Why is the world full of potential, yet never quite able to solve its most challenging problems? Because “talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” says Scott Beale, Founder and CEO of US-headquartered Atlas Corps, who gives young social change leaders an opportunity to develop their skills and collaborate with other change leaders across the world within an international fellowship structure. In many ways, this opportunity has yielded great fruits.
Some 8431 miles away, 22-year old Mukhi Murmu agrees with Scott’s assertion. According to her, “young people like me have lots of potential but they either don’t get an enabling environment to lead change or don’t get adequate mentoring opportunity.“ Mukhi, who lives in Gutipaharai community, under Hiranpur block of Pakur district in India, also asserts that she was “backward by birth.” However, she is quick to point out that “things changed due to my endeavor, passion and positivity.” In other words, things changed for Mukhi because of her own leadership, combined with opportunity.
The opportunity came in the form of a chance to volunteer alongside other young people with Restless Development India. As the eldest daughter of a family of eight (parents, a sister, and four younger brothers) living below the poverty line in India, Mukhi had to take care of certain “unspoken responsibilities.” Her farmer father and other family members planted seasonal crops annually – they grew paddy, mustard, pulses and corn. However, volunteering and working alongside other young people changed her direction in life. Today, she is pursuing a Bachelors degree.
She features in our series of Q&As with young people volunteering in Restless Development programs across Africa and Asia. Read more from Mukhi below:
What were you doing before volunteering with Restless Development?
“I had a little exposure to NGO work as I was working as a member of a street theatre group for local NGOs prior applying for a volunteer position. I was eager to learn more about development work and various social causes. Then I got the opportunity to work as a volunteer with Restless Development in UfBR (Unite for Body Rights) programme in February 2014.
I wanted to acquire knowledge about various health issues young people encounter and take leadership in addressing community issues. I like to work with adolescent girls on sexual and reproductive health and life skills. I empathize with them when I find them in similar situation as it was with me when I was their age. They also lack information on menstrual hygiene management and sexual health and their life is surrounded by various myths and restrictions from family and society. It gives me immense pleasure to spend time with them on maturing by using games, group activity, posters, case studies and real life experiences. I worked in Unite for Body Rights program and worked with young people primarily.”
“My community members now recognize me as a leader and involve me in their personal as well as community issues. They seek various information from me on government schemes. I feel proud of myself as I have a distinct place in my family and community.”
What have you gained personally from volunteering?
“Volunteering helped develop me as a professional. I have developed self-confidence to work with community, schools, young people and other stakeholders including government officials. I feel my understanding in relation to development work with young people and communities has improved. I feel confident now to run sessions with young people as well as address a mass audience. My knowledge of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, life skills and civic rights has improved. I have better understanding of various issues like child labour, child marriage, gender discrimination and sexual abuse faced by young people in our communities. My community members now recognize me as a leader and involve me in their personal as well as community issues. They seek various information from me on government schemes. I feel proud of myself as I have a distinct place in my family and community.”
“I was able to stop two incidents of child marriage in my community.”
What do you feel was the impact of your work?
“I think there was visible impact of our work with young people and communities. Adolescent girls, with whom I worked on menstrual hygiene management and life skills, have started practicing proper hygiene methods during their periods. It also built their self-esteem as they started coming to school even during their period. I intervened with a mother’s group and tried to bring an enabling environment for adolescent girls. I think from my work with out-of-school adolescent girls, community health workers were sensitized and started prioritizing continuous intervention with them. I will be happy to share with you a couple of satisfying moments for me when I was able to stop two incidents of child marriage in my community.
The incident was in 2015. Ajimaan (14 years) and Mariam (15 years) were girls of my neighboring family. Their parents fixed their marriage and stopped them from going to school. When both of incidents came to my knowledge, I interacted with both of them. They were not happy about the arrangement. I tried to counsel their parents how early marriage will bring severe health and mental complication to their daughter by citing live examples from our community. I also reminded them that it will be considered as criminal offence. Some of the elders also helped me to motivate their parents. They finally decided to send them back to school by stopping the arranged marriage. Now both of them are in school. Mariam is studying +2 Balika Vidyalaya [literacy course]. Ajimaan is in 9th class in Madrasa School.”
“I think young people like me have lots of potential but they either don’t get enabling environment to lead change or don’t get adequate mentoring opportunity.”
Do you feel young people are more effective in engaging with their peers/communities?
“I think young people like me have lots of potential but they either don’t get enabling environment to lead change or don’t get adequate mentoring opportunity. I have seen young people from my school and girl clubs bring lots of energy to take group initiatives to motivate their peers in a positive way and raise awareness among community members on various issues. They come up with various innovative methods to pass their positive message effectively to others. For example, in Pakur district, our out-of-school youth club members worked with each other under the structure of a youth council and ran a series of awareness campaigns in their communities.”
“As volunteers, we have to keep ourselves motivated always.”
Walk me through a typical day as a volunteer?
“As volunteers, we have to keep ourselves motivated always. On a regular day, I have to go to school in the morning to run workshops with students and engage them through various activities to make classroom vibrant for learning. After class, I spend time with girls who show interest to learn more. They find it easy to talk to me in private, and discuss about questions bothering them. Most of the time they share their problems with me. I counsel and try to support them. I keep teachers updated on programs and also go to the out-of-school girls club to run sessions with them, and involve community health workers in the process. If any mothers’ meeting is fixed on the given day, then I work with them to build their understanding around our programme, especially on the importance of sexual and reproductive health work we do with their kids.”
If you had a chance, what would you do differently?
“I would use posters and pictures in mothers meetings to bring their focus more on discussion.
“My whole volunteering journey with Restless Development is a unique experience. It helped me to boost my confidence and credibility. I got first-hand experience of working with community and especially with young people. There are few NGOs in my locality who work on sexual rights with young people especially in a school setting, which is still considered a “taboo”. I am really proud to be part of such an initiative.”