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/
bringing world-class karate to varanasi
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.
Empowerment beyond karate
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 road ahead
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.