Nurturing adolescent aspirations in Jharkhand

Girl Champion Neelam at the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand

Celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child this year was special with a visit to Jharkhand in early October. The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, a good two-and-a-half hour drive from Deoghar in Jharkhand, is located in the Phadam village in Palajori block, and is well connected by tar roads. The drive speeds past hillocks, lush green landscapes, clear air, herds of goats, and ducklings. Towards the end of the village, just next to the main road, is a pucca house with a narrow entrance. The world behind the narrow entrance took me by surprise. The walls are full of artwork by adolescent girls – hearts, parrots, peacocks, menstruating women, arms raised asking for menstrual hygiene,  impressions of girls’ hands on the charts with their photographs, their names and much more. 

At the adolescent girls’ centre, about twenty girls aged between 10 and 16 have gathered. After a round of introductions, they head outside into the open space around the house for some routine gameplay. Once back inside, they energetically fished out board games – one on myths about menstrual hygiene, another on factors that could support or impede the journey of an adolescent girl to be self-reliant, and another on problem-solving in times of crisis. Some of them hadn’t played the games before. They read the instructions out loud, shared their own interpretations and ended up in a laughing heap as the confusion grew.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As we spoke, I found the girls loved to play and paint at the centre – two very powerful mediums to liberate the body and express voice. Some of these girls had just restarted school as secondary schools are now slowly reopening in Jharkhand. Others were looking forward to the opening of their own schools – some of which are a good 8-10kms away from the village. I wondered what that distance would mean for them, and asked about their commute. “We will cycle to school!”, they all said confidently. Not even for a moment was there an iota of doubt in any of them – they were determined to to study, and they had worked out how to overcome the barrier of distance. 

During the lockdown some of them learnt to make rakhis, decorate diyas that earned them Rs 10-15 each. They kept these earnings to use in the club, where even some the younger ones proudly shared that they had “learnt something to earn that money.”

Adolescent girls playing board games in the Kishori Ekta Youth Club in Jharkhand.

Neelam is a Girl Champion for the community where this centre is located. A Girl Champion is a peer educator who facilitates club activities and is often seen as a role model in the community. She told me that while the club usually welcomes about 10 or 15 girls on a typical day, they had a special reason for gathering in larger numbers on that day. The club was getting a computer, and the Quest Alliance Anandshala team was setting it up. Like any ‘NGOwali’, I checked if the girls had used computers before. None of them had, even though some of them were in grade 10 and 11. But they had seen a computer, and understood the concept. When I asked some more questions about accessibility to digital platforms, they revealed that a majority of them had used a mobile phone for calls or messages, but not computers. Intrigued, I wanted to know what caused the excitement over this computer here at the centre. One of the girls volunteered an answer – “We will use Google!”. When asked how that would help, she replied in a typical adolescent tone – that unique mix of exasperation and amusement – “Humko nahi pata aur kya ho sakta hai computer pe, hum dekhenge toh pata chalega na?” (We don’t know what else can be done with a computer, we will know once we work (look) into it).  The spirit of curiosity and exploration was obvious, apart from the palpable joy of the entire group celebrating the arrival of a computer. 

Seeing the club in action gave me hope, and sparked many thoughts and ponderings. The girls in this club in remote Jharkhand seem confident, curious, wanting to explore, and ready to take risks. If we assume a similar spirit kindled in adolescents across the state, why then does Jharkhand have high child marriage rates, and issues of early pregnancy? The delicate spirit of this group resonated strongly with me. It is a spirit which, if nurtured, could only grow stronger and take on challenges as a community, but if throttled could get discouraged quickly. 

This was a sobering reminder of what many individuals experience during the adolescent phase. In contrast, Neelam is a wonderful example of that spirit nurtured. Having had to discontinue her studies due to health issues in the family, coupled with mounting education fees and other costs, she saved an honorarium payment, enrolled in college and is currently facilitating the club and pursuing her studies. In a way, she personifies the impact of Girl Champions in the community.

The Kishori Ekta Youth Club, Jharkhand

As State, society and civil society organisations, can we truly be open to engage with adolescent girls and parents, with the objective to encourage them? Each one has a role to play in making our schools a space that is encouraging and engaging. How do we as CSO’s not label programmes and not favour certain kinds of strategies over others? How do both state and CSO’s make parents allies and not operate in the paradigm of “parents are not interested”? These are questions that need quick and effective answers. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that adolescent girls are part of the solutioning, and models can be built to harness the adolescent spirit. Games, play, income-generating activities, modules and courses, health, computers, literacy – we need it all to support adolescent girls in the country. Many more Neelams are in the making at the club. They have defined their own paths, and we owe it to them to support their dreams and ambitions. 

