Leadership and Women Empowerment Conference With SOLA and Kriya Girls
“One of the most important leadership lessons is realizing that you’re not the most important or the most intelligent person in the room at all times.”
SOLA stands for School of Leadership, Afghanistan, and it is a private boarding school for Afghan girls that is committed to educating and empowering girls from different provinces within Afghanistan. Their mission is to use education as a tool that promotes critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and respect for self and others. Some of the girls happened to be in India for a hands-on learning experience in various parts of India including Pune. The reason why there needs to be a school of this sort just for girls is due to the current situation in Afghanistan where the girl child doesn’t have access to equal rights to education compared to the boy child; as well as the fact that girls and women are not to engage in sports like cycling, or just jogging on the street let alone big team sports. As a member of Kriya I volunteered to be part of the group that lead the discussion because I felt like there was so much that I could not only transfer to the girls but so much that I could learn from them too.
Before the deeply emotional discussions we had a chance to get to know each other through name games and other icebreakers. I lead the ‘boldest ambition’ discussion in which the girls mingled and got a chance in groups to talk about their dreams, long-term or short-term goals etc. The reason why I decided this would be a good activity was because most times we do not get the chance to talk about our dreams, to think big, to feel like you are in a safe space where you won’t be judged or thought badly off just because you dream big. This was in fact an opportunity for all of us to realize our dreams and be one step closer to actually putting them into action. I felt like I grew a lot from this discussion because I realized that at the core no matter where you’re from, what language you speak, the kind of opportunities that you’ve had access to, we’re all human and we all have dreams and passions and hope for a better tomorrow. I also learned the importance of listening because there is so so much that you can learn from other people. When you speak you’re in fact just reciting what you already know but listening is a learning experience. And as I listened I realized just how privileged I am to be at MUWCI where I have access to so many opportunities, where nothing is out of reach if I push hard enough. The girls have probably had more obstacles in their lives than I had but their ambitions and dreams were so bold and inspiring that it’s put me to the task of doing something worthwhile with my life.
The discussion that followed the games, icebreakers and small activities was centered on gender disparities, women empowerment and developing a friendship with people from a part of the world that’s been looked down upon by many. The girls from Afghanistan helped me clear out the misconceptions I had had about the country because prior to, I thought it was a conflict zone, with no freedoms whatsoever but the SOLA girls pointed that this is in fact not always the case that Afghanistan has so much more to offer like the food, the historical buildings and the people. The girls were actually quite proud to be from Afghanistan and I was at utter awe. This made me realize that the world isn’t just black or white, that binaries do not exist, that even though we don’t want to admit it we’re all living in this grey area, that life itself is one big grey zone. However, they also said that the bad parts do exist like culturally imposed gender inequality, the presence of conflict zones due to Taliban rule and other gross factors. From this discussion I realized how adaptable human beings are, that you can live through the worst scenarios just by changing the way you perceive the world. By saying, okay, this is what’s on my plate, it’s a lot for one person to take but I’m going to work with what I have and with other people to make the best of it.
There was also a discussion on privilege and womanhood that really struck me because people gave examples of situations when they felt like they were put down simply due to the fact that they were born female and are girls or women. That this sort of inequality exists in so many facets of human life that it can put you down and make you feel that you aren’t as capable as your male counterparts. This was a safe space where we could talk about the things that hurt us, the things that uplifted us, the people who supported us despite society, and generally just what it means to be a woman in various contexts. Through this discussion I realized that I am not alone, that there are people out there echoing my very thoughts, and more so opened my eyes to the fact that this is probably something that so many girls and women around the world don’t have access to. And I thought that because I probably cannot get to the whole world, I could start at home. Start with my local context by creating spaces like this for girls and women to realize that they are just as capable as boys and men, and that they should start taking ownership of their rights because in this world if you don’t speak up and take your rightful place you will get left behind.
It was a really great session and I’m so proud of how much I’ve grown in a span of about 5 hours.