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.

Project SHAKTI Overview

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UPDATE: August 2010

Is Project SHAKTI's Impact Still Visible?

Yes! I returned 1 year after Project SHAKTI's two-month long program to Nagla Kharga and am delighted to see with my eyes how some girls have taken off since! Despite ongoing difficulties such as lack of family support, high fees, inability to take private tuitions, and below-standard teaching in government schools, 6 girls returned to school on my motivation and have been studying hard for over a year. These persevering young women are: Varsha, Neelum, Khushbu, Kusma, Praveen, and Pooja. Their stories are powerful shining examples of how each of us can achieve more with self-confidence and support from others.

Just before I left, Praveen, for instance, had re-entered High School but was still struggling to pass English. English was the subject that prevented her from graduating 5 years before. However, she has been determined to pass and now she has not only graduated from high school, she is studying in college while working her first job! And as a security personnel earning 3 thousand rupees a month, she is demonstrating great potential and building important skills.

In addition to the girls continuing school, I saw that Beenesh and Sumun utilized the opportunities I gave them to learn, grow, and teach. They remember my message that they can do anything they set their minds to. For example, Beenesh said, tearing, that because of my program she has been continuing to take initiative to learn important things like sewing. "I've now been able to do bigger things that make me happy... I made the suits for my aunt's marriage; she was very happy and gave me much in return!... I know more and [I see that there is more to know and do]."

I was dissapointed that Vinita and Krishna have not been continuing to grow intellectually and personally as much as I thought they would. I see intellectual potential in them, but also much complacence. But they are beautiful, bright girls and I was glad to see them happy and smiling. It is true that in the long run, my presence will have only changed a handful of girls to persevere toward their aspirations, however, I am grateful for that impact. I also have come to believe that it is always only a fraction of people that can be helped or gotten through to by any one measure. And, I am thrilled to have been able to truly help 6-8 girls out of 35!

Project SHAKTI in Continuation through Scholarships:

I am trying to support Neelum and Khushbu in particular with their private schooling fees. I left with them money for their upcoming fees and requested that they mail my aunt their grade reports. I did not promise more funds, but I hope that they understand that the more they do on their part to show me their progress, successes, and areas where they need help - the more I information I have to fully assist them.

Skills I Utilized

  • Running a treadmill to keep a project running successfully: Maintaining the energy to give my 110% to the girls everyday during class -- and then run around my exhausting schedule was physically hard work, but also exhilarating!
  • Getting an Idea and Running with it: Even undertaking this project was a leap for me; but on the ground, I had to be decisive and fast-acting due to the short time, and also to justify my role as project manager in the community
  • Balancing being Inclusive [the participatory process] and being Directive [taking command when necessary]: Before undertaking this project, I focused on making sure everyone felt heard and relied too much on collaboration rather than on calling decisions myself (when I was in the position to). Now I've found the effective medium!
  • Flexible Resourcefulness: What do you do when monsoon rains get into your taxi's engine when you have 35 girls and half the village elders waiting for you, when the certificate-printer is closed due to a power-outage, when you plan a lesson around a series of carefully-strung videos and youtube unearthed-gems and then plug in the battery/inverter to hear it sputter and fail thanks to the dishonest salesman, when you walk into class with hours-worth of preparation to conduct reading activities, only to find out that 80% of the girls are holding the newspapers upside-down and had grossly exaggerated their reading abilities, when the sociologist whom your entire project relied upon the on-site support of, has broken her ankle and is unable to even get to the site????? ...... Well, you take a deep breath (or 10), tell yourself that you can work with this opportunity to rise above a challenge, and get to it!
  • 'Counseling'/Listening/Being Actively Reflective but Not Interfering/Imposing

What Made Project SHAKTI Successful?

  • Using media from Dehi-based NGO Going to School in India and UNICEF that depicted other real women from villages tremendously helped me send a very strong and influential message to the girls: that they should believe in themselves, dream big, and then work hard and, if possible or necessary, go to school to realize their dreams. 7 Girls in my program have since enrolled in school. For some, Project SHAKTI was the first to encourage them to go to school and believe in themselves; and a few girls are picking themselves up after very difficult circumstances to go to school, such as the death, disability, resistance, and lack of funds of their parents.
  • I found that even when I wasn’t imparting these abstract ideas, teaching very mundane, simple things like color mixing, the Hindi alphabet, making Rakhis, and how to read a map or a newspaper were basic skills that helped the girls feel confident. Those who later went on to enroll in school then found it easier to transition after the long gap years as much of this was either assumed or taken up for review in the first weeks.
  • Another successful component of the project came from an idea that my mother and I had in response to the girls’ interest in sewing. We asked them to form groups in which a girl who had some knowledge would teach others. These groups not only more rightly replaced the study/self-help groups I intended to create, but gave them a fun, community building, empowering, and useful activity to work on together during the long afternoons that girls said they usually remained empty-handed and bored in.
  • The most important basis of success was, I think, being able to be patient and loving and having  "unconditional positive regard" for the girls, even when they girls were rude or ungratefully demanding. I learned that the primary reason the girls “tried so hard to listen” to what I told them and tried to implement it was because each girl knew that “Ms. Lipi really loves me,” as I heard from many girls. Similarly, if I had been quicker to give them things before first allowing them to go through the process of figuring out what they need and problem-solving to acquire it, then Project SHAKTI would not have been as empowering for the girls. For example, I told the sewing groups that I would be available for help, but I didn’t buy any supplies at first. Surprisingly, they never asked. Instead they got creative and borrowed from relatives, investing many people in their initiative to learn. So, I gifted many sewing supply packages only at the end, as a reward and encouragement. I think those supplies have much more value to them now that they truly earned them.