The last members of the impact visit to India are on their way back home, marking the end of an intense and successful trip that clears the road for the future of FairFight India. For the second time in 2019, FairFight sent a team to Varanasi led by project coordinator Mary Stevens and comprised of Ginie Servant-Miklos, chair of the board of FairFight, Alton Brown, twice Shotokan World Champion and Olympic hopeful, Harald Herland, Norwegian film maker, and Nivedita Sarveswaran, Cambridge PhD students, black belt and FairFight Zim veteran. You can read the day-by-day account of the visit on Mary's lively blog: https://fairfightvaranasi.wordpress.com/
Our impact visit was the culmination of what seemed like an impossible feat only six months ago: to bring a world-class athlete to Varanasi to teach competition kumite to our local instructor team and to our most talented girls. For someone of such caliber to take time out of their training to come to India to teach underprivileged girls pro bono seemed like an impossible ask. So when Mary contacted Alton Brown, World and European Shotokan Kumite champion and currently competing for an Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020, we weren't expecting a response. Not only did we get a positive answer from Alton, but we also found in him someone who perfectly embodies the values of FairFight, who understands our mission to the core and passionately believes in the power of karate to do good. Alton delivered a two-day seminar that our partners at ISKF-UP, Sunbeam Bhagwanpur and Disha House will not forget any time soon. The energy was palpable in the hall, everyone was engaged and motivated to absorb everything Alton had to give. If they came away with one key lesson, it's that a good athlete is not just a good technician, but also thinks strategically, and puts on a show for the adversary and the referees. Victory is also a mindset - something our girls took to heart!
Alton has bridged our project with the World Karate Federation and the possibilities from there are simply endless. With such a receptive and willing audience, we can meaningfully upgrade karate skills here in Uttar Pradesh, for our instructors, our girls and all those who work with FairFight. Bringing Alton to Varanasi required an unprecedented fundraising effort on our part, and we are very grateful to everyone who supported us. Although it's been great to receive support in the form of equipment and materials at the start of our project, the future of FairFight is in investing in skills and talent. As we can see now, this investment pays off in spades.
It's fair to say that FairFight India is entering firmly into Stage 3 territory, where we world towards a self-sustaining future, with a vast community network and a brand name that hold meaning locally. We made strides towards this with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the ISKF-UP to cement our 3-year collaboration.
Beyond the world of karate, we have initiated a collaboration with Sunbeam Bhagwanpur, the most prestigious chain of schools and academies in Varanasi. Sunbeam has facilities that are second-to-none in the area, and we are grateful for their generosity in letting us use their halls for our seminars. But Sunbeam also has a heart for women's empowerment and social change - they support FairFight's mission, welcome our Disha girls to their school for present and future events, and are helping us to organise workshops that tackle empowerment from different angles. Mary Stevens piloted a workshop on personal safety with the Sunbeam girls' college on Monday.
We also explored possibilities for collaboration with the Mala Project, a group of schools set up in remote rural districts of Uttar Pradesh for talented but extremely poor children from the carpeting industry district. We look forward to building up that collaboration in 2020, especially in the domains of teacher training and self-defense.
The main take-away from October's impact visit is just how far the project has come since we started in 2016. Our girls have well-deserved green belts, and hold their own, fearlessly facing down Alton and the other men on the tatami. They hold their shoulders up and their heads high, determination in their eyes and team-spirit in their interactions. This was what FairFight set out to do, and it's working. Where we go from here is really an open story waiting to be written. We will continue to support the girls in partnership with the AshaDiya Foundation and their sponsors Act& Help in Paris. Sohan Bhardwaj, chief instructor at ISKF, sees potential black belts in our group, and we see it too. Reaching that goal in the spirit of emancipation and gender equality will be our main focus. But there are many things we can do in support of that objective - there are possibilities for community partnerships opening up to us all over Varanasi and we are learning to find our feet in the city, away from the safe base of Disha House. After pulling off the seminar with Alton Brown, we're thinking about the next strategic steps in terms of investing in local martial arts talent. And we're also thinking about investing in a legal structure for FairFight India in its own right to manage financial flows from within India and ensure long-term independence for the project. The quality of the team invested in this project makes it possible to dream big, but one person can only carry so much on their shoulders, so for the dream to become reality will also require the on-going support of committed sponsors, promoters, and volunteers who are in it with us for the long run.
