That day my friend Kiran Pawade would be coming along with me to meet with Anjana Goswami. We left on his motorcycle and that day was already proving to be a good one. The monsoon season has nearly passed, and the days have become warm and bright. As I rode on the back of the bike I contently took in the scenery and the cities we passed which were busy with people.
My peacefulness was short-lived as the motorcycle suddenly went quiet. Luckily we were near a gas station and we pulled over to see the problem. I thought we’d simply run out of gas, but apparently the gas wasn’t reaching the engine. Several employees tried to help us. Many people stopped for a moment to stare. After about 20 minutes I was convinced that we were stuck. I wondered if I would be successful at going over to the freeway and hailing down a bus to Pune. It seemed likely. We were still about 45 minutes away. Then, as I was contemplating what my options of transportation were, and if I should leave my friend behind, the bike started up. Kiran revved it up and off we went!
At ECF’s office we were greeted by Anjana and a few other staff members. The three of us went into their conference room, was offered chai and a snack, and we proceeded to introduce ourselves. I spoke a bit more in depth about EEI’s goals and vision for our first year as a nonprofit---finding a partnership with an Indian NGO that shares similar values and beliefs. For now, my task was to meet with potential NGO’s to see where there is a match, and make friendly, professional connections.
Anjana then began describing in very specific detail the history and details of ECF’s programs. I was intrigued the entire hour she spoke, not only because she spoke fluent English---it’s a treat to not have to use a part of your brain that requires constant attention and deciphering of broken sentences for even an hour of my day---but because the curriculum that has been written is exactly what I have been dreaming of.
ECF is a very new organization and was founded in 2009. ECF's program, Action for Equality (AFE) is split into two groups: Graduate Program and Alumni Program. Combined, these two programs reach over 40,000 people in 20 urban communities in Pune. Young men ages 14-17 are the target group of this program. ECF has written and designed a curriculum that teaches in the areas of self-awareness, biases and assumptions, gender discrimination, human rights, and exudes methods of conflict resolution, nonviolent communication. Mentors are trained in the curriculum and then teach it to young men in urban neighborhoods. A single group meets once a week for fifteen weeks until they have completed the program.
The Alumni Program was created for the graduates to be supported in sustaining at reinforcing the lessons they have learned and to prevent them from going back to old behavior patterns. It maintains that graduates play a vital role in the struggle against gender discrimination and provides volunteer roles for them to take part in. This allows for the young men to reach out to their peers and recruit them into the AFE program.
After our meeting, Anjana took us to one of the evening meetings for the boys. We walked through long, crowded road full of men, women and children. It was nearly 6:30pm and all the action was happening at the food stalls and markets. There was a stall with fresh, giant fish available, some of them so fresh that they were still writhing and moving about. I noticed another fish stand where there were about ten cats all underneath the table nibbling at the scraps of flesh that fell as the butcher prepared the fish for his customer. There were bags of green chilies, potatoes, garlic, and okra. Colorful mounds of red chili powder, turmeric, cumin, and curry leaves all waiting to be part of someone’s meal that night.
As we squeezed our way through the crowds, Anjana made a phone call to the mentor to find out which side street we were to turn on. She explained that although she visits this site even she gets lost and forgets which way to turn. I couldn’t blame her as I saw so many nameless streets which opened up to other little alleys and pathways.
When we reached the community center Salim, the ECF mentor, had also just arrived and was still gathering the boys from the neighborhood. This was a new group that he would be teaching and they were in their third session. The outline for this day included having the boys’ introduce one another by first name only. Anjana explained that they do not use last names so as to not be able to identify the boys’ based on their caste which may cause others to make certain assumptions and judgments. Salim began by introducing the boys to the organization by showing them photos of staff members and listing off the goals of the ECF.
ECF is definitely unique and a pioneer in involving young men as advocates against gender discrimination and violence. There is a lot to be said about educating young men about patriarchy and gender roles that exist in India. Increased awareness and attention has come to India in regards to the safety of women and resources that are available to them. As new as this organization is I have no doubt that their ideas and strength in programs will gain a lot of attention and take them very far.
I have just reached Udaipur, Rajasthan where I have already had a successful meeting with a local organization. However, I must wait to inform you all on this as I still have one other story to report on from Rajgurunagar. I shall not be long!
For more information on ECF, please visit www.ecf.org.in