Our very own VP of Mentor Relations Jennifer Ganapathy went on a trip to India to launch Project SEPIA which seeks to provide social dialogue opportunities amongst low-income female workers, specifically domestic workers. Being part of YWiB SFU as a co-VP for the SOUL mentorship program, Jennifer has been able to build up a supportive professional network. It has provided her with the confidence to approach individuals and organizations from a variety of sectors such as non-profit, policy and business to raise funds and create a strong foundation for Project SEPIA. We would like to share her story as it is inspiring that Jennifer has compassionately sought after her vision to help low-income female workers in India.
I recently got a chance to return to Bangalore, India, after my original co-op term in 2010, to work on a series of deliberative dialogue projects with low-income female workers in urban areas. The deliberative dialogues use a participatory consultative format to build the capacity of the women, particularly domestic workers, to learn more constructive and powerful ways to approach problems. I was fortunate to find an excellent facilitator in Brinda Adige of Global Concerns India. She is currently working with trafficking and rural domestic workers issues, and has had the kind of experiences that have enabled her to quickly build trust and cohesiveness among the women participating in the program.
I was most amazed to see these women jump right in to the process; they really “got” what we were trying to do. They opened themselves up immediately, talking about some of the most difficult issues in their lives, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment. In these communities, physical abuse is an epidemic, and in some groups, we saw 100% of the women experiencing violence in their lives. I could literally feel the energy in the room change when Brinda began speaking about the format of the dialogues. Once she started going around the room one by one and engaging with each of the women, they would look at her intently, paying attention, and yet they were also relaxed and laughing. It was almost exactly what I had envisioned for these groups.
What really draws me to work with these women is their incredible honesty and authenticity in the face of overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. It makes my world feel bigger to be around them. I think they wonder why I come all the way over from my safe and comfortable country to help them, but really, they expand my world and my life, hopefully as much as I have expanded theirs.
We are currently working on fundraising for the next 12 months of this project. We would like to further develop these programs where the participants can be trained to become facilitators in their own communities. This was my ideal vision for the dialogues process, as empowering the women to become facilitators themselves will build leadership, independent thinking and community problem-solving skills.
This is a guest post by Jennifer Ganapathy and her Project SEPIA blog site can be found at projectsepia.wordpress.com.