Following last year’s two impact visits to India, FairFight is preparing plans for 2019. This year we hope to expand the project into the community and enhance the instructor training programme with more visiting experts to work with the local team. The first visit will take place at the end of March. The main goals are to check in with the instructors on the ground, discuss outreach prospects and to secure venues and timetables for the seminar visits in October.
Communication with the local instructors is significantly stronger when we have FairFight representatives visiting in person to see the situation first-hand, and so it is important to Mary as the India project manager to ensure that visits are frequent; this is why we wanted to commit to two visits this year, as the team did last year. During the visit in October, Mary discussed setting up a new club with Devesh, Amit, Pankaj and Sohan – she is particularly knowledgeable in this area as she runs her own club as her main line of work. She will therefore be checking in with progress in finding a venue and setting up classes, and seeing how we can support Devesh and the team in making this happen. We also learned from the last visit that the instructors want some new training equipment such as cones and protective sparring gear and so we will be taking the opportunity to provide them with as much as possible.
In October 2018, Guy Shpak ran a very successful krav maga-based self-defence workshop for the students of Disha House and the dojo in Sarnath. Mary has been discussing running a similar seminar in October of this year for the students of Banaras Hindu University, again with a particular focus on women’s self-defence, partially in response to growing concerns about the sexual assault statistics of Indian universities. Mary is also planning to set up a competition sparring seminar for the ISKF-UP students and instructors as this is a particular specialism of the club. With their strong record in Indian national competition, some input on elite fighting techniques will benefit the club greatly and support their reputation both locally and nationally. Again, it is our hope that having two visits within the year will make it significantly easier to plan logistics and carry out such events.
Charlie Stevens will be travelling out as well, predominantly to document the visit and to see the students of Disha House again. Having first met the girls in October 2018, Charlie feels it’s very important to return to Disha as soon as possible to reconnect with them and continue to show our ongoing commitment and attachment to them. She was originally selected for the team to be a role model, as another young, female martial artist, and so she is especially keen to show the girls that she’s graded to 1st Kyu since they last saw her and is now preparing for her Black Belt examination in July. Charlie will also be taking responsibility for social media and outreach once again.
Keep an eye out for more updates on the project on Facebook (FairFight) and Instagram (@fairfightfoundation)!
Sensei Gonzalo Villarrubia, 6th Dan Shitoryu Karate & 3rd Dan Kobudo, travelled to Zimbabwe with FairFight in October 2018. Today, he reflects on his journey in the light of Budo.
First of all, I would like to indicate that this reflection is thought to be of interest for any given reader and not only to practitioners of martial arts. Perhaps it will find more in-depth resonance within the martial arts community, but I hope it also brings valuable information and stimulates reflexion to the (FairFight) people not so closely (or at all) related to martial art activities.
Budō, the martial way of Japan, have its foundation in the traditions of Bushidō–the way of the warrior. Budō aims to unify mind, technique and body while develop character and enhance morality. Budō martial arts would therefore be vehicles or instruments not only for self-defence but for self-perfection.
Karate is one of the disciplines considered Budō. More specifically Gendai Budō (現代武道), which literally means "modern Budo", referring to Japanese martial arts established after the Meiji Restoration (1866–1869). Hence, we say Karatedō when we want to imply the practice of Karate in order and with the goal to develop the character of its practitioners. However, I do strongly believe that Karate’s (civil) self-defence corpus –“jutsu”術- is not only very interesting but also an essential part of the discipline that should be trained and understood properly; ignoring the “jutsu” 術facet of Karate would deprive the practitioner of an all-rounded understanding of the discipline. This is because Karate a holistic discipline with two sources of inspiration “jutsu”術and “do”道.
