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.