7.4. Road trip to the ghats

Today was probably the day we were all looking forward to the most – a trip to Assi Ghat with the Disha girls. Ginie unfortunately came down with a fever last night, but being the superwoman she is, she fought it off and was back on her feet this morning. (I don’t know how she does it, but then again, I don’t know how she does all the other things in her life).

Ginie, Moyee and I met the Disha girls at Saint Thomas and headed out together on a bus. The Bluetooth speaker was blasting, Australian lollies were shared, poi’s were given out, and the girls tried their hand (literally) at folding origami cranes for the first time.

Elsie gives an impromptu origami class on the bus

The drive passed by quickly, and before we knew it, we were off the bus, walking along Assi Ghat and sitting down in Ashish Café, FairFight’s old home base. Here, the girls tried chocolate pancakes for the first time and Ginie was finally reunited with some strong, black coffee.

The girls waiting for pancakes at Pawan’s Ashish Café
Pancakes weren’t to everyone’s taste but Neha and Diviyanshi liked them!

After eating, some of the girls started practising poi in the restaurant – a very brave choice and amazingly no one got whacked in the head (win #1 of the day).

Another of the girls suggested we play Truth or Dare with an empty Coca-Cola bottle, and I said yes without knowing what I was getting myself into. Soon enough, we were asking questions like “Do you snore in your sleep?” and doing dares like dancing in front of everyone in the room, lying on the floor and counting to 10, or walking up to another table and laughing hysterically without any context.

I totally dug myself into a hole when I picked ‘truth’ and the girls asked me “Who is your favourite girl here?” (subtract the previous win). I tried to get away with saying Uday (not a girl, I know, but I was desperate) or Anjali (the girls’ caretaker), but the girls weren’t having it. In the end, I resorted to closing my eyes, spinning around a few times and picking the first girl in front of me. Phew, crisis averted.

We finished up our food and then made our way back to the Ghat, where we met up with Elisabeth from Act & Help and her husband, Jean Max. We sat down and, along with many curious onlookers, watched as Ginie taught the girls some mind-bending poi moves. It seems that some of the girls already knew poi, so they picked things up very quickly.

Poi on the ghat – no broken noses, so we’re good!

We then headed back to Ashish, got changed into our gis and walked to a nearby park for karate training. I led the girls through some punching and blocking partner work, then taught them the Kenpo Short 2 kata. During the bunkai part of the training, the girls seemed to enjoy it when I told them they could throw strikes at me, and when I did that in return to test them. I knew I liked these girls for a reason.

An orderly karate line in the park
Diviyanshi and Neha in the park

We were all having lots of fun, but it was starting to get late and finally time for the girls to go home.

We said our goodbyes and Ginie, Moyee and I went for a walk around Varanasi, before heading to the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Banaras Haveli for dinner with a scenic albeit smoggy view.

After eating, we went down to Assi Ghat again to see the lights and candles at night, then rode a boat along the Ganges River. I’m happy to report none of us fell in the water and had to incinerate our clothes (win #2 of the day).

Late evening boat ride on the Ganges

We ended our day by taking a nice, quiet stroll through the main marketplace in Varanasi to meet up with our driver back to the hotel.

No, of course that last part didn’t happen. Anyone who knows anything about Varanasi, or Indian marketplaces, will know that we wade through waves of people and it was a miracle we didn’t lose our bags, lose each other or get run over by motorbikes (wins #3, 4 and 5 of the day). There were bright lights everywhere, the sounds were sometimes deafening, the streets actually felt alive, and when we surfaced on the other side, Moyee told me: “you haven’t truly seen Varanasi until you’ve walked through that”. I now understand why.

Assi Ghat by night

And with that, I leave you with another very long day and equally long blog post. Tomorrow, we’re having an early start to visit Project Mala in Guria. Until next time!

7.3. The forgotten people we need to remember

Ginie told me something that Mary always says: “We make plans so that we can throw them out the window.”

After some delays and schedule changes this morning, we met up with Ajay Patel and headed 40km out of Sarnath to see the tribal villages he told us about yesterday. Uday’s cousin, Krishna, kindly helped us out as our driver for the day.

(Two observations about driving in India – lanes and road markings are merely a suggestion, and everyone seems to be fluent in car horn.)

We were in the car for maybe 20 minutes when we suddenly pulled over next to a highway, and Ajay told us we were getting out. We followed him down a dirt path littered with rubbish, and saw the first village almost immediately.

