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.
In January 2017, Nivedita Sarveswaran travelled to Zimbabwe with Mark and Phillipa Caddy to take part in the third iteration of the FairFight project in Marondera. Today she reflects on some of the achievements and highlights of that trip.
Firstly, Niv spent some time at Nagle House, continuing the project we began there in 2015.
“We did four sessions at Nagle House. Whilst we were based in Harare for most of the first week, Mark and I took our first session at Nagle House on Wednesday 18th January. In the following week, I took the Monday session with Gerald as Mark was teaching at the Old Hararians, and then we were all teaching together again on the Wednesday and Friday. There were 15 students who train regularly with Gerald who came to almost every session.
The remaining 30+ new students came to at least 2 sessions”.
The team also spent some time visiting the Ruwa Community Dojo initative outside Harare, a community dojo project sponsored in part by Jindokai, whose progress you can follow on their Facebook page.
“We spent a couple of hours in the Ruwa area as Taneta Kagande and the Ruwa committee showed us the model and plans for the community centre-dojo. We had some practical suggestions (with regards to storage, changing rooms and offices) in order to make the most of the space for use as a dojo and more general community functions. Several of the Ruwa dojo members came to train at the Old Hararians Dojo and to help at Nagle House on the final day there.”
Like last year, the FairFight team also stopped at the Jindokai Old Hararians dojo for some kihon and kumite drills, and at Peterhouse for both children and adult classes. Since the team had collected a large amount of funds before the trip, they decided to spend a large part of those funds on projects that FairFight and its members have been supporting since the beginning:
Reflecting on her time in Zimbabwe, Niv recalls:
“Whilst I am pleased we were able to make a physical difference for each of the communities we met, it also meant so much to talk to people of all ages and their day to day experiences. In particular, I was grateful for the chance to watch some of the lessons at Nagle House and speak to the girls in more depth about their hopes and aspirations. Through Gerald, it was also lovely to see members from different clubs connecting and training with each other, expanding the network of friends.
Maintaining the momentum of interest in karate at Nagle House will be the key challenge and opportunity moving forward; some of the girls have been selected for squad training now that karate will be in the Olympics and would make great role models for the younger students to look up to. Perhaps have some of the older girls from Harare to demonstrate as well to get the girls interested in competing at local tournaments. You could also encourage socials or opportunities for conversation between the girls at the different clubs for how karate has helped them in other aspects of their life.”
Lijnie, Laurent, Wahing, Pearla and Madeleine finally all made it safe and sound to Varanasi! After an hour and a half of crazy taxi driving (most insane traffic any of us have ever seen), we arrived at our guest house around 1PM, local time. After dropping off our luggage and shortly exploring the apartment, we followed the owner of the house to his restaurant for lunch. He then showed us the surroundings of our guest house, such as where to find grocery shops. Once we made it back home, we proceeded to reaching out to our contacts in Varanasi: Devesh, our martial arts representative, and Shiva, the head of AshaDia.
They both agreed to come to our apartment early in the evening to say hi and discuss what the coming two weeks would consist of. It is the first time in India for the whole team, and although we have been following the India project closely for a while, it was great to finally be able to put faces to the names we have so eagerly heard about. Shiva has taken over Meera’s old position, so he was really interested in hearing FairFight’s story, our goal and why we do what we do. After a brief round of introduction, we began discussing the plan for the coming two weeks, and we can say that it is going to be incredibly busy, but we are all so excited to get started! Everybody was really involved throughout the meeting and we ended up discussing for two hours. I will be giving you a brief overview of what our plan consists off, but will attempt to post regular more in-depth updates throughout the project (depend a lot on how nice the internet decides to be with us...).
Saturday is the kite festival in Varanasi, and for the occasion Devesh very kindly invited us to celebrate with him and his family. Our second day in Varanasi will thus be spent truly immersed in the culture and we are beyond grateful for that. Furthermore, we really wanted to visit the girls at Disha and/or Asha as soon as possible. Fortunately, we were able to plan a visit to Asha this Sunday already! On Monday, we will leave for Sarnath in the morning to visit the temple before going to the school where the seminar will be held in order to give an idea of the space we have and how our team should organize their teaching. Finally we will attend one of Devesh’s classes before heading back to Varanasi.
Tuesday marks the beginning of five consecutive days of seminar, three in Varanasi and two in Gorakhpur, which means that we will spend the Sunday thereafter resting. Unfortunately, Wahing will be leaving us on that same day. We will spend the next week visiting alternatively Asha and Disha, and planning tours of Varanasi to get to know the holy city better. Once all of this will be done, it will be time to head back home.
I can say that the team is really incredible, and I could not wish to have any better people handling the project. Everybody is serious about what we are doing here but still manage to keep a very pleasant mood and atmosphere, especially thanks to Wahing’s out-of-nowhere-jokes that makes us all burst out laughing. However, we are missing our dear Floris that could not attend due to an injury to his knee, you are truly being missed buddy!
After a lovely dinner together, we all fell asleep quite early and quickly as none of us slept the previous night due to the overnight travels. Nonetheless, we are beyond excited to start giving classes and meeting all the rest of the people involved in this project! We will try to update you as often as possible, thank you so much for reading and supporting us. Do not hesitate to contact us via Facebook or email if you want to know more and/or have any questions, we would be happy to provide you with anything you need.
Until next time,
This January, for the third year running, FairFight is sending a small team to Zimbabwe to carry on our work with young girls, women and communities. It’s been a tough year for our Zimbabwe teachers and students: the rains are late again, causing long draughts that have ravaged crops. The on-going cash crisis means day-to-day business is difficult for many and financial difficulties have made it difficult for our students and teachers to focus on their training, but our collaborations with Nagle house and Peterhouse have been able to weather the storm. We managed to organise the first FairFight indoor tournament in October 2016 in which competitors from both schools as well as the Harare and Chitungwiza Kofukan dojos took part.