FairFight is only as good as the people who invest in us, and so we'd like to thank our local team, the ISKF instructors, our logistics coordinators Dheer and Moyee, the whole team at AshaDiya and Act & Help, and especially coordinators Uday and Juliett, who support us relentlessly, Alton Brown and Harald Herland for giving up their time and talents to help our cause grown, the tireless volunteers who give their time and energy to the project, and all the people who donated to the cause - every euro matters.
If you've been following the news, you will know that things are not going well in Zimbabwe. It all began with a shortage of forex, a couple of years ago. Zimbabwe was exclusively dependent on forex after the collapse of its own currency in 2009. The lack of cash dollars made the import of goods such as fuel and food difficult to finance. The government responded by introducing a quasi-currency, the bond-note, or RTGS (real time gross settlement) in its electronic format, for a time maintaining that it was on a par with the USD. That illusion did not hold up very long on the black market, and in 2019, the government finally relinquished and decoupled the bond from the dollar. By that time, there was a fuel shortage over the entire country, which the government responded to by periodically hiking the price of fuel. Since the entire economy is based around fuel, prices rapidly increased. Inflation is currently at 100%, the second-highest in the world after Venezuela. While we're still far from the insane inflation of 2008, this still makes life very difficult for ordinary Zimbabweans. To add make matters worse, the country is not able to keep up with the demand for passports, trapping its citizens inside its borders at a time where they most need to leave to find employment elsewhere.
Resilience in times of hardship
If there's one thing to be said about the Zimbabwean people we've met, it's how resilient they are. Most people we spoke to admitted that the situation was likely to get worse before it got better, but shrugged it off with an air of "we've been through this before, and we'll go through it again". Thanks to WhatsApp, we are able to follow the situation as it unfolds - our contacts send us pictures of the daily price rises, of people crammed on government busses since kombis (commuter busses) are too expensive, and explain to us that they have to get water from the borehole (and then triple boil it) because the water supply has been cut off. This situation is compounded by the fact that salaries are struggling to keep up with inflation, and so even having a job is no guarantee that one will be able to fill up the tank the next day. We were expecting that this would have a big impact on our project. The rise in fuel prices and the long queues to get petrol have made it very difficult for our sensei Gerald to make it from Chitungwiza to Marondera, which has the potential to really affect our project. We were bracing ourselves for large numbers of dropouts, and possibly having to mothball the whole thing until the situation improved. But that is not what happened. Senpai Prichard came to class week in, week out, and so did the girls, bolstered by the support of the club's patron, Mrs. Jenica Nachombo, who has now enrolled her own daughter in the classes. Not only do the girls come to training, but they also still compete! After a difficult start to the competition season, the girls have finally found their stride and brought home 13 medals at the Kofukan Invitational Tournament. Let's as ourselves how many of us here in Europe would still be competing if we had to worry about whether we will have electricity today, and where our next meal would come from? We can and should applaud our girls all the more for it.
We can still help
So what can we do to help? It's clear that some things we had planned are going to have to wait: we were planning to put in an application with a big Dutch donor for a community centre in Marondera, but getting anything built under these conditions is simply too unpredictable, so it will need to happen once things stabilize. It's also not so easy to send large teams on impact visits when transport is such an issue, and as such, having consulted with our local contacts, we've had to postpone the larger 2019 impact visit. But that doesn't mean we cannot help.
Firstly, Myrthe will be heading to Zim in September to check in on the girls and our local team, and evaluate what their urgent needs might be, and well as their suggestions on how we could move forward, given the circumstances. It is important to us that even though we cannot send a big team with Sensei Gonzalo as we did last year, we still send someone on the ground to get a clearer idea of the situation and discuss the project with local stakeholders.
Secondly, when we were in Zimbabwe in October 2018, we ran a women's health seminar in which we distributed reusable sanitary pads to the girls. Since then, the price of sanitary pads in Zimbabwe has risen to the point that such basic commodities are too expensive for ordinary women to buy. We asked the teachers at Nagle House if they would be willing to experiment with Mooncups, which are silicone menstrual cups that can be re-used for several years. They said yes, and so we put out a call for Mooncups and received 15, along with 10 reusable pads. Tinashe Munemo, our ambassador of change, took the items to Nagle House and ran a workshop to explain how to use them safely and hygienically. The cups went to the teachers and the pads to the girls. We received very positive feedback about this action. You can still send us Mooncups for Myrthe to take in September! Contact us at email@example.com if you would like to donate some.
