Meri Khushi, the name of Vikalp’s empowerment project for girls, means ‘My Happiness’. While adolescence should be a happy time, for many girls in Rajasthan it is marked by oppression and powerlessness caused by issues like early marriage. The range of trainings provided by Meri Khushi aims to broaden girls’ future opportunities, and help community members adopt a sustainable change in their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors towards the girl child. Activities like capacity-building workshops, designing awareness campaigns and writing newsletters empower young girls to defend their rights, and take an active role within their communities to promote change. Through this, we hope, we can bring that happiness back.
Meri Khushi groups, trainings and workshops operate in over 40 villages in the Mavli block of Udaipur, engaging girls aged 11-19 as well as stakeholders in their lives including families, teachers and community leaders. By providing girls with the skills to negotiate their rights the program helps keep girls in school, improve their self worth and end discriminatory practices including early marriage.
A key part of the program, the Meri Khushi day camp conducted over the summer holiday, brings together girls from a number of villages in order to take daily classes in English Language, Computer Skills and Self-Defence. Supplementary to this structured learning are weekly activities and discussions designed to develop life skills and increase girls’ awareness about issues including their legal rights, sexual/reproductive health, child marriage and violence against women. One activity, which is designed to shed light on gender inequality and challenge social norms, is a communal birthday celebration for all of the girls in the camp. More than 90% of girls’ birthdays and achievements are not celebrated by their families and thus this celebration validates each girl by increasing their self-worth and promoting a culture of support amongst them. Through this camp, girls have an opportunity to come together in a positive environment to share, laugh and gain support from each other – a luxury which isn’t often available to them. Through Meri Khushi, girls are taking charge of their futures and their happiness, and that is what Vikalp strives for.
Sajjan was married at just 18 months old to a boy of 13, and spent 2 years in her in-laws’ home from the age of 10 before leaving to escape his abusive alcoholism. After having to drop out of school at 8th standard, Sajjan assumed the burden of family
field and household work, all the while fearing a return to her husband’s home. Sajjan soon became involved in Vikalp activities in her village including the tutoring program, and recently participated in the first ever Meri Khushi Camp. While she still faces challenges, with Vikalp support Sajjan has filed for divorce from her husband and is working toward completing her 10th standard exams. The confidence Sajjan gains through of Meri Khushi is helping equip her to take on the world, and she dreams of being a teacher one day to pass on what she has learnt.