When I submitted the very first proposal for FairFight back in early 2014, before Alex joined me, my original destination had been India. We postponed this when Alex came on board to focus on Zimbabwe as our first destination, but I’d always kept in mind my original plan.
I may seem strange that I focused so much on this country to which I had never been: all I knew of India, I learned from E.M. Forster’s beautiful eponymous novel, and from my infrequent visits to “Little India”, that lively neighbourhood of Singapore where I would sometimes wander through noisy temples and the bustling wet market. Still, reports of violence against women in India were pouring in from all news outlets, and the horror that was brought to the eyes of the world by the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Dehli in 2012 seemed to carry on time after time.
The decision to take up FairFight India after the success of FairFight Zimbabwe, then, seemed like a logical move. At the very core of FairFight’s mission statement is the empowerment of women in situations of poverty, in danger of violence and in a societally difficult position, wherever they may be, and it so happens that some of these women are in India.
Getting involved in India was greatly aided by my long-time friend Meera Innes and her family, who reside in the Southern city of Bangalore. With their help (thank you Rani, Tony and Jai!), I was able to contact two schools and a potential local martial arts partner.
The schools are located in North Bangalore - the first, Vidya Niketan, is a fairly large establishment, with over 1000 students from elementary to high school, headed by Ms. Lalitha Desikan. They offer an impressive architecture with beautiful art from all over India represented on the walls, and most of all, a large covered outdoor space on their roof-top which will make a most splendid martial arts training hall! Vidya Niketan do not have any martial arts on offer yet, so we will be doing something completely new when we start there next June with a group of 20-30 girls from the high school!
The second school, the Parikrma Foundation, is a non-profit establishment founded to provide educational opportunities to the poorest children in Bangalore. This school brings in children from the surrounding slums and provides them with a solid education from elementary to high school, with possibilities of scholarships for college. The school has a beautiful building, but no sports facilities, so we will be training bare foot in the red sand of India! Time to purchase some black outfits, I think, for our next shipment of equipment! Parikrma already has a Tae Kwon Do association, in which some of the trainers are also from the slums, and this association has trained some very successful fighters from the school, who compete nationally. However, the school wants to include karate in their activities, and FairFight will be able to provide this.
We still have so much work to do - cementing our relationship with the local martial arts community is top of our list (we’ve started work on that, but it will take some time). I’m apprehensive because Bangalore is such a huge city, especially compared to the peaceful and quiet Marondera, Zimbabwe. We are also taking on a larger scale programme than the one at Nagle House - we were only working with one school in Zimbabwe, and here we are taking on two at once. But I am also bolstered by the huge success of our 2015 project. We learned so much, we actually know what we’re doing now, and that makes it so much easier to move forward with confidence. Of course, as usual, we’ll be chasing time and money - what successful project isn’t? FairFight India is a very exciting adventure, and I can’t wait to throw myself into it! I don’t know who was more impatient - me, or the girls I met, our future students!