For the FairFight India project, we have teamed up with AshaDiya Foundation, a local NGO that looks after women in precarious situations, mostly girls from the slums or from migrant worker families. Ashadiya, partners of the French association Act & Help, runs two projects in Varanasi - Disha House, which provides room and board, as well as access to school, a psychologist and medical care to 25 girls; and Asha project, which provides care and education to 50 youngsters of both genders. To get a better idea of the work of AshaDiya and the potential of a collaboration with FairFight, we interviewed the foundation's local coordinator, Meera
Meera was born in Uttarakhand in North India 28 years ago but followed her family to France when she was four years old. She returned to India for two years when she was 8, and moved back to France to finish her schooling in 1998. She studied film studies, languages and anthropology in Paris, and speaks French, English and Hindi fluently. She returned to India as assistant coordinator for AshaDiya last year to experience India as an adult, and became the coordinator in May. Being born in India, she was not shocked or suprised by the crazy city life of Varanasi (or Banaras, as she calls it), but in her own words: "everything is amplified in Banaras".
AshaDiya started life as a project for housing sex workers near the railway station, but this proved to be fraught with difficulties. Instead, they began to focus on girls from shanty towns and migrant workers. The aim was simple: to give food, a house, clothes and some schooling to which these girls had otherwise no access. The girls at Ashadiya are 7 - 18 years old and most are from the lower casts of the India social hierarchy. When the migrant parents return to the country-side after their work is done, the girls tend to stay at the Disha house so they can carry on with their education and be protected from exploitation (such as being made to beg) and other dangers of living in slums. The girls usually stay until they are 18 years old. Meera's wish for the girls is that they become able to make their own choices in life. She doesn't think that formal schooling is enough to achieve this, especially in India's rigid schooling system. But she does believe in a process of conscience-building, of becoming aware in one's potential as a woman, a person, and a citizen in a social whole.
About the collaboration with FairFight
Meera first heard about FairFight from two Erasmus University College student who came to volunteer as English teachers in January. AshaDiya had already begun looking for martial arts classes for their girls and thought that FairFight's mission fitted perfectly. The previous coordinator, Anne-Laure, highly valued women's empowerment, and wanted the girls to understand their own body through sport, but martial arts also gave the added benefit of developing self-defense skills.
What Meera likes most about FairFight is the focus on empowerment, beyond just martial arts. Like us, AshaDiya does not believe in imposing empowerment from above, rather seeing empowerment as a growing process of becoming aware, and journey of unlocking potential. Meera tells us that she sees a lot of women's empowerment projects that are focused on economic empowerment here, but believes that this can simply throw women into the harsh reality of the capitalist system instead of truly empowering them. Seeing the impossibility of changing the entire World, Meera particularly likes the focus of FairFight that focuses all of its capabilities on one mission.