Where we go from here
The situation in Zimbabwe is bad, and there is no telling when it will get better. What our girls and our local team have showed us is that they aren't ready to give up, and neither should we. However, more than ever before, we need to move forward at the direction of the local team who know better than anyone how the situation is on the ground. That is why Myrthe's mission in September is so important. We will allocate the money for the Zimbabwe project based on the priorities that our local team decide on. It could be a fuel allocation so that Gerald can get to Marondera, it could be Mooncups, or whatever the local team and the girls need to ride out the storm and keep the project alive. When things do get better (and we believe they will), then we will be able to move forward as a stronger team.
In the age of #MeToo, International Women’s Day takes on a special significance, too large to let pass without marking the event in some way or other. This year, FairFight decided to go big on celebrations; partnering with the Erasmus University College, we hosted a special event titled Women in Action in the lobby of the impressive EUC Blaak campus. The evening featured four very different speakers for a broad sweep of womanhood in today’s society. First up, Ginie Servant-Miklos, chair of the board of the FairFight Foundation, shared our work in empowering young girls from India and Zimbabwe through the practice of martial arts. Lijnie Reijers, a self-employed ortho-pedagogue, aikido master, D66 municipal candidate, mother and wife who travelled with us to Varanasi in January 2017, shared her personal story of struggle - from her experience of child labour and family trauma, to her successful career and life today. Following on, Sarah Hopkins, at the head of a London-City based recruitment agency, incited women to break the glass ceiling and advance their careers within proper support networks. Finally, Aynouk Tan, the Dutch media personality who brought us the NRC Handelsblad series on the impact of clothing on identity, discussed gender theory and the concept of gender as “doing” rather than “being”.
The evening was structured around a feminist art gallery curated by Caterina Sardoni and Nico Skoularkis, both EUC alumni, organised in collaboration with the Rotterdam Arts and Science Lab. The gallery featured up-and-coming artists and students of EUC and the Willem de Koning Academy. Lumi Pulkkinen displayed photographs capturing the liminal space between trust and tension between linear narration and possibility. Marlene Biesendorfer prepared film loops and a lamp display that eerily reflected on women’s position in a consumerist society. Frederica Notari shared a poignant spoken word piece on biblical womanhood and her Italian heritage. Gwenn Le Pechoux conducted a live painting session in the exhibition hall, while Charlotte Schenk and Noa van den Boogaard had prepared a collection of IWD themed stickers. The exhibition also featured paintings and prints from Zimbabwean artist Tinashe Munemo, and British artist Katie Alexander, both of who also practice martial arts and work with the FairFight Foundation. Their artworks reflect the strength of the young vulnerable girls that the Foundation helps, depicting them as they grow through the practice of karate. These artworks were juxtaposed with printed pictures taken by Myrthe Minnaert during her visits to the FairFight Zimbabwe and India projects. Providing atmosphere to the whole evening with songs themed around women’s power, RASL musicians Tim van Breemen, Evelyn Gallard, Gina de Boer and Jonas Nabbe played sets while guests wandered around the artworks, glass of wine in hand. With an attendance of around 80 people, including EUR faculty and students, community partners of the FairFight and the Zonta Club of Rotterdam (a local organisation dedicated to the cause of women), the evening was vibrant, interesting and definitely something to consider again for the next International Women’s Day.
Following last year’s two impact visits to India, FairFight is preparing plans for 2019. This year we hope to expand the project into the community and enhance the instructor training programme with more visiting experts to work with the local team. The first visit will take place at the end of March. The main goals are to check in with the instructors on the ground, discuss outreach prospects and to secure venues and timetables for the seminar visits in October.
Communication with the local instructors is significantly stronger when we have FairFight representatives visiting in person to see the situation first-hand, and so it is important to Mary as the India project manager to ensure that visits are frequent; this is why we wanted to commit to two visits this year, as the team did last year. During the visit in October, Mary discussed setting up a new club with Devesh, Amit, Pankaj and Sohan – she is particularly knowledgeable in this area as she runs her own club as her main line of work. She will therefore be checking in with progress in finding a venue and setting up classes, and seeing how we can support Devesh and the team in making this happen. We also learned from the last visit that the instructors want some new training equipment such as cones and protective sparring gear and so we will be taking the opportunity to provide them with as much as possible.
In October 2018, Guy Shpak ran a very successful krav maga-based self-defence workshop for the students of Disha House and the dojo in Sarnath. Mary has been discussing running a similar seminar in October of this year for the students of Banaras Hindu University, again with a particular focus on women’s self-defence, partially in response to growing concerns about the sexual assault statistics of Indian universities. Mary is also planning to set up a competition sparring seminar for the ISKF-UP students and instructors as this is a particular specialism of the club. With their strong record in Indian national competition, some input on elite fighting techniques will benefit the club greatly and support their reputation both locally and nationally. Again, it is our hope that having two visits within the year will make it significantly easier to plan logistics and carry out such events.
