Witnessing Empowerment: How One Girl Taught Me Small Changes Create Big Impact

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"You don’t have to see over 10 million faces to know an incredible change has been made. Sometimes you just have to see one."Sitting on the floor of a modest concrete building in Bihar, India, 21 year-old Nicky recalled how, as a teenager, she convinced her parents not to marry her off. I’ve heard many stories similar to hers but this time, I was witnessing empowerment with my own eyes. 

For the first time, I was leading a group of supporters to visit our projects on the 2014 Friends of Pathfinder trip.* This included PRACHAR, where Nicky, surrounded by her peers, fervently told us her story. I never fully understood the impact of it all until this brave and passionate young woman was right in front of me.  

“Let me stay in school,” she had persuaded her parents. “I will have an education and a better chance at getting work. Then we can save more for my dowry.”

Her rational argument showed she was good at negotiating. She had to be—it wasn’t the first time she had to persuade them on the issue.

This is the purpose of PRACHAR: to teach youth to advocate against child marriage and to empower young couples to make healthy reproductive decisions together. Through education and knowledge, PRACHAR creates a dialogue between adolescents and their communities that give women like Nicky a chance. Now, she is proudly pursuing her education while spreading her knowledge about sexual and reproductive health to others in the program.

As a member of the Pathfinder team for over two years, I knew the facts and figures that made this project so relevant and crucial to these young peoples’ lives:

I was aware that child marriage is a social norm in India, particularly in Bihar where 63 percent of women marry before the age of 18. I understood the harmful consequences, including death, these girls face when they are pressured into having children before their bodies are ready.

Yet, the facts and figures did not prepare me for the inspirational presence of these women. I had never met anyone who had to stand up for their right to youth. Nicky is one of many among her peers who refused to be overshadowed by the limitations of marrying young.

While at Pathfinder I’ve always been passionate about our mission. I’ve always believed that what we do is important and critical for the communities we serve. PRACHAR is one of those examples. It has reached approximately 960 villages, with populations totaling 10,061,369. That’s a huge impact. But this experience showed me you don’t have to see over 10 million faces to know an incredible change has been made. Sometimes you just have to see one.

*If you are interested in participating in a Friends of Pathfinder trip to the field, please contact Stacey Perlman at sperlman@pathfinder.org. Explore more photos from the recent Friends of Pathfinder trip here.

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