Day Two: Roshni Shines Brightly

I am not naive; I am slightly jaded; yet, I am overwhelmed this evening as I reflect on all that is extraordinary about Roshni.  Suffice it to say that spending time with two classes of 10 – 12 graders in Old Delhi today was totally inspiring and deepened my enthusiasm for the nascent learning partnership between Castilleja and Roshni.  Never has there been so much to gain by fostering a connection between two groups of young women.

The day began with us in our shalwar kameez, cognizant of the reality that we would spend the day in a very conservative, traditional enclave as Delhi known as “Old Delhi.”  Predominantly Muslim, home to the famous mosque Jama Masjid, and teeming with people, we were immediately ensconced in a world that bore no similarity to anything we had experienced and everything we had imagined.

Roshni’s site in Old Delhi is tucked away in a girls’ school that shields its occupants from the complexities, noise, and abject poverty of daily life in its environs.  We had a fabulous few hours sitting in on and participating in “soft skills” classes.  These classes are designed to teach the girls confidence and do so via many lessons.  The two we witnessed were on goal setting and critical thinking.  I was struck by the importance of these basic lessons in all of our lives.  I found myself wondering when and how I had learned to differentiate between short term and long term goals and thinking about how these skills were taught at Castilleja.  The critical thinking lesson focused on differentiating between “fact” and “opinion.”  This was not easy for some of the girls, and it became clear that it was quite an unusual concept for them to query that anything their teacher might say could simply be an opinion.  What a gift and opportunity to offer a young girl: the chance to imagine herself as the “critical thinker,” imagining what is best for her and daring to hope that she can obtain it.  Empowered by the classes and the community Roshni creates, I was not surprised to hear one student as us, “Are women in America discriminated like they are here?”

Fun facts about the sessions:

  • Talia, Ariana, and Sarah all learned Bollywood moves during an impromptu “dance techniques” exchange moment.
  • The four of us were able to sing the United States National Anthem (correctly!) upon request.
  • Castilleja Robotics made it into the conversation about “fun things to do after school.”
  • It is only an opinion that “red” is better than “blue,” particularly if you are a CAL fan. (Go Bears!)

After class and an obligatory and lovely “glass of coke and plate of chips” with the school’s general principal, we were off into the side alleys of Old Delhi to visit the home of one of Roshni’s first graduates, Nigar, now in her first year of college.  The photos of our visit are highlighted here.  Her two older sisters are wonderful embroiderers, and they spoke of how much they came to take pride in their work after their younger sister came home from Roshni classes telling them that everyone has a talent and something valuable to share.  The authenticity of this statement was palpable, and as I slowly realized that both older sisters (20 & 24) were unable to marry because there was no money for a dowry, I felt both their pain and my greatest hope simultaneously: would they get a micro-loan to start their own business and open their “dream” boutique?    Would this freedom from marriage actually be an opportunity, ultimately?  Would their sister, with her opportunity of a college education, ultimately be the resource who connects them with non-profits in the area offering such loan programs?  Would she help them write a small business plan?  The mind wanders easily when you are imagining better lives for young women, but in this instance it seems plausible that Nigar might be just one more Roshni educator spreading the message of confidence and dreaming big, big enough to imagine a very different reality.

It was a wonderful hour.  Ten women, six glasses of Coke (their week’s saving and a drink I generally forbid my children to drink), four plates of potato chips, a series of shy questions and answers, a very proud mother (Nigar’s), and three dedicated educators trying to imagine what this scene would look like in a year, in two years, and a decade from now.  What would it be to bring the world of Silicon Valley to Roshni?  Whose lives will be transformed most?  The lessons they will share are infinite, the possibilities profound.

Narrowly escaping with our fingers and toes as we squeaked between goats, motorbikes, wheel barrow loads of bricks, and plain old junk, we wove our way out of the alley to find rickshaws to drive us to lunch.  Our moment of relief as we climbed into the rickshaw was just that – fleeting at best.  Our fingers and toes took refuge again as the rickshaws literally bonked and crashed their way between the throngs of people, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and animals careening down the main thoroughfare of Old Delhi.

Lunch at a local kebab house was delicious and ripe with all the ironies of attempts to stave off stomach bugs in India.  Skip the raw stuff, no oily curries, Purell the plate, bottled water from our backpacks….forget the care with which you Purelled the plate when the gorgeous meal arrives and dive in with a Purell-less fork and spoon.  Pour bottled water into an unsanitized cup because the food is spicy enough that you just don’t care; in fact, it is so spicy you can’t even remember that it’s okay to drink from the bottle and that bread or rice is a better solution than water.  You just pour and gulp, pour and gulp.

An interesting tour of Jamin Masjid rounded out the day.  For many Muslims it is the destination of Old Delhi.  For me, it Old Delhi will forever be the girls of Roshni dreaming of being confident and the realization that all it really does take is a mentor to foster a dream.  There is nothing complicated about it.  These girls need someone to be that presence that tells them how to set a goal and dream a dream; Roshni does it for them.

It is always precious and profound to hear the reflections of children.  Today was no different.  While I stumbled through the complexities of my own personal learning and my thoughts about how best to foster partnership between Castilleja and Roshni, the younger three “California girls” had clarity.  They were struck by the respect the Roshni girls had for the program and each other.  Self-respect and mutual respect are the underpinnings of any powerful relationship.  If we can foster these in both groups of girls, the rest will be history.

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  • iris brito stevens

    Go Stacey, go!

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