Charlie Stevens will be travelling out as well, predominantly to document the visit and to see the students of Disha House again. Having first met the girls in October 2018, Charlie feels it’s very important to return to Disha as soon as possible to reconnect with them and continue to show our ongoing commitment and attachment to them. She was originally selected for the team to be a role model, as another young, female martial artist, and so she is especially keen to show the girls that she’s graded to 1st Kyu since they last saw her and is now preparing for her Black Belt examination in July. Charlie will also be taking responsibility for social media and outreach once again.
Keep an eye out for more updates on the project on Facebook (FairFight) and Instagram (@fairfightfoundation)!
Sensei Gonzalo Villarrubia, 6th Dan Shitoryu Karate & 3rd Dan Kobudo, travelled to Zimbabwe with FairFight in October 2018. Today, he reflects on his journey in the light of Budo.
First of all, I would like to indicate that this reflection is thought to be of interest for any given reader and not only to practitioners of martial arts. Perhaps it will find more in-depth resonance within the martial arts community, but I hope it also brings valuable information and stimulates reflexion to the (FairFight) people not so closely (or at all) related to martial art activities.
Budō, the martial way of Japan, have its foundation in the traditions of Bushidō–the way of the warrior. Budō aims to unify mind, technique and body while develop character and enhance morality. Budō martial arts would therefore be vehicles or instruments not only for self-defence but for self-perfection.
Karate is one of the disciplines considered Budō. More specifically Gendai Budō (現代武道), which literally means "modern Budo", referring to Japanese martial arts established after the Meiji Restoration (1866–1869). Hence, we say Karatedō when we want to imply the practice of Karate in order and with the goal to develop the character of its practitioners. However, I do strongly believe that Karate’s (civil) self-defence corpus –“jutsu”術- is not only very interesting but also an essential part of the discipline that should be trained and understood properly; ignoring the “jutsu” 術facet of Karate would deprive the practitioner of an all-rounded understanding of the discipline. This is because Karate a holistic discipline with two sources of inspiration “jutsu”術and “do”道.
Nowadays Karate attracts practitioners for reasons others than the cultivation of “do”道 or the practice of “jutsu”術 : fitness, health or sport competition (or a combination thereof), to mention some. Years of experience practicing and teaching Karate have taught me that all those are valid reasons because it is good that Karate can serve different purposes, depending of the goal and circumstances of the practitioner. Why should I exclude from Karate someone that practice it as a recreational / health / fitness activity but does not like the fighting part or find to brutal the self-defence concepts inherent to Karate Kata? I may think that this person does not enjoy the full experience of practicing Karate or that his knowledge is limited. However, perhaps this person would acquire “do”道 by other means. Perhaps this person has already acquired it before starting its practice of Karate. This may not be a martial “do” 道 but that label does not really matter. Furthermore, any discipline (martial or not) with the suffix “do”道 implies dealing not just with the technical skills of that particular discipline, but with how do we approach our actions throughout the day. On the other hand, I could not tell how many (high rank) martial artists I know in whom you can not find any trace of “do”道 ; similarly a copious number of (sport) Karate champions represent a staggering example of gross manners and ignorance. At the same time, people in (for e.g.) the medical, education, naturalist, scientist or craftsman professions have often shown to me vital attitudes and aptitudes that correspond literally with the paramount concept of “do”道.
I have gone two weeks recently to Zimbabwe with FairFight to teach Karate. Most of the people I met there –kids, youngs and adults- suffer a myriad of daily obstacles just be able to show up at the Dojo; there is a plethora of real, tangible issues they have to overcome to continue with their lives, let alone to practice Karate. Please do not make mistake: I do not tend to romanticize. This is not about artificial problems generated by sophisticated ways of life; neither metaphysical questions to be dealt with through pills or beers; nor philosophical controversies in search of a professor to be settled. Nothing it is easy, nothing is at hand. There are cultural, social and religious prejudices, as well as acute economic constrains, lack of equipment and of venues. Nothing, in summary, can be taken for granted. Karate it is no exception.
Still I met passion, commitment, patience, appreciation, crave for learning, respect, deference, dignity and camaraderie. I met Budō.
