Introducing: The Ika Chaalu Blog
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, our regular visits to the field have perforce been replaced by online meetings, both with MV Foundation staff who manage different aspects of the project, as well as with field staff who facilitate and implement the project on the ground. While far from ideal, these virtual meetings have helped to keep us informed of progress and new developments in the project and of the coping mechanisms used by the girls and the field staff to keep as much of the project momentum going during lockdown as is possible. The closure of schools and residential hostels, accompanied by the loss of family incomes and livelihoods, has inevitably put pressures on the girls to revert to labour or to get married. Their ability to resist has changed from year one of the pandemic, when they could still hold out hope of things reverting to normal, to year two when the girls often find themselves unable to resist family demands and pressures. However, not all the feedback we get is negative. Amid the hopelessness, there are also stories of extraordinary resilience, cooperation among the girls, of families going to great lengths to ensure that their girls can continue with their education, and of dedication, commitment and creative problem-solving by the field staff. Social media and WhatsApp groups are some of the tools that have used to keep the girls connected to each other. They have provided an invaluable means for field staff to keep track of each and every girl in their project area, much as they would have done on the basis of personal visits in the past, and to respond to issues as they come up.
Our aim in this blog is to record some of the rich online discussions we have had on the project from the start of the pandemic with a view to capturing voices from the field and tracking the ever changing and evolving impact of the pandemic on the girls and their families. The blog will also provide us with a platform where we can highlight the innovative strategies that are used to ensure that every adolescent girl in the project area gets to complete secondary education, and the achievements of the project, both pre- and post-pandemic. We hope, in the process, to create a forum for debate and discussion on issues around gender, education and social norm change.
Above all, the objective of this blog is to go beyond outcomes and document the process that is crucial to seeing how organizations work and the ideas, energy and commitment, and often personal sacrifices, of project staff who make change happen in the field. We hope that this will humanize the project and link it to the efforts of the people on the ground who make it what it is. It will help us to record the memory for subsequent actors to both acknowledge and be inspired by their peers in earlier periods.