Today, I listened to multiple Indian women talk about their lives, and how they are working to improve them, expelled at least a liter of sweat, and struck up a small friendship with my auto rickshaw driver over Bengali food (Biriyani) , soccer (Manchester United), moms (love you mom) and American movies (Spirit, The Mummy, and James Bond to be exact). Today also happens to be July 4th, and the only thing today had in common with previous celebrations in America was the sweat. Growing up in Houston, Texas summers were hot, and July 4th was awesome. Sometimes we would head to my cousin’s lake house and shoot bottle rockets over the lake. Others, I competed, along with friends and family, in Houston Yacht Club’s cardboard boat race. Designs changed from year to year ranging from illegally lining our cardboard canoe with trash bags to cardboard cylinders normally used for construction fashioned into a raft. The event always had more emphasis on family, food, and fun than it ever did on independence. Celebrating the holiday in India has shed light on independence in a way picnic tables bedecked in red, white, blue did not.
The two social enterprises I am currently working for, Anudip and iMerit, work for rural education in IT skills, workplace readiness, and English, but also have a deep commitment to women’s empowerment. I spent today working at an Anudip center in Metiabruz. The community in Metiabruz is predominately Muslim and very traditional. The women traverse the area completely covered and are not encouraged to leave the area to go ‘outside’ and find work elsewhere in the city. This leaves the women of Metiabruz very slim pickings. With a nose to the need, Anudip and iMerit set up a dual training facility and work center in Metiabruz. This bustling, engaging, happy, empowered, and solely female center is a harbinger of independence.
Working to provide media in the form of videos, interviews, and a documentary for Anudip and iMerit, I spent the day interviewing the women at the Metiabruz center, and watching their daily routine. The two questions I loved to ask the most in the interviews were, “How has your training with Anudip and work with iMerit changed you?” and “What is your dream job?” The answer to the first question was almost always, without hesitation, confidence. Many of the girls talked about their trips ‘outside’ Metiabruz while others talked about how the environment encouraged them to continue their formal education outside Anudip. (iMerit will, upon request, hire women to a part time service job, instead of full time, with good pay so they can continue their education.) The second question provided similarly independent and empowering answers. Most of the girls wished to work at iMerit in the Metiabruz center. One wanted to be the head of the company, higher even than Radha, the CEO. Another aspired to start her own NGO. Despite all these amazing answers, my favorite response was, “I want to be a radio jockey!”
In the spirit of female independence, and the memories of bottle rockets back home, I can only hope that today, had she been a DJ, she would have played Katy Perry’s Fireworks: “Cause Baby you’re a firework, come on show them what your worth.”