I am not sure how this project will evolve. How many of the girls will find a reasonable chance to continue training, how many of them will, in fact, have a reasonable chance at all. How many will not. I am neither sure how many of the fellow Karateka whom I have trained with will find the way to combine their lives with their passion. How many will abandon too tired or desperate. But what I know, because I saw it, is that they are trying.
After these two weeks in Zimbabwe giving Karate instruction I want to repeat the words of Joseph Joubert: "To teach is to learn twice".
 jūdō, kendō, kyūdō, sumō, karatedō, aikidō, shōrinji kempō, naginata and jūkendō
Our Theory of Change (TOC) is the roadmap that helps us figure out where we're going and how we get there, and it needs to be reviewed periodically to check how the activities of FairFight align with its vision for change. For us, this process involves "sticky notes-sessions" with our volunteers. During these sessions, we split in small groups that discuss and note down key-words regarding our current activities and objectives on the coloured post-its, as well as ideas on what is missing in our TOC schematic. When this is done, we assign the sticky notes on the four different levels of our TOC: inputs; activities; outcomes; long-term change. We then critically discuss whether our TOC is able to fit all of the points that we raised, or whether it needs to be changed.
Our last "sticky note session" took place in August during our big volunteer get-together, and it quickly became apparent that we had outgrown our current TOC, so we set about changing it.
The main point that we have reconsidered is what an ambassador of change looks like. Particularly, thanks to the lessons learnt from our interaction with Tinashe, our 1st ambassador of change, we realised that martial arts (MA) training was not sufficient but that it had to be embedded within a life path, consistent with the values of Budo. Those values include improvement of the mind and gaining agency as an active member of your community. That means growing the mind through education and growing personal and professional capacity through experience, training, mentoring. FairFight cannot do these things alone. We are an organisation primarily based in Martial Arts and not an educational / vocational skills provider. Our ambition is therefore to find like-minded partners (universities, local NGO’s, local community projects…) that can help us to create this life-path for our most dedicated and committed FF students.
The FairFight journey does not stop upon graduating from high school. Our ambassadors of change will have the skills, the experience and the confidence to pay forward the work of FairFight in their own communities, in line with the values of Budo. In essence we consider FF students as the centre point of growth (Budo) within the MA community (Dojo) that services the broader community. All 3 are interdependent and grow with each other.
Below you will find our reworked TOC. We have simplified, streamlined and reflected our new priorities. We are very excited to work with this new model in our upcoming projects in Zim and India this mid-October.
The bottom row lists the “input” that FairFight uses in order to have active projects.
The second row are the activities that resort directly from the inputs.
The third row represents the outcomes of these activities.
The fourth row lists our medium term goals (2-3 years).
The top row represents out long-term goals of change, which are considered a success once the projects can sustain themselves without further mediation by FairFight.
The teams for the two October projects are now dealing with the final preparations as their departure draws closer. The team heading to Zimbabwe will be arriving in Harare on the 17th of October and staying until the 28th, and the India team will be in Varanasi from the 18th to the 27th; less than five weeks to go!
The India team
Pictured here is the team heading out to Varanasi. On the far left is Guy Shpak, who, for this project, is particularly focused on using his knowledge of krav maga. Devesh and his ISKF-UP colleagues offer free self-defence classes to women across the city, and so the instructors are keen to expand their knowledge of street fighting. Guy will be running a two day defence seminar for both karate instructors and students, helping to teach the Disha girls not only how to defend themselves but also how best to avoid dangerous situations in the first place. This will also be very positive for them in terms of connecting with the wider martial arts community, as at the seminar they will be working alongside other local karateka, which will give them more role models to look up to as the progress in their training.
Mary Stevens, the project co-ordinator, is second on the right. Mary has a great deal of experience in instructor training as well as personal teaching experience, and so she has a particular focus on working closely with Devesh and the assistant instructors involved with teaching the Disha girls, Amit and Pankaj. Mary played a crucial role in the January 2018 visit, after which it was agreed with AshaDiya that the girls would have two classes a week rather than one, and that the sizes of the groups would be reduced. Reports from Devesh strongly indicate that this has had a very positive impact on the girls, who, he says, are very motivated and training harder than ever. Mary is looking forward to being able to assess this change in person.
Jet Huwae (far right) will be more concerned with evaluating the impact of martial arts on the girls, especially in their daily lives. In the past, FairFight members have observed that while the girls at Disha House understand the physical benefits of karate, they often don’t have a clear idea of the psychological strength they should also be building. Jet has personal experience with martial arts acting as a tool for empowerment, and is also experienced in teaching children from difficult backgrounds and is therefore well equipped to take on this role as an evaluator.
