Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My dream for their dreams

My dearest reader…
You can tell she has so much to say

My bedroom floor is covered with a large piece of white cloth with young girls' dreams written all over it in their own hand writing. I have been staring and studying it closely for the past hour or so. Asking mum and dad to read some of the ones for me that I couldn't read—I read the dreams of my girls.

Here is a test for you: (to see if you're a loyal follower of this blog or not) Do you remember once I blogged past midnight, writing about the project that I was going to start about empowerment workshops for girls in highschools?

Well, I started those.  It was worth all the sacrifice, all the dedication, and all the paper work-- from ministry to ministry and building to building (indeed a tour to most of the government offices). Until I got two pieces of paper with many signatures and stamps—basically those two papers were signs of 'authorization' for me to enter the schools and begin my mission, a mission that I had set myself, and asked START (NGO) to adopt me.

It was a difficult time for me after graduation, some of my study ambitions didn't go as planned, and to some degree I felt shattered to pieces. Through these girls, I feel like my masters didn't work out this year for a purpose. I wasn't supposed to go and study. So that I could stay and experience this (which I have come to believe is greater than any postgraduate degree I will ever receive.)*
With one of the groups that I worked with-- end of session photo
Let me tell you a little about my girls. They belong to one of the most underprivileged areas in Erbil, and they are deprived from the many things that you and I have and take for granted everyday. If you happen to be at our house on a day that I have held the sessions in then I feel sorry for you (mum and dad bmburn) I brag on and on of what the girls said, how they said what they said (if that makes any sense), what they did, how they smiled and I keep going. It's not my fault, I just feel I have to talk about it (and mum you have to listen!!!!).
With each group of 25 girls I have four hours—that is, four hours of their time to instill in them something that they will carry for the next four years of their lives: through high school and hopefully early university years too.
An activity with a discussion to follow
tIn the four hours I cover everything from how to express ideas in front of a group of people confidently to managing friendship, confronting life's problems and all the way to early marriage, women rights and sensitive 'girl' issues. We cover the whole spectrum through different workshop activities and discussions. Slowly, they open up and share their stories, they share their experiences, confrontations and thoughts. I listen. I observe. I only lead the direction, and they speak. I open the way, they finish it off. Everyday the girls amaze me.
Group work, for some this was the first time they worked in teams
I often feel ashamed of myself because of the way they treat me. Their respect, their warm heartedness, kindness, love and affection-- they’re an inspiration.  

For such young girls—ages range from 14 to 20 sometimes—to live the life that they do and be full of ambition inspires me. But as I leave their school after the last bell rings, as they wait outside so that they could wave good-bye to me I leave home in pain. I sleep smiling, but in pain.

Now what? Just four hours and that's it? What will happen next? Some of them in less than two months time they will walk into an exam room that will determine their entire future.

The cloth with the girls' dreams

What if it doesn't go as planned? Their families, unlike others, can't afford private tutors for seven subjects all year long. Their schools aren't the most prestigious, and so their teachers will probably not even care if they don't cover the entire curriculum with them. Inequality in education, my dear reader, is a crime against humanity.  

It hurts me that these young women aren't given the chance to speak, to express, to discuss. They don't have the opportunity to be themselves and discover their talents. But it makes me happy to see Kurdish girls like these, despite many confrontations they are doing the impossible to complete their studies and I learned every single one of them has dreams.

A moment in my life that I don't think I will ever forget was a few days back-- I asked a group of the girls to close their eyes, as their eyes were closed they were to imagine their life in the future. I posed questions; they answered the questions in their minds, with visions. When they finally opened… I could see the smiles—not on their lips, but in their eyes. Their eyes were smiling. That, to me, was… beyond what words can ever describe.  

She writes her dream and ambition in life with passion, after much thought
What makes me proud, is that the girl who was uncomfortable to say her name and her hobby in the introduction game five minutes into the session was the same girl who had the courage to write: "I want to become a chief in the police force" as her dream four hours later.

Together, with each group of girls I take we talk, debate, play, and act. We do group activities, present ideas, play games and share experiences.  

Among the girls I see Hollywood actresses, I see activists, artists. I can see Nobel Prize winners; I see future writers, doctors, decision makers and even comedians. I can see that. But do their families? I believe in them. But does our society? More importantly, do they believe in themselves? Now my girls do.
This is an old library in the school... it was small, but was the perfect place for our gathering
 My mission in the first high school is coming to an end. Soon, I will pack my flip chart, paint, pens, papers and two rubber balls to another school. It will be the same ideas, the same activities, the same workshop curriculum, but different group of girls.

I can say with confidence in the past two months I haven't had a social life. I am probably losing many friends due to my neglect. But I am learning a lot about life—it is not all about sitting in a coffee shop and listing all the things that are wrong in Kurdistan. No, it is about going out there and doing your part.  

I am alone, but not alone (if you know what I mean), but from what I am going through and what I am seeing with the girls it appears as though loneliness is my remedy. I like to sit alone and think of them, plan for them. Almost every second I ask myself the same question over and over again: "What else can I do?" I want to feel like a genie in a bottle and grant them all their wishes, I want to sprinkle dust and change their lives forever. But that's not how it works, actually it's against what I preach. I try, in the smallest ways, provide them with the necessary life skills and implant the word "believe" within their hearts and minds. The rest is up to them.
Tried to encourage group work among the girls
I can't write that I am happy. Because deep down inside I am not-- I write with sadness.  I know the future waiting for a number of these girls is not going to be easy, and right now it appears I am doing the most that I can. But guilt and depression come and knock on my door from time to time.

Having said this, each of those girls I meet are like a star in my sky; a rose in my garden. Through them I see the future of this nation. This nation is lucky to have young women like these.

As a 21-year-old Kurdish girl, in this point in my life I feel this is my achievement. My girls are a success story of what someone can do if they set their minds to it, and if they believe in it. My dream is for their dreams to come true....

Another dream written by one of the girls

*After my second session with the Salahaddin girls' school I have been inspired for my future plans.

All pictures in this entry were taken by me- Sazan M