We’re finally here: tickets at the ready, a few days away from boarding our flights to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where we will be launching the FairFight India project in partnership with the Ashadiya Foundation (http://ashadiya.com/ashadiya-foundation.html) and Devesh Verma from the Dragon Martial Arts Academy of Varanasi. There are 65 students waiting for us in Varanasi: 25 girls at the Disha house and 40 students of both genders from the Asha project.
Preparations have been hectic over the past month: we have been actively working to raise the funds for the project. First, we organized a self-defense seminar at The Hague University of Applied Sciences to raise awareness as well as money. Second, we followed on from our “FairFight, What’s Next” event in April to pursue our collaboration with the HE Space Foundation, who will be underwriting the costs of our project in India for this year. Unlike in Zimbabwe, where the scarcity of equipment on the ground means we have to bring in equipment in out suitcases, we managed to source cheap equipment in India, meaning the only thing we’re bringing this time is ourselves and the FairFight T-shirts, in green this time to symbolize the fertile jungles of India.
Our thanks go especially to Meera Rana from the Ashadiya Foundation, who sorted out most of our logistical issues on the ground for us, and to Devesh, who ordered the gis so that they will be waiting for us when we arrive at Disha. Internet is a challenge in Varanasi, but we will do our best to keep you posted, send you pictures and stories from our project over the next two weeks.
In the meantime, here are some pre-trip thoughts from the India Team:
India was always on the cards from the minute we started FairFight. To be honest, I used to dream about working in India when I was only 6 years old. I think it came from my obsession with the children’s book “The Secret Garden”, I used to write stories about India in my notebooks. In recent years, with the recurring disturbing news reports of violence against women in India, my resolve to use Martial Arts as a tool for dialogue and empowerment there increased. Buoyed by the success of our project in Zimbabwe, I knew when Ashadiya reached out to us that this could be the opportunity we had been waiting for. That said, I realise that as an outsider I know so little about India, having only been to Bangalore once. So I am looking forward to humbly learning and listening, taking my cue from the girls and their community, letting their priorities guide us. We are here to build bridges together, not impose ideas from the outside. Hopefully we will carve as deep friendships there as the martial arts family we have in Zimbabwe now.
Four nights left before we leave for India. It does not feel real yet. Every big journey I have ever undertaken never felt real until you step into that car, plane or whatever it is that is taking you where you want to go. There is no doubt that the full reality will hit me once Ginie and me park our bums in the way too small airplane seats. Two weeks in Varanasi, India which we have worked for, prepared for and looked forward to. To be honest I can’t wait to see the groups and teachers we’ll be working with, and see my carefully constructed lesson plans be swept away by all kinds of unforeseen events. That is however something you get used to, as most teachers of any kind can tell you, and in my opinion help form some of the charm of standing in front of a class. But to cut this paragraph short, I feel great, the team is great and India going to be great!
India is going to be full of surprises. I believe that this will be a learning journey not only for the girls and boys we will empower. We as FairFight are going to broaden our knowledge on the human aspect and how to further empower those girls and boys by attracting supporters from the local community - considering that it is a patriarchically-led, traditional community.
I feel that the individuals we will approach are going to welcome this project wholeheartedly and will benefit especially when it comes to battling with their own selves to overcome their past experiences. Looking at this journey as a whole I think that dealing with the heat of the country during trainings will be the least of my concern. What I seek to achieve is to actively interact with the young people from Ashadiya and relieve them from their pain. Martial arts are not only about building a good physical condition but are also concerned with stress relief and the balancing of emotions. Ultimately, as I will work to meet FairFight's empowerment goal for the Ashadiya school, I am positive that I will be empowered by these girls and boys as well.