Nowadays Karate attracts practitioners for reasons others than the cultivation of “do”道 or the practice of “jutsu”術 : fitness, health or sport competition (or a combination thereof), to mention some. Years of experience practicing and teaching Karate have taught me that all those are valid reasons because it is good that Karate can serve different purposes, depending of the goal and circumstances of the practitioner. Why should I exclude from Karate someone that practice it as a recreational / health / fitness activity but does not like the fighting part or find to brutal the self-defence concepts inherent to Karate Kata? I may think that this person does not enjoy the full experience of practicing Karate or that his knowledge is limited. However, perhaps this person would acquire “do”道 by other means. Perhaps this person has already acquired it before starting its practice of Karate. This may not be a martial “do” 道 but that label does not really matter. Furthermore, any discipline (martial or not) with the suffix “do”道 implies dealing not just with the technical skills of that particular discipline, but with how do we approach our actions throughout the day. On the other hand, I could not tell how many (high rank) martial artists I know in whom you can not find any trace of “do”道 ; similarly a copious number of (sport) Karate champions represent a staggering example of gross manners and ignorance. At the same time, people in (for e.g.) the medical, education, naturalist, scientist or craftsman professions have often shown to me vital attitudes and aptitudes that correspond literally with the paramount concept of “do”道.
I have gone two weeks recently to Zimbabwe with FairFight to teach Karate. Most of the people I met there –kids, youngs and adults- suffer a myriad of daily obstacles just be able to show up at the Dojo; there is a plethora of real, tangible issues they have to overcome to continue with their lives, let alone to practice Karate. Please do not make mistake: I do not tend to romanticize. This is not about artificial problems generated by sophisticated ways of life; neither metaphysical questions to be dealt with through pills or beers; nor philosophical controversies in search of a professor to be settled. Nothing it is easy, nothing is at hand. There are cultural, social and religious prejudices, as well as acute economic constrains, lack of equipment and of venues. Nothing, in summary, can be taken for granted. Karate it is no exception.
Still I met passion, commitment, patience, appreciation, crave for learning, respect, deference, dignity and camaraderie. I met Budō.
I am not sure how this project will evolve. How many of the girls will find a reasonable chance to continue training, how many of them will, in fact, have a reasonable chance at all. How many will not. I am neither sure how many of the fellow Karateka whom I have trained with will find the way to combine their lives with their passion. How many will abandon too tired or desperate. But what I know, because I saw it, is that they are trying.
After these two weeks in Zimbabwe giving Karate instruction I want to repeat the words of Joseph Joubert: "To teach is to learn twice".
 jūdō, kendō, kyūdō, sumō, karatedō, aikidō, shōrinji kempō, naginata and jūkendō
Our Theory of Change (TOC) is the roadmap that helps us figure out where we're going and how we get there, and it needs to be reviewed periodically to check how the activities of FairFight align with its vision for change. For us, this process involves "sticky notes-sessions" with our volunteers. During these sessions, we split in small groups that discuss and note down key-words regarding our current activities and objectives on the coloured post-its, as well as ideas on what is missing in our TOC schematic. When this is done, we assign the sticky notes on the four different levels of our TOC: inputs; activities; outcomes; long-term change. We then critically discuss whether our TOC is able to fit all of the points that we raised, or whether it needs to be changed.
Our last "sticky note session" took place in August during our big volunteer get-together, and it quickly became apparent that we had outgrown our current TOC, so we set about changing it.
The main point that we have reconsidered is what an ambassador of change looks like. Particularly, thanks to the lessons learnt from our interaction with Tinashe, our 1st ambassador of change, we realised that martial arts (MA) training was not sufficient but that it had to be embedded within a life path, consistent with the values of Budo. Those values include improvement of the mind and gaining agency as an active member of your community. That means growing the mind through education and growing personal and professional capacity through experience, training, mentoring. FairFight cannot do these things alone. We are an organisation primarily based in Martial Arts and not an educational / vocational skills provider. Our ambition is therefore to find like-minded partners (universities, local NGO’s, local community projects…) that can help us to create this life-path for our most dedicated and committed FF students.
The FairFight journey does not stop upon graduating from high school. Our ambassadors of change will have the skills, the experience and the confidence to pay forward the work of FairFight in their own communities, in line with the values of Budo. In essence we consider FF students as the centre point of growth (Budo) within the MA community (Dojo) that services the broader community. All 3 are interdependent and grow with each other.
