Friday, July 6, 2012
A great learning experience in Mumbai
We thought we were holding a workshop for not more than 30 girls. But on Day 1 of our business skills course for aspiring beauticians in a small village in Navi Mumbai, more than 40 girls turned up. Our team of 3 had been asked to conduct this course even though it's not exactly the kind of thing we do. It sounded like fun, however, and the money is always welcome to a tiny non-profit, so we said yes!
We had been working very hard over the last fortnight to create the instructor modules and student workbooks, and all the content through several iterations – Draft 1, Draft 2 and so on until the Final Draft until they were deemed to be just right! Even so, it's only when the training actually starts that you discover gaps in the modules and have to improvise as you go on.
We started our first session even as the monsoon rains started drumming on the asbestos roof of our makeshift “training centre”. Struggling to be heard over the din of the rain, as the NGO people scrambled around to organize a mike, we started with dividing the class into work teams (with each group having a leader). While the girls were a little hesitant at first, they soon loosened up and began to be absorbed in the exercises we had set out for them. The role plays which formed a significant part of the sessions were highly entertaining (most of them had both participants and audience in loud fits of laughter). But they also boosted the girls’ confidence and made them think about potential real-life situations and how they would manage those (irate customers, unhappy customers, hostile co-workers and so on).
The session I handled was all about the economics, how to cost for services and make a rate card, estimate income, calculate profit/loss and so on. A lot of number-crunching! It took a while for them to get their heads around it and we realized many could not easily do basic multiplying and dividing.
Some girls were shy and reserved and some were role models with their wit, confidence and passion. Many had troubles at home. Someone’s sister insisted she leave the workshop to attend college. Another’s husband objected to his mother having to babysit the kids while she was at the workshop. The instructors grappled with these “HR” issues while of us mentored the girls as best as we could. Even so, some of the girls who were there on Day 1 simply disappeared because of family pressures and we never saw them again.
I saw a huge difference between Day 1 and Day 5 - some girls clearly had the drive to succeed and were willing to step up and assume leadership. Some continued to be back-benchers. Many were feisty go-getters who cracked us up wth their typical Mumbai lingo and jokes. We admired the pretty girls in beautiful embellished burkhas and flawless skin and hair, who sat absorbed in class inspite of an empty stomach (they were observing a roza).
Hopefully these few days would make a difference in their careers and lives. I don't know. What I was personally kicked about was conducting a marathon 5 hour session, entirely in Hindi! I felt immensely gratified when my colleagues said "We didn't know you could speak such good Hindi!"