“I never thought this would happen in my life,” said Anita, talking about the impact that the SAF scholarship and training program has had on her life. “I have so much confidence now.
I understand so much more; I can be so much more. My life has become just like a rainbow.”
Anita is one of the thirty girls awarded a SAF scholarship to learn relevant skills at the University of Jammu. Girls are chosen from a variety of districts in the region; they are provided living accommodations at the university and taught useful skills, such as printing technology and textiles, beauty therapy and herbs, arts and crafts, mushroom cultivation, and beekeeping.
They are also given basic education in English, computers, management, accounting and bookkeeping.
Once they complete their 9-month training program and 3 month project work, the girls are encouraged to open their own businesses and/or schools and continue to develop their skills.
|Professor Poonam Dhawan, director of Adult and Continuing Education and Women’s Studies at the University of Jammu, explains that there are three main components to the scholarship program: to build girls’ self-confidence and self-esteem; to have a regional context, so raw materials and know-how are available; and to encourage girls from different areas to work together so they can collaborate on future projects.
“Our focus is on reducing dependence, vulnerability, and marginalization of women,” explains Ms. Dhawan. “We want to enhance the whole community, not just individual girls. If we can mainstream girls within their communities, everyone benefits.”
Given the reactions of the 20 young women I met, excited to share their stories and experiences, the program certainly seems to be working. “Art is inside all of us, but it has to be uncovered” said Anita. We have to learn the right techniques so we can create things that people want to buy.” Anita said she had spoiled so many diaries trying to press flowers. Now she has learned how to, and makes glass paintings with dried flowers. “They’re beautiful,” Poonam adds, “they sell like pancakes.” Anita recently got married, and her husband is encouraging her to open her own arts and crafts institute.
“Before I was not like this,” said another young woman. “I never spoke out like this. I used to be so scared, shy. I didn’t have any confidence. Now I can talk. I can make things and sell them. I didn’t know I had this inside me.”
“Nobody used to ask for my opinion before. Now they ask,” says another young woman. If any decision needs to be made in the house, they ask for my opinion.”
Poonam adds that another interesting, albeit unintended, impact of the program has been that girls are now choosing their husbands more carefully. One girl who is running a successful mushroom cultivation business decided to marry a boy with a degree in agriculture, knowing that his background would come in handy in her own business.
Kamini runs her own school, about an hour and a half from where she lives. She comes home around 5 pm to look after her three children, help them with their homework, and prepare dinner. She recently lost her husband. “It’s amazing how life works,” she told me. “I had never once lived a day alone in my life, until I left for the University of Jammu. I was first with my family, and then with my husband.
Now I have to live alone; I have to provide for my children. This scholarship was my preparation. It prepared me to live by myself, otherwise this time would be unbearable. It taught me skills to look after my children, otherwise what would I do now,” she says with equal parts sadness and strength. One young woman summed it up best. When I asked her what impact this scholarship had on her life, she turned to me and said with undeniable confidence, that this experience has shown her that “hum bhe kuch hey”.