Below you will find our reworked TOC. We have simplified, streamlined and reflected our new priorities. We are very excited to work with this new model in our upcoming projects in Zim and India this mid-October.
The bottom row lists the “input” that FairFight uses in order to have active projects.
The second row are the activities that resort directly from the inputs.
The third row represents the outcomes of these activities.
The fourth row lists our medium term goals (2-3 years).
The top row represents out long-term goals of change, which are considered a success once the projects can sustain themselves without further mediation by FairFight.
The teams for the two October projects are now dealing with the final preparations as their departure draws closer. The team heading to Zimbabwe will be arriving in Harare on the 17th of October and staying until the 28th, and the India team will be in Varanasi from the 18th to the 27th; less than five weeks to go!
The India team
Pictured here is the team heading out to Varanasi. On the far left is Guy Shpak, who, for this project, is particularly focused on using his knowledge of krav maga. Devesh and his ISKF-UP colleagues offer free self-defence classes to women across the city, and so the instructors are keen to expand their knowledge of street fighting. Guy will be running a two day defence seminar for both karate instructors and students, helping to teach the Disha girls not only how to defend themselves but also how best to avoid dangerous situations in the first place. This will also be very positive for them in terms of connecting with the wider martial arts community, as at the seminar they will be working alongside other local karateka, which will give them more role models to look up to as the progress in their training.
Mary Stevens, the project co-ordinator, is second on the right. Mary has a great deal of experience in instructor training as well as personal teaching experience, and so she has a particular focus on working closely with Devesh and the assistant instructors involved with teaching the Disha girls, Amit and Pankaj. Mary played a crucial role in the January 2018 visit, after which it was agreed with AshaDiya that the girls would have two classes a week rather than one, and that the sizes of the groups would be reduced. Reports from Devesh strongly indicate that this has had a very positive impact on the girls, who, he says, are very motivated and training harder than ever. Mary is looking forward to being able to assess this change in person.
Jet Huwae (far right) will be more concerned with evaluating the impact of martial arts on the girls, especially in their daily lives. In the past, FairFight members have observed that while the girls at Disha House understand the physical benefits of karate, they often don’t have a clear idea of the psychological strength they should also be building. Jet has personal experience with martial arts acting as a tool for empowerment, and is also experienced in teaching children from difficult backgrounds and is therefore well equipped to take on this role as an evaluator.
Charlie Stevens (second on the left) is currently working with Mary to complete the creation of the syllabus she’s been working on with Devesh in order to get it printed in time to give to the girls and to the dojo during the impact visit. It is their hope that having a syllabus will give the girls a clearer idea of what it is they’re working towards, and help them understand what their martial arts journey will involve. Charlie has therefore been transcribing documents received from Devesh as well as working with a graphic artist in order to add pictures that personalise the book to the dojo in order to be able to create a complete comprehensive student guide book which will be useful not only for the girls at Disha but for other karate students too.
The Zimbabwe team
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe team are also dealing with final arrangements. Alex Whitcomb (left) has just arrived back in the Netherlands having been in Harare for the last couple of weeks sorting out preparations for the others’ visit.
The rest of the team includes a new volunteer, Gonzalo Villarrubia (right), who is a 6th Dan black belt and who aims to assess the girls’ skills. Gonzalo and Ginie (second on the left) also hope to be able to find another female martial artist suitable to help out in the sessions as a senpai to provide more role models for the girls. Moreover, they will be offering black belt training seminars and gradings in order to leave the community with more qualified instructors, as this is a crucial step towards the goal of self-sufficiency and will greatly help the project expand on a local level.
Another goal for this project is to secure more opportunities for the girls to train and compete nationally. We’re thrilled about Tinashe’s progress in competitions, but Gonzalo and Ginie aspire to help give all the girls similar chances to do well. Gonzalo in particular has a lot of experience in training students for competitions, on national and international levels, and so aims to use his knowledge to contribute to these preparations. Related to this, the team hope to encourage parents and other non-martial artists within the community to offer more support as the dojo takes on this new challenge; Ginie will be running seminars for local parents, teachers and businesses to try and bring them into the project, which is another key step towards achieving self-sufficiency. In the long term, FairFight hopes to leave Harare (and Varanasi) with a group of ambassadors of change to continue this work with less input – therefore, persuading local figures of the benefits of this project is essential.
