India Interior

Adolescents with built-in resilience

Usha Rai | Updated on January 19, 2018

Early to rise Bihar youngsters Naushad Ali, Saba Reyaz and Komal Kumari say that Resilience, a psycho-social development programme at school, gave them the courage to voice their aspirations

A teacher explains the benefits of the programme to a child and her mother

Rural schools impart a new confidence

Gawky, unable to express their feelings, and suppressed by local communities that decree that girls should be seen but not heard, rural adolescents have it tough in their growing-up years. On radio and television they see other young girls boldly pursuing their ambitions while they remain shackled by gender bias. A new programme called Resilience, which was conceptualised in the US by Steve Levanthal of CorStone and works with adolescents at the psychological and social level, was introduced in 76 government schools in Bihar. Pilot studies were first conducted in Delhi, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to assess the impact of the programme, which aims to equip youngsters with skills to tackle life’s challenges in the poorer, less-developed areas.

Saba Reyaz, Naushad Ali and Komal Kumari — all adolescent students from Bihar — were able to break the circle of silence and voice their dreams after they took part in the Resilience programme. CorStone India Foundation introduced the programme as an add-on to the school curriculum with the support of the Bihar Education Project Council.

In Uttarakhand, after attending the programme a young girl gained the courage to break off her engagement when her fiancé objected to her “overconfidence” and her habit of talking to boys. “If he is trying to control me so much now, what will happen when I get married?” she asked her parents. Impressed by her newfound confidence to cope with life’s challenges, the parents too agreed to cancel the engagement.

The findings of the ‘Girls First — Bihar programme on Resilience’ were presented in the Capital recently and discussions held to scale up the programme to reach 70,000 girls and boys in Bihar over the next five year, and subsequently to a million.

Four levels of wellbeing

The new programme will be called Girls First and Youth First. With an adolescent population of 25 crore, there is immense scope for expanding the programme, says Dr Zoya Ali Rizvi, who works with the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram — the adolescence programme of the Union Ministry of Health.

The impact of the resilience curriculum on its own and in combination with the health curriculum were analysed. The biggest gainers were found to be those who underwent the resilience and health curriculum. The impact was examined at four levels of wellbeing — emotional, social, physical and educational. Two local NGOs — Integrated Development Foundation (IDF) and Gramin Evam Nagar Vikas Parishad (GENVP) — were selected to train the implementers.

Specially trained teachers conducted group meetings for the youth on 23 issues including listening skills, character strengths, life stories, goals, managing emotions, conflict resolution, opposing violence, forgiveness and learning to apologise. The health curriculum looks at issues related to nutrition and anaemia, safe drinking water, sanitation and health, diarrhoea and its management, gender constructs, menstruation and hygiene, physical intimacy, gender-based violence, and substance use and abuse.

Changed for the better

Analysis of random control trials have shown that girls are stopping early marriage, advocating for their education and standing up to harassment using a combination of skills learned in the Girls First programme. Emotional resilience increased 33 per cent; health knowledge increased 99 per cent; attitudes about gender equality improved 18 per cent and clean water behaviour improved 96 per cent.

Many of the adolescents as well as the community-based facilitators are sharing their new knowledge and skills with younger siblings to attune the entire family to the project’s goals. Saba, now in Std X, knows what she wants to be in life and how to achieve that.

She has noticed changes in her personality and is working to reverse the gender bias in her thinking. Sushila Kumari, a programme coordinator, says she was able to help her husband accept and deal with the trauma he faced when he learnt that his mother had a brain tumour.

Kumkum Kumari, the government schoolteacher from Maner, says children who were part of the Girls First project are more attentive and peaceful. The programme made a difference to her life too and she learnt the importance of forgiveness.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on January 29, 2016

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