On 29th September, 2015, we inaugurated TULSI initiative of Swasthya Swaraj, an empowerment programme for adolescent tribal girls. This programme is for the overall development of girls ensuring them a better, healthy and empowered life . We chose Kerpai, the most backward and inaccessible tribal Gram Panchayat in Thuamul Rampur Block in Kalahandi district of Odisha to kick start this programme. Thirty five girls representing 14 villages participated in the training programme. In this programme, ice breaking sessions and outdoor activities like dodge ball, cycling etc were also arranged. We were overwhelmed by the response of the girls.

TULSI programme started with the registration of girls for the programme. The programme was inaugurated by planting a tulsi plant in Kerpai campus. This was followed by lighting of lamp and speech by Dr. Aquinas. In a few words, she made every one understand the aim, objectives and importance of TULSI programme.

All the TULSI participants and Swasthya Swaraj team introduced themselves. Then began the fun and girls enjoyed all the activities planned for them. After lunch, all the girls performed tribal dance ”Saylodi” and in the evening, there was outdoor games. At night they were shown the movie “Mary Kom” which was quite inspiring. All of them enjoyed the film. The activities for the first day was arranged to make them comfortable, to know each other and to feel free to express. It was for the first time, so many girls from different villages stayed together with no household work. It was a secret sharing night, whole night they were murmuring and most of them hardly slept. They spent whole day and night together with lots of enjoyment and sharing. Next day, they woke up around 4.30 am as usual, found their own way for freshening up.

They were neither dependent on organizers nor had they any complaints. Valleys, streams, rivers and jungle are in real sense their caretakers. Whatever they performed, they did it in a group, which is their strength. I was moved to see all of them behaving in a cultured and well mannered way. Actually, I am getting it wrong, they were not behaving, they are cultured and well mannered. This is the beauty of tribal people.

Second day began with exercise and meditation. The meditation involved each girl going alone to a tree and speak to the tree about herself, and what all in her mind and heart. After returning from her love talk, she has to remain silent for 5 minutes. Then she will have to share the experience.

Laching Majhi, a 13 year old whose marriage was fixed, shared that she told the tree she didn’t want to get married and all her frustrations on why she dislikes the marriage. The tree replied to her to follow her heart and stay free. Then she said “Even though we have eyes, we act and behave as if we are blind. We unwillingly follow our parents even though we know things that are happening to us are not good and healthy. Marrying at an early age and not getting education are not good, but we are forced in to it”. All of us were taken aback after hearing these words of wisdom. Swasthya Swaraj, through TULSI programme can build their confidence; make them aware of basic health issues and educate them. We are happy that we have inaugurated and started the programme.

After the meditation, session on physiological and psychological changes at the onset of adolescence was conducted. In the interactive class, girls shared the existing beliefs on menstruation and the practices followed. They talked about the problems they face during those days and clarified many doubts by asking questions.

As 12 Tulsi girls had scabies, a session on health education and awareness in scabies was conducted. Girls promised to keep their villages free of scabies.

Only 8 out of 35 girls have gone to school, rest were illiterate and towards the end of the programme majority of them expressed their desire to learn to read and write.

When the training programme was over, we could see many shining faces with a smile of confidence. Some of them burst into tears as it was the time to leave. All hugged each other and said sayonara with a promise to meet again.Their next meeting will be with some changes for a better and healthy life. The changes will enable them to have a broader smile in all of them.

All the participants will have to go back to their villages and form groups of all adolescent girls called TULSI Clubs and share their learning to empower them to lead a healthy and informed life. These clubs will be the strength of TULSI.

Ms. Kalyani Raut
Programme Coordinator.

PS : This event was the beginning of a many many Tulsi clubs in many far off tribal villages. Today we have a chain of TULSI clubs in both the clusters. Girls eagerly await for their camping days to come so that they can learn and be empowered.