The final member of the team is Myrthe (second on the right), who has now been to Varanasi twice as an evaluator and will be applying the skills she’s gained from this experience to review the way the girls view their training and whether it’s having an impact on their lives outside of the dojo, as FairFight hopes it will. Myrthe plans to stay a week longer than the rest of the team in order to conduct interviews as she has previously done in Varanasi and hopes she can learn a lot from the girls about what it is that karate means to them and how we can help facilitate their training and development in positive ways.
The team will also be checking in with Tinashe to see how the recently launched sustainable sanitary products project is going.
Keep an eye out for more updates coming soon!
Our new volunteer Nora Chirikure is taking the lead on a fairfight-sponsored project to eliminate period poverty within our local communities in Zimbabwe in partnership with our local ambassador of change Tinashe Munemo and her peers at the University of Zimbabwe.
In order to achieve one of FairFight’s ultimate goals of gender equality, it is imperative to eliminate the difficulties in managing menstruation that are faced by many girls and women. According UNESCO, one in every ten girls misses school during her period in sub-Saharan Africa. A girl’s menstrual cycle can also be a reason for a lack in confidence and motivation to engage in physical activities such as martial arts. In Zimbabwe access to sanitary wear is a problem fueled by a combination of poverty, misinformation, stigma and superstition. Therefore, through the Sustainable Sanitary Wear Campaign we hope to provide long-lasting solutions to girls and women whose lives are made difficult due to the lack of access to sanitary wear in Zimbabwe. As FairFight we hope to raise funds in order to purchase sanitary wear for girls and women.
During this campaign, we aim to work closely with students from the University of Zimbabwe, led by our FairFight Ambassador of Change Tinashe Munemo. A partnership with local students will be very beneficial to FairFight because we will gain more insight into the problem we will be tackling and access to a wider range of solutions to tackle the problem. We also hope to build a long lasting relationship with the students so that we can work on further projects empowering boys and girls together.
So far 30 moon cups have been generously donated to FairFight. Since moon cups are not commonly used in Zimbabwe, accompanying the donation we will engage girls and women in a conversation surrounding the stigma of using moon cups and in so doing encourage them to use moon cups. The moon cups will be donated to older girls at the Musha wevana orphanage in Marondera. Furthermore, moon cups will be donated to girls at the Kaite Drop-in center in Kambuzuma. Some moon cups will also be donated to the committed University of Zimbabwe students.
In line with FairFight’s objective to empower local businesses, we will purchase additional menstrual cups from producers in Zimbabwe such as the Butterfly Cup Company. Since menstrual cups are not suitable for younger girls, we will donate reusable pads purchased from local companies to these girls. We will invite representatives from the local producers to host workshops on how to use their respective sanitary wear. During these sessions we will also explore what other difficulties the girls face due to their menstruation and what effect these challenges have on their lives. Moreover, we will also discuss with the groups of girls what empowerment means to them and find out more about their personal goals. A couple weeks after donating the sanitary wear, we plan hosting a feedback session to discuss how the girls feel about the sanitary wear that was donated to them. Lastly we also hope to incorporate boys into one of the last sessions so that they can also be familiar with matters surrounding menstrual cycles.
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.
