important to meet the girls where they were and, in a way, respect their disinterest in becoming change-makers. 
  • In the context of everyday classes, I was sensitive about my approach. Though I did not impose my perspective [the only exceptions being that they shouldn't litter and that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to], I definitely did guide them toward conclusions about the benefits of education and hygiene, for example. Did I ask leading questions? Sometimes.  not every girl was willing or capable to expend the energy it takes to think critically on every topic. Often, what worked better was asking leading questions to guide them toward a particular answer ( or simply gave them an idea, a potential answer) and asking them to sit on it and see if it feels "right" to them. However, my major purpose was to pose questions (about their health, wellness, hopes, and life's destinations) and encourage them to find their own, intuitive answers.
  • So, I often asked truly open-ended questions [e.g. what values are most important to you?] and, though I am sure that some girls got a sense of what my answers to those questions would be and therefore how I might internally judge them, I think the girls felt that the space was safe enough to share their honest answers. Throughout the project, I tried to help the girls feel more in tune with their own sense of direction by being accepting of all the girls even if I didn't agree with their opinions. It was difficult balancing power dynamics [whereby sometimes girls would say only what they thought I'd like to hear rather than what they really thought to get on my good side], my own honesty/genuineness [sometimes revealing my own opinions and running the risk of helping the girls to be artificial just to win my favor], unconditional positive regard [demonstrating understanding so that they felt they could be honest] at the same time.  But, I did my best, and I am proud of the outcome. 
  • Also, my 2-month time limit made directly involving the community much harder than ever anticipated! This was a huge lesson [and blow to my idealistic goals] for me.
    Was I fair in distributing my time/energy/money/supplies/resources?
    • I tried to be, but there is no right way to be fair; and some girls felt they unjustly did not receive as much others. I honestly was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to best balance between rewarding girls who took initiative vs encouraging other girls to begin to take more initiative, spending enough on them to make a difference but not so much as to upset larger village dynamics, spending more energy on 'remedial'-type classes vs 'gifted'-type classes, and between spending more money on those who are relatively more disadvantaged vs not. Again, I don't know if struck that balance perfectly, but I sure did try to.
     Was it unfair to focus only on girls, and only on those 35 in the community?
    • Yes and No. In my narrow project, I think it was best to have a narrow focus group. Additionally, my cap of 35 not only ensured that I be able to attend to each one, but it also was reasonably inclusive. There were only a few girls I had to turn away. 
    • However, I do strongly believe that larger development models must be gender-integrated and focus on whole communities, not just women. The emphasis on female empowerment seems like a fad to me, not one without its merits, but, every development situation stands alone and needs to follow a 'customized' plan, rather than one that takes the importance of women's empowerment for granted.

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