I’m nearing the end of India now; it’s time to discuss the dreaded Community Action Days.
Community Action Days (CADs) are designed to increase the positive impact that a team has on a community. In our case, this meant trying to involve parts of the community other than the adolescent girls that we had been working with for the majority of the program. You pick a theme, you design workshops or activities, and then you carry it out. It’s a lot of work, it’s a daunting prospect, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is indescribable (sort of a heady mix of euphoria and exhaustion).
The theme we chose for our CADs (we did two, one in Amagarh and one in Guruteg) was women’s health – it sort of linked into what we had been doing and it seemed like an important issue, particularly as it’s something of a taboo as a topic of discussion in the kind of area we worked in; mothers might not discuss things like menstruation with their daughters, might not even know the ins and outs of it.
We drafted out some ideas of what might be necessary to discuss, and came up with a few main areas:
Based on these, we came up with some activities and workshop ideas to deliver on the day, and then we got down to the less strenuous work of making lots of colourful posters and leaflets to advertise the CAD (this part was definitely my forte).
The days themselves went surprisingly smoothly all things considered (“all things” particularly referring to the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before, Indian time does not in any way correlate to actual time – we said we would start at 10, people would start drifting in by about 11). We managed to get roughly 70 women in attendance for each day, which was a particular achievement in Amagarh due to the conservative nature of the community. Of course, a large proportion of the day on the UK volunteers’ part was spent running (sometimes literally) around the community multiple times, reminding people that they had promised to attend; cajoling, persuading, practically dragging anyone who expressed the tiniest sliver of interest along. But that was all part of the fun (and we weren’t going to be much use in the delivery anyway; our few words of Hindi couldn’t very well stretch to explaining what the proper balance of nutrition for an expectant mother should be).
We also managed to secure an outside speaker for the sexual health section on the Guruteg action day, a doctor from the hospital opposite the flat; and that was really useful in terms of getting the women to take seriously what was being said – though Rizwana did really well in delivering that particular session in Amagarh (bearing in mind that it’s not just in slum communities that talking about topics like that is somewhat taboo, it’s an issue across all levels of society).
Of course, we did have our fair share of problems across the two days – the fact that the lights had fused in the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) basement; the acquiring and delivering of food for those who attended (it’s unsurprising that carrying a box full of 200 samosas through a slum community caused quite a commotion); and the somewhat expected obstacle of timings – trying to juggle not wanting to get started without the full expected audience there, and not wanting to anger the speaker (or more specifically, the hospital administrator) by running late and not allowing her to get started on time.
It was definitely stressful. And we all felt ill after eating about 3 samosas each (despite their deep-fried deliciousness). But the girls all helped out by coming round with us in the mornings to get people to come along, the feedback from the women was really positive, and (in Amagarh, at least) in the short time period between the CAD and the last session we held in the community, I noticed a definite thaw in attitudes towards us – not that anyone had ever been directly unfriendly or abusive towards us, but afterwards people would smile when they saw us walking round to collect the girls in the morning, even try and engage us in conversation (though unfortunately maintaining a conversation in Hindi was still not something we could do by the end of 12 weeks).
The Community Action Days were probably the part of the project that I was least looking forward to, but it ended up being one of the best bits of the whole experience, just because of the sheer feeling of accomplishment after we had done it. And besides, it will look great on my CV!