The FairFight team has been in Varanasi for a week: that means they have reached the mid-point milestone in this year’s impact visit. Floris, Heifara and Devesh had agreed to a schedule and plan before the volunteers arrived, but two days after the start of the trip, Myrthe and Floris both fell ill with food poisoning and the plan had to be reviewed. Floris jokes about this:
“As a project coordinator the schedule is my responsibility, and adapting/confirming things on the fly has been the most work here. Most telling maybe was the singular comment Heifara had on the schedule before we arrived: "it's a great schedule, but keep in mind it is India." Her words rang true as we had to adapt to changed circumstances and spontaneous things throughout the week, but all changes turned out well!” - Floris
Encounters at disha
The first week has been mainly spent getting to know the girls at Disha both personally and as martial artists. Half of the Disha girls were missing in the early days of the visit due to an unexpected delay in the start of the school year, so the first couple of trainings took place in a cozy setting with almost one teacher for each girl! Skipping ropes were a big hit, breaking the ice between our senseis and the girls. The rest girls returned on Thursday, just as Floris and Myrthe recovered from their illness, and the project was able to go ahead full swing. For Katie, taking the time to get to know the girls and understand their needs and aspirations was paramount:
“For me it was establishing a relationship with the girls to gauge their martial arts understanding and to help motivate them to understand the deeper benefits if martial arts. It seems that at the moment although there is some understanding that "kittens need to switch on their inner tiger " there’s little or no connection to the wider principles of martial arts. The reaction we have had to the skipping ropes and the way the girls take instruction is positive and promising for future learning- spending Friday and the weekend doing art and kites is establishing this positive relationship where we are hoping to further discuss what strength is and to inspire these girls particularly the older ones to be an example to one another by using these values.” – Katie
It seems that FairFight still has a lot of work to do to help the girls go from the practice of martial arts as a sport to the living ethos of Budo. This impression was shared by Myrthe, the only non-martial artist of the groups, whose mission it is to provide us with a comprehensive report on the impact and diffusion of Budo (empowerment) principles within our project. It seems Myrthe’s research will yield very important results for FairFight:
“Of course I knew I was going to spend two weeks researching martial arts while being part of a team of martial artists, but that doesn't mean I had realised that this would mean two weeks of martial arts talk. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, there is always a chance that one of them will jump into a martial arts stance and show how to do a certain punch, kick or other technique. I admire the passion and confidence with which this is done, whether it is on our rooftop or in a busy restaurant, they don't seem to be bothered by the staring faces around them. This first week we have come to realise that it is still a long way for the girls to achieve this same mentality, but based on the conversations and shared training sessions with Devesh, the trainer, we also believe that there is a lot of potential for growth in both Devesh and the girls. Creating the ideal climate for this growth, is what we are working on now, we are optimistic.” - Myrthe
working with local martial artists
The other important goal of this first week was to work with the local martial arts team to understand their perspective on martial arts, the issues they have run into in working with the girls on the FairFight project, and work towards a set of context-appropriate, sustainable solutions. This is no mean feat, but Mary explains that steps are being taken in the right direction:
“We arrived with a major challenge on our hands but the team has worked creatively and cohesively to break it down and solve the problems facing this fragile project. On our first week we have developed our understanding of why the classes haven’t been going well and then worked on a strategy to address these issues. We’re looking forward to implementing this strategy during the second week.” - Mary
Heading into the second week, the team is feeling positive, motivated, fit and healthy, and ready for action. For now though, they will be enjoying a weekend of kite-flying for Makar Sankranti. Until next time, thank you for your support!
On January 4th, Floris Eland and Myrthe Minneart arrived in Varanasi, marking the kick-off of the 2018 India impact visit. They will be joined on the 8th of January by Katie Alexander and Mary Stevens from the UK. The main objectives for this impact mission were to assess the progress of the girls, reinforce our collaboration with our local partners, and help our local teachers with context-appropriate teaching tools and pedagogical training.
The team has been busy getting everything ready to get the most out of our third visit to the India project site. Katie and Mary ran successful fundraising campaigns to cover the costs of their travel and provide some of the equipment and materials needed for the trip, such as new gis for our local instructors. Mary, a veteran teacher-trainer, condensed her elaborate teacher training tools into a succinct, easy-to-use manual for Sohan Kumar, Devesh Verma and the team at Dragon Martial Arts Academy. Because many of the local karateka do not speak or read English, Mary had the material translated into Hindi by her friends Rajeev and Uma Joshi, then printed and bound at very short notice and for a very generous price by Mayo Digital Printing (Abingdon, UK), who also printed a set of FairFight gis for the team. The ladies also collected donations for the girls, such as skipping ropes, stationery and sustainable menstrual products. Thanks to everybody who donated their time, services, money or items to the project! We can only do what we do because of your support!