Words By: Deepika K Singh, Quest Alliance
Photos By: Shitanshu Sharma, Quest Alliance

What Should The Covid-19 Pandemic Change?

Ideally, our discriminatory and unsustainable systems.

Unprecedented — A word used to emphasize or describe something that hasn’t happened earlier, at least in our living memories. How we respond to Covid-19, beyond taming the virus in the short term, only time will tell; but there is no doubt that these are unprecedented times for all of us. Never before has the world found itself in exactly the same situation across continents, time zones, political systems, religious affiliations and economic status. This is not to say that everyone’s affected the same way — while we keep hearing that the novel coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate”, more evidence suggests this ongoing pandemic is exacting a higher toll on marginalized communities, the old, the sick and those with lower incomes.

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How can we make women ITIs future-ready?

As a step towards bringing more women to the workforce, Quest Alliance – in partnership with JP Morgan – hosted a round table on ‘Driving Holistic Reform in the Women ITI Ecosystem in India’.

With the aim of bridging the gender gap in India’s workforce, the multi-stakeholder participation led to several important solution strategies.

Women’s participation in the workforce continues to decline across the world.  The situation is particularly stark in India, some of the reasons for which are expounded here.

While the battle to fight social norms keeping women away from the workforce will be a protracted one, an urgent step towards bridging the gender gap in India’s workforce was taken in the form of a round table on ‘Driving Holistic Reform in the Women ITI Ecosystem in India’.

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What is keeping women from working in India?

Women’s labour force participation has never looked promising, but the decline in numbers in the last two decades have been alarming. One of the major reasons for this drop is the rise in the number of women in formal education, which in turn delays their entry into the job market.

But the real travesty is that the few who do enter the labour force are faced with gendered distribution of jobs, which is mostly concentrated in low productivity industries.

Women’s careers may be peaking in the world of Indian films, but the narrative in real life tells a different story.  Only 27% are in the labour force – down from 35% in 2004. And this fall is even sharper when seen from the lens of women in the age group of 15-24 years. Almost half are not in education, employment or training, compared to just 8% of young men.

This is critical in the larger context of declining female labour force participation rates (FLPRs).


According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), while 2.4 million women fell off the employment map, jobs for men increased by 0.9 million in the same time period. This meant that while women were quitting jobs, more men were joining the workforce.

Why is this happening? Why are women withdrawing from the world of work?

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Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World of Work

‘A future of skilling strategy should look beyond the technical skills required for specific job profiles, and instead, seek to cultivate a set of core skills that can help chart meaningful and sustainable careers.’  

This – and more – was articulated and shared in an article originally published  by FVTRS on their souvenir for National Skill Conference 2019. 

What we’ve seen at the workplace in the last decade is a confluence of technological advancements — one that has negated some jobs, albeit creating new ones. This accelerated pace of innovation has provoked some into thinking deeply about the possibilities that lie ahead — an important development given that most jobs of tomorrow will demand entirely new skill sets.

This begs the question: how can one upskill oneself for an uncertain future?

Having established the fact that the future of work is largely ambiguous — compounded by an ever-changing technological landscape that will continue to redefine future opportunities — identifying skills that will help offset some of the challenges that such a transition brings with it will be a good place to start.

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Three keys to building a learning organization

Through learning we re-create ourselves, thereby extending our capacity to create. This, then, is the basic meaning of a ‘learning organisation – a body that is continually expanding its ability to create its future.

While it may seem like stating the obvious, the concept of a ‘learning organization’ is not comprehended correctly by most establishments. Learning – in contemporary usage – has come to be synonymous with ‘taking in information’. Yet, that is only distantly related to real learning.

Organizations claim to care dee­ply about learning, but their understanding is purely technical – be it scholarly learning or industrial expertise. But learning is different from knowledge. It is deeply connected to the vision one builds for oneself and before exploring the lesser-explored aspects of it, it would be wise to understand what it broadly means in this day’s context.

Continue reading “Three keys to building a learning organization”