Charlie Stevens (second on the left) is currently working with Mary to complete the creation of the syllabus she’s been working on with Devesh in order to get it printed in time to give to the girls and to the dojo during the impact visit. It is their hope that having a syllabus will give the girls a clearer idea of what it is they’re working towards, and help them understand what their martial arts journey will involve. Charlie has therefore been transcribing documents received from Devesh as well as working with a graphic artist in order to add pictures that personalise the book to the dojo in order to be able to create a complete comprehensive student guide book which will be useful not only for the girls at Disha but for other karate students too.
The Zimbabwe team
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe team are also dealing with final arrangements. Alex Whitcomb (left) has just arrived back in the Netherlands having been in Harare for the last couple of weeks sorting out preparations for the others’ visit.
The rest of the team includes a new volunteer, Gonzalo Villarrubia (right), who is a 6th Dan black belt and who aims to assess the girls’ skills. Gonzalo and Ginie (second on the left) also hope to be able to find another female martial artist suitable to help out in the sessions as a senpai to provide more role models for the girls. Moreover, they will be offering black belt training seminars and gradings in order to leave the community with more qualified instructors, as this is a crucial step towards the goal of self-sufficiency and will greatly help the project expand on a local level.
Another goal for this project is to secure more opportunities for the girls to train and compete nationally. We’re thrilled about Tinashe’s progress in competitions, but Gonzalo and Ginie aspire to help give all the girls similar chances to do well. Gonzalo in particular has a lot of experience in training students for competitions, on national and international levels, and so aims to use his knowledge to contribute to these preparations. Related to this, the team hope to encourage parents and other non-martial artists within the community to offer more support as the dojo takes on this new challenge; Ginie will be running seminars for local parents, teachers and businesses to try and bring them into the project, which is another key step towards achieving self-sufficiency. In the long term, FairFight hopes to leave Harare (and Varanasi) with a group of ambassadors of change to continue this work with less input – therefore, persuading local figures of the benefits of this project is essential.
The final member of the team is Myrthe (second on the right), who has now been to Varanasi twice as an evaluator and will be applying the skills she’s gained from this experience to review the way the girls view their training and whether it’s having an impact on their lives outside of the dojo, as FairFight hopes it will. Myrthe plans to stay a week longer than the rest of the team in order to conduct interviews as she has previously done in Varanasi and hopes she can learn a lot from the girls about what it is that karate means to them and how we can help facilitate their training and development in positive ways.
The team will also be checking in with Tinashe to see how the recently launched sustainable sanitary products project is going.
Keep an eye out for more updates coming soon!
Our new volunteer Nora Chirikure is taking the lead on a fairfight-sponsored project to eliminate period poverty within our local communities in Zimbabwe in partnership with our local ambassador of change Tinashe Munemo and her peers at the University of Zimbabwe.
In order to achieve one of FairFight’s ultimate goals of gender equality, it is imperative to eliminate the difficulties in managing menstruation that are faced by many girls and women. According UNESCO, one in every ten girls misses school during her period in sub-Saharan Africa. A girl’s menstrual cycle can also be a reason for a lack in confidence and motivation to engage in physical activities such as martial arts. In Zimbabwe access to sanitary wear is a problem fueled by a combination of poverty, misinformation, stigma and superstition. Therefore, through the Sustainable Sanitary Wear Campaign we hope to provide long-lasting solutions to girls and women whose lives are made difficult due to the lack of access to sanitary wear in Zimbabwe. As FairFight we hope to raise funds in order to purchase sanitary wear for girls and women.
During this campaign, we aim to work closely with students from the University of Zimbabwe, led by our FairFight Ambassador of Change Tinashe Munemo. A partnership with local students will be very beneficial to FairFight because we will gain more insight into the problem we will be tackling and access to a wider range of solutions to tackle the problem. We also hope to build a long lasting relationship with the students so that we can work on further projects empowering boys and girls together.
So far 30 moon cups have been generously donated to FairFight. Since moon cups are not commonly used in Zimbabwe, accompanying the donation we will engage girls and women in a conversation surrounding the stigma of using moon cups and in so doing encourage them to use moon cups. The moon cups will be donated to older girls at the Musha wevana orphanage in Marondera. Furthermore, moon cups will be donated to girls at the Kaite Drop-in center in Kambuzuma. Some moon cups will also be donated to the committed University of Zimbabwe students.