To provide a day-to-day account of the journey, the team started a blog, written by Mary and illustrated by Katie. In Mary's words: "We have a strong sense of purpose and momentum now. But still so much to do before setting off for the airport!"
BAck in Varanasi, first impressions
Floris and Myrthe were picked up at the airport by Devesh, and then finally got to meet Heifara in person in upon arrival in Assi Ghat. After a paneer dinner with Heifara, our guys collapsed for the night in their rooms at Ashish Cafe, the FairFight stronghold for the duration of the trip. The first full day was spent discussing plans and expectations with Heifara and Devesh, and we are happy to report that everything is on track!
Floris shared the following reflections on his first day in Banaras:
"Being back in Varanasi is very weird. Myrthe and I are still getting acclimated to the intense sensations and life in Varanasi, but we hit the ground running. As many may know the smells, noises and life in general are very different from what I'm used to, and the past 2 days have been a blurr.
We made sure to meet up with our local trainer Devesh, with Heifara from the Ashadiya foundation and of course to already say hello to the girls. In preparation of the arrival of the rest of the team we're talking to all relevant parties to confirm the proposed schedule and talk about expectations, as well as making sure we have an accurate picture of what is and has been happening in Varanasi.
I'm very excited, and I think I can speak for everyone to say that they are as well, and ready to give and get the most out of our time here in Varanasi!"
It’s December here in Rotterdam and winter has brought with it beautiful snowfall, a phenomenon which has been conspicuously absent in the winters of late. Sitting inside watching the snowflakes descend upon the suburban surroundings brought back the familiar feeling of coziness and plunged my mind into deep thought. It was most certainly the perfect moment for reflection.
Thinking back on 2017 there is much to be proud about regarding Fair Fight. We brought sensei Gerald Muusha to the Netherlands for cross-training and sharing of his story with our community of volunteers, supporters and partners. We undertook our second trip to Varanasi, India to further the project there with the invaluable support of Heifara. We bought a tatami for the girls at Nagle House in Marondera and successfully had it delivered and installed at the school improving the facilities. The Fair Fight board expanded with a new outreach officer. The Tang Soo Do (TSD) European championships saw a very successful fundraiser for Fair Fight. All this in 2017! Indeed we have come a long way from the Fair Fight we established back in 2015. But with rapid growth and many new developments it was time take a look in the mirror and check to see whether we were still on course to fulfilling our original mission. Were we staying true to the values and goals we had set out for ourselves almost three years ago?
The truth is that Fair Fight has been extremely busy building new projects and furthering our existing efforts on the ground in India and Zimbabwe that we have had little time to reflect upon our core vision. Something which brought about a subconscious unease throughout the organization, ever present at board meetings, but never really spoken out loud. We knew we had to go back to the drawing board, to the core fundament of the charity, to be in a more powerful position from which to build further. So it was then when we started to ask ourselves, “What exactly do we mean by empowerment? What were the fundamental paradigms which we wanted to influence through our work?”
Answers didn’t come easily and after numerous meetings which circled back to the same difficulties we decided to get some external help. We were fortunate enough to come into contact with Nienke Keen, a Theory of Change expert and researcher. Nienke offered to help us apply the Theory of Change methodology to Fair Fight so that we could gain clarity on what exactly we wanted to achieve.
The “Theory of Change” methodology can be considered like a 'business case' for not-for-profit organisations. It essentially helps organisations to make sense of their higher level goals and offers practical insights to these organisations on how to generate change which is explicit, actionable, and measurable. After three successive workshops in which Nienke helped us develop our own Theory of Change we are highly satisfied with the result (see image below).