This year, FairFight veteran and Jindokai Shihan Mark Caddy is coordinating the project, and is joined by Cambridge PhD student Nivedita Sarveswaran. Together, they’ve raised around 2000 US dollars through online fundraising campaigns. 500 dollars from that went on the purchase of lightweight gis for the girls and body protectors for upcoming competitions.
Nivedita says about her passion for martial arts: "Having started training as a shy young girl in a class full of grown men, karate showed me that I could match my peers in strength and skill through hard work and perseverance – a lesson I carried off the mat as well. I continued training throughout university, discovering the athleticism and mental resilience essential to sports karate, as well as the fierceness and technical fluency required of more traditional combat. While on the surface these traits may seem unique to the world of martial arts, they strengthen the body and mind in ways that inevitably help inspire self-confidence to make one’s way in the world"
They will take the rest of the cash to Zimbabwe, some of which will go to fund FairFight operations for the coming year, while the rest will be used to support local initiatives such as the Ida Wekwako Old Age Home, the Musha Wevana Orphanage, and the Svosve village and Musha Mukadzi women’s empowerment project. These are all charities and organizations that FairFight has worked with before through the EUCSA study trip.
The team lands in Harare on the 14th of January, where they will spend the first week of their trip. Their plan includes a series of trainings with our old friends the Jindokai Old Harareans, where FairFight trained last year. FairFight will also visit the Ruwa community dojo, a project located just outside of Harare and funded partly through Jindokai donations. During that week, there will also be the opportunity to train at Peterhouse and Nagle House in Marondera. The second week will be spent in Marondera, where Gerald Muusha and the team will spend time following up on the progress of our Nagle House project, ending with a grading session for the girls there. As the team will be staying on Peterhouse premises, they hope to engage with the successful Peterhouse Girls and Boys karate programme set up by FairFight and Gerald Muusha last year. During their stay in Marondera, they will also plan for the year ahead and meet with community businesses and organizations with a view to building up community involvement in our project. Gerald has big plans for future FairFight tournaments, in which we want to include the whole community.
For Mark Caddy, the main objective of this trip is to strengthen the bonds and relationships that we set up before. Mark is particularly interested to discover the Ruwa dojo and see how the students at Nagle House are progressing under Gerald’s hard work.
It has been a long time since our latest blog entry and I would like to apologize for the lack of update regarding our activities in the past couple of months. This time of the year tends to get rather busy for our team due to our day jobs and/or studies. For example, Ginie needed to finish her PhD (for which she got an impressive Cum Laude - congrats!). However, this does not mean that we have remained idle all this time; quite the opposite actually! Coming January, we will be operating two projects in parallel for the first time. Both experienced and new members will be traveling to Zimbabwe and India in order to strengthen and further develop our projects there. An update on what we will be doing in Zimbabwe will be published soon, but in the meantime I will be focusing on our plans for India.
Floris, Ginie and Krissi first travelled to Varanasi last June, and in the two weeks they spent there, they managed to set up classes in Asha and Disha (two organizations devoted to helping orphans and underprivileged children) and established first contact with the Dragon Academy Karate Club and Uttar Pradesh Karate Federation (UPKF). Our FairFight representative in India, Devesh Verna, has been successful in keeping ongoing classes with the equipment we provided him thank to HE Space Foundation’s generous funding. We will be visiting the classes as many times as possible during our time there, but this is not the primary focus of this visit as the project is running smoothly. This January, our team composed of Floris, Pearla, Madeleine, Lijnie, Wahing and myself (Laurent), will reinforce ties with martial art associations in the Uttar-Pradesh region, explore similar projects we could work with on and/or collaborate with and gather media and interviews.
In order to reinforce our presence in the region, we have been invited by UPKF to offer two seminars during our stay there: one in Varanasi (17-19 January) and one in Gorakhpur (20-21 January). Our team members are still working on the exact plans for the seminars, but there will be a combination of the three main martial arts represented within FairFight: Tang Soo Do, Karate and Aikido. Our Aikido representatives, Floris (1st dan black belt) and Lijnie (4th dan black belt), both come from Aikido Dordrecht. Floris was part of the team that traveled to Varanasi in June, but it will be Lijnie’s first project for FairFight. We have been in contact with her several times in the past, and she has been indirectly involved in our projects and fundraisings, but we are honored to finally have her part of the team and her experience is going to be valuable for the success of our endeavors in India. Our Karate representative come from Jundokan France. Pearla (2nd dan black belt) has already worked with us during out last Zimbabwe project, and she wanted to take part in the fight for empowerment once more. Her mother, Madeleine (6th dan black belt) will be accompanying her and having somebody with such experience will truly bring the project to new heights. Finally, we are lucky to count a master in Tang Soo Do amongst our ranks; Wahing Lee (4th dan black belt). As you can see, we have a very capable team and everybody is extremely eager to board the plane and get this project started. The seminars will truly be an enriching experience for everybody, and I cannot wait to share the outcome with you.
Besides the seminars, we will be teaching classes in Asha and Disha and attending Devesh’s classes as many times as we can. Additionally, we would be interested in exploring the next chapter of our project in India, which means we will be using our free time to meet with associations in the region and potentially find similar projects to unite forces with. We will also open a discussion with the Uttar Pradesh Karate Federation to explore the possibility for the opening of a FairFight dojo in India. This would enable us to make the next step forward for our fight for empowerment in the region.
See you in January for new updates regarding our project. Thank you again for supporting us!
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.