In line with FairFight’s objective to empower local businesses, we will purchase additional menstrual cups from producers in Zimbabwe such as the Butterfly Cup Company. Since menstrual cups are not suitable for younger girls, we will donate reusable pads purchased from local companies to these girls. We will invite representatives from the local producers to host workshops on how to use their respective sanitary wear. During these sessions we will also explore what other difficulties the girls face due to their menstruation and what effect these challenges have on their lives. Moreover, we will also discuss with the groups of girls what empowerment means to them and find out more about their personal goals. A couple weeks after donating the sanitary wear, we plan hosting a feedback session to discuss how the girls feel about the sanitary wear that was donated to them. Lastly we also hope to incorporate boys into one of the last sessions so that they can also be familiar with matters surrounding menstrual cycles.
Now a week after the team has returned, I can say without a doubt that the Varanasi project is a success. Our team went in with the goal of returning stable martial arts lessons for the girls at Disha, and if the first week means anything for the future that has succeeded.
The team has left Varanasi with an agreement between Devesh and Heifara, respectively the local karate instructor and the manager of the Disha house, which will ensure the longevity and quality of the project. More classes will be given, with more groups to reduce group size and better distinguish between the girls’ individual needs. Martial arts is something highly personal, and as the yellow belt graduation showed there are differences in the level of karate, and with that different needs. It’s not a surprise when the girls range in age from 8 to 18, as you can probably make out on the picture.
On top of this agreement we learned a lot from Devesh, Heifara, and the girls. This year FairFight’s very own impact evaluation was started. Myrthe Minnaert, a student from Erasmus University, interviewed the girls and partners in Varanasi, to better understand them as people, as well as to gain insights in the effects FairFight has been having on them. While the actual end result of the research is still being compiled, these interviews gave us better understanding of our partners and what drives them, as well as the perspective on karate of the girls. These were translated into information booklets for the girls, detailing their paths to black belt as well as touching upon the BUDO background of karate, translated in Hindi for them to go through at their leisure.
We leave the girls in good hands in Varanasi, and these hands deserve a massive thank you for their support and continued cooperation!
This project would not have been possible without our two local FairFight contacts in India. Both Devesh (local instructor) and Heifara (manager Disha house) have shown themselves to be very compatible with FairFight’s long term goals, and very supportive of the project to boost that.
Devesh has given three classes already since our leave. He taught one class for all the girls, with his new assistant Pankaj, on Wednesday, and two more last Saturday. In the 2 weeks that we were in Varanasi we spend a lot of time engaging Devesh in hearing what he thought of the project and his vision for the girls. This taught us a lot about our partner and his motivations, and helped us assist him in his teaching role. Our very own volunteer Mary Stevens is keeping in contact with Devesh and the other senior students of Sensei Sohan and facilitates the sharing of ideas and methods, assisting whenever they want.
Devesh has shown massive commitment to the project last Saturday as he chose to forego a national Karate competition in favour of giving the karate classes at Disha. We were all touched and impressed by his sacrifice, and have high hopes for Devesh and the FairFight girls at Disha house! Devesh truly did put the bar high by renewing the energy of the programme in this massive way. So, in other words, thank you Devesh!
Heifara was not only a great help and friend during the project, but has been invaluable as a spearhead for the Karate classes at the Disha and Asha houses. She has facilitated and ensured interest in the project, and has helped tremendously to increase the supply of steady karate classes for the girls. As a master of timetables, she worked the extra karate lessons in the timetable without a hitch, and shows a personal investment in our efforts that touches us deeply. This personal investment comes from a deep love for all the girls of Disha, and being an astounding karateka herself, and we are very thankful for her support and initiatives. As she is the link in Varanasi to our partner organisation Act & Help, her support means so much to us and the project. With someone in Varanasi who cares so greatly about the effective benefits of martial arts training, we can be sure that the girls are getting the karate they deserve.
The team worked tremendously well together. Although ages differed quite a bit, from the beginning it was clear that all eyes were on the same prize, and everyone was working towards said goal. The team interacted with the local partners and girls in new ways, spurred by initiatives of the team members. We engaged the girls in creative empowerment activities outside of the karate lessons, as well as spending dedicated time to better understand our partners on the ground in Varanasi. Three people falling sick for half a week on different accounts did not stop them, only slightly slowing them down, achieving the goals they had set out for themselves next to those set out by FairFight. Thank you, Katie, Mary, and Myrthe, I doubt this will be the last time you see Varanasi.
the End (But not really)
Although this marks the end of my time coordinating the Varanasi Project, I’m certain this will not be my last time in Varanasi, and who knows, maybe I’ll pick up the mantle again. As I already mentioned I’m eternally grateful to the people on the ground, but who I’m also grateful for is all the support back in our own countries. Countless of sponsors and backers have allowed FairFight to realise this project, and for the volunteers to come here. I am thoroughly impressed by the efforts our volunteers undertook to make the Varanasi project 2018 a reality, both on this project and those watching from the side-lines.