However the journey has been just as invaluable as the end result. We were also very much confronted during the different phases in developing our Theory of Change: we realized that we did not always have a good fit between our actions and ambitions; we found disparities between what we thought we were doing and what we actually should have been doing; we identified relevant stakeholder groups that we had previously neglected. In short, the structured approach to thinking about Fair Fight and our activities helped us to get a different perspective on our purpose, our WHY, we can now build a stronger and more focussed strategy for Fair Fight.
Are you curious about the Theory of Change methodology and what impact it could have for your organization? Check out Nienke's website Keen for Impact to learn more and book your own personal workshop today.
When our team went to Varanasi in January 2017, they were welcomed by then-AshaDiya coordinator Shiva, who had taken over from Meera at the end of Summer 2016. However, for health reasons, Shiva returned to his home town of Chennai, leaving his position open. In March 2017, our French partner organization Act & Help hired Heifara Danielsson for the post. It is difficult to give an adequate representation of Heifara’s background and history, which could form the basis of a novel, in the space of a blog post. Although Heifara holds a French passport, she is actually from Tahiti, with German and Polish heritage. She has a very broad background in history, pedagogy and law, compounded with training as a meditation, fitness and karate instructor. She has divided her professional time between teaching from kindergarten all the way to university, social work, and fitness, meditation and martial arts work. Heifara began her martial arts training at the age of six under the tutelage of a most peculiar professor whose methods were somewhat medieval and fate was similar to that of Amelia Eckhart. After the disappearance of her first eccentric teacher, she transferred to her life-long Sensei, “Patrick”, whose only students were Heifara and her former husband. His methods were very much centred on the traditional teaching and learning of martial arts, with a strong emphasis on Budo and not much care for competition and medals. Although Heifara also holds a first Dan in Kendo and is versed in fitness and meditation, she calls Shotokan Karate, in which she holds a second Dan, the “true love of her life”. She passed the federal and national exams that allowed her to set up her own club in Tahiti, at which she taught more than 100 students with her former husband. Heifara also spent some time in France, during which she preferred to teach a small select group of students in a manner resembling more the master-student bond exercised by Chinese kung fu masters than the large groups of modern dojos.
When we heard of Heifara’s hiring, we were ecstatic. Our #1 challenge with the India project is and has always been building local teacher capacity in a context where only regular supervision and monitoring can work, yet we could not send volunteers to Varanasi for entire months at a time! When we heard of Heifara’s martial arts background and her approach to Budo, we instantly knew she was the person the girls needed. Despite her hectic schedule and the demands of running both Asha and Disha, she stepped in in the summer of 2017 to correct the course that the classes had taken. The girls were steered away from competition and back to the basic principles that make martial arts so empowering. In Japanese, these principles are known as “Budo” and exact definitions vary, but core principles include humility, honour, sincerity, courage, respect and harmony, among others. Heifara set about educating the girls in these core principles, reducing the amount of hours that they were taught karate, but increasing their drive for self-practice and their core understanding of the discipline. She has also been spending considerable time with Devesh, helping him to discover that an entire World lies beyond sports karate.
Asked about the situation of women in Varanasi, Heifara, as usual measured in all things, gave a reasoned and balanced answer. She believes that women here are not disempowered per se, not much more than Western women who are also victims of certain expected behaviours and attitudes (such as clothing and make-up). But social class and economic wealth play a determinant role in the fate of women in Varansi, more so than in countries with a redistribution system. As such, women with little access to wealth also have little access to education, family planning and jobs (other than cooking and cleaning). They are also held back by a system which requires that they marry at a high cost for their families, though on a case-by-case basis Heifara has met local men who are extremely proud of their daughters. Change must happen on three levels: on a societal level, at the cultural-mental level and at the level of individual strength and determination. Heifara believes that martial arts can act on the latter. She also believes that this is where both Ashadiya and FairFight are most effective in their joint efforts. She says that while this may be conceptually self-evident, it is difficult to put into practice.
Though we have been in close contact with Heifara via WhatsApp and Skype calls, we have yet to meet her in person. This makes the encounter with the team that is leaving for India in January 2018 all the more exciting! We look forward to sharing a progress report of our project with you in the near future.