I can say very confidently that I believe this project will keep growing and become better than we ever could have imagined, and I can say that I absolutely believe the girls at Disha have what it takes to get to black belt and beyond. During my time I was touched by stories about how they already applied some lessons in their daily lives, painting the girls as modern warriors to me who will continue develop themselves in their best possible way.
No project is ever easy. We’re operating in an international environment, with all the problems that brings, in Varanasi no less. It’s a beautiful city, but really something else than anything I knew before. Now we continue our support of our local partners in Varanasi from the other side of the world again instead of from the city itself, but in our thoughts, we’ll never be far.
The FairFight team has been in Varanasi for a week: that means they have reached the mid-point milestone in this year’s impact visit. Floris, Heifara and Devesh had agreed to a schedule and plan before the volunteers arrived, but two days after the start of the trip, Myrthe and Floris both fell ill with food poisoning and the plan had to be reviewed. Floris jokes about this:
“As a project coordinator the schedule is my responsibility, and adapting/confirming things on the fly has been the most work here. Most telling maybe was the singular comment Heifara had on the schedule before we arrived: "it's a great schedule, but keep in mind it is India." Her words rang true as we had to adapt to changed circumstances and spontaneous things throughout the week, but all changes turned out well!” - Floris
Encounters at disha
The first week has been mainly spent getting to know the girls at Disha both personally and as martial artists. Half of the Disha girls were missing in the early days of the visit due to an unexpected delay in the start of the school year, so the first couple of trainings took place in a cozy setting with almost one teacher for each girl! Skipping ropes were a big hit, breaking the ice between our senseis and the girls. The rest girls returned on Thursday, just as Floris and Myrthe recovered from their illness, and the project was able to go ahead full swing. For Katie, taking the time to get to know the girls and understand their needs and aspirations was paramount:
“For me it was establishing a relationship with the girls to gauge their martial arts understanding and to help motivate them to understand the deeper benefits if martial arts. It seems that at the moment although there is some understanding that "kittens need to switch on their inner tiger " there’s little or no connection to the wider principles of martial arts. The reaction we have had to the skipping ropes and the way the girls take instruction is positive and promising for future learning- spending Friday and the weekend doing art and kites is establishing this positive relationship where we are hoping to further discuss what strength is and to inspire these girls particularly the older ones to be an example to one another by using these values.” – Katie
It seems that FairFight still has a lot of work to do to help the girls go from the practice of martial arts as a sport to the living ethos of Budo. This impression was shared by Myrthe, the only non-martial artist of the groups, whose mission it is to provide us with a comprehensive report on the impact and diffusion of Budo (empowerment) principles within our project. It seems Myrthe’s research will yield very important results for FairFight:
“Of course I knew I was going to spend two weeks researching martial arts while being part of a team of martial artists, but that doesn't mean I had realised that this would mean two weeks of martial arts talk. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, there is always a chance that one of them will jump into a martial arts stance and show how to do a certain punch, kick or other technique. I admire the passion and confidence with which this is done, whether it is on our rooftop or in a busy restaurant, they don't seem to be bothered by the staring faces around them. This first week we have come to realise that it is still a long way for the girls to achieve this same mentality, but based on the conversations and shared training sessions with Devesh, the trainer, we also believe that there is a lot of potential for growth in both Devesh and the girls. Creating the ideal climate for this growth, is what we are working on now, we are optimistic.” - Myrthe
working with local martial artists
The other important goal of this first week was to work with the local martial arts team to understand their perspective on martial arts, the issues they have run into in working with the girls on the FairFight project, and work towards a set of context-appropriate, sustainable solutions. This is no mean feat, but Mary explains that steps are being taken in the right direction:
“We arrived with a major challenge on our hands but the team has worked creatively and cohesively to break it down and solve the problems facing this fragile project. On our first week we have developed our understanding of why the classes haven’t been going well and then worked on a strategy to address these issues. We’re looking forward to implementing this strategy during the second week.” - Mary
Heading into the second week, the team is feeling positive, motivated, fit and healthy, and ready for action. For now though, they will be enjoying a weekend of kite-flying for Makar Sankranti. Until next time, thank you for your support!