It’s hard to believe the village is just there, separated from a busy road by a building and some trees. We could still hear the cars on the highway rushing by. If no one told us it was there, we would’ve never known. The village belongs to the Musahar community, from the lowest caste in India. And it became clear that these people are not just considered ‘Untouchable’ – they’re also invisible, forgotten.

We walked around and saw the mud houses they live in, which only have one room for both cooking and sleeping. The pond they bathe and wash their clothes in is green with filth and teeming with rubbish. During monsoon season, the land becomes so muddy and unliveable that they have to relocate to the road.

The central part of the village – Moyee said the red writing says “Women’s freedom, women’s rights”
An outside stove made from mud and goat dung

Ajay told us that the girls marry very young, around 10 or 12 years old, and have children when they are still children themselves. They have no access to medical care or vaccines. Their life expectancy is only around 45 years, whereas India’s average life expectancy is 70 years.

Two young mothers with their children
The pond where they bathe and wash clothes – this is the cleaner side

It’s the sort of utter destitution that dumbfounds you and makes you wonder how this could be allowed to exist in the same world as commercial spaceflights and new iPhone launches every year. It is so far from the most basic standard of living that you question how anyone could possibly change things for the better.

But Ajay has done just that. He has committed his life to helping these communities fight for their rights and access education. Ajay took us to two other villages that showed us what’s possible when these communities are given the resources they need and the education they deserve. They have built homes out of concrete and bricks, and have access to clean water and toilets. The children go to school, including the girls, and the adults are able to get jobs.

The second village we visited
A baby that liked Ginie (there was another that Ginie made cry, but we won’t talk about that)

It can be so easy to forget about these people. It can be so easy to leave them behind and think they are worth less just because they have less.

But then you see the way they all take care of each other, how there’s always someone to watch over the children or hold a baby.

You see villagers young and old carry out chairs for us and offer every bit of hospitality they can.

You see a little boy fall flat on his face on the rocky ground, but instead of crying, he gets up slowly all by himself and starts joking around with the other children.

It reminds you that these people are not to be forgotten. They are not to be given up on simply because the fight for justice is long, difficult and uncomfortable.

It’s so much easier to look away, but our ignorance is a luxury we can’t keep enjoying. We all need to be part of this fight, whether for this community or another.

And with that, I leave you with this photo of Moyee and a tiny baby goat that she couldn’t resist picking up.

The goat seemed to love Moyee back

P.S. We got permission from the communities to take these photos.

7.2. Getting those gis (back) on

Jetlag is no joke. Luckily going backwards from Australian time isn’t that bad, but I think I saw Ginie down 5 cups of coffee in the space of 15 minutes this morning. If she keeps Fibonacci-ing her coffee dosage tomorrow, I’ll have to cut her off.

We were fortunate to meet with Ajay Patel and Sushmita Bharti from Red Brigade Trust this morning. They’d taken an overnight train from Lucknow, with very little sleep, to meet us in Sarnath, so all the hats off to them!

Sushmita, Ginie, me and Ajay at Buddha Park Hotel this morning

Ajay is one very busy but very impressive man. He is the chair of Red Brigade, which teaches women self-protection through a team of female instructors based mostly in Lucknow. But outside of that, he is a dedicated advocate for the educational rights of the most marginalised, tribal communities in India. In eastern Uttar Pradesh, he has started around 30 educational centres for these communities, and runs awareness-raising campaigns to teach them about their rights and about how they can access education through the Indian school system.

The work that Ajay does is extremely important and, sadly, very much-needed – he is hoping to expand his campaigns into southern and western Uttar Pradesh. It also highlights social inequalities and class disparities that are, unfortunately, not unique to India. Tomorrow, Ajay will take us to see some of these education centres and meet people from the communities he works with.

Sushmita has also been keeping busy with her work at Red Brigade, only getting 2 days off before she goes back to teaching. She’s only 24 but is mature beyond her years and a wonderful leader for the Red Brigade team.

Back to Disha

Hot and smiling after a wonderful training in the afternoon sun

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Disha girls for their first training in a month (they have been busy with exams). By the time we got there, the girls were already in their gis and ready to go, including little Divyanshi in her mini gi and belt (yes it deserves a special mention again and no we’ll never get over it). Just look at her dragging this mat that’s double her size.

Diviyanshi and Neha assembling the tatamis

As the mats were getting cleaned, Ginie asked me to lead the girls through the warm-up and stretch. I decided on a game of tag where you join hands with the person you tag, and go after a new person together. As you can imagine, doing this with 19 girls = all hell broke loose, the rules went out the window and dust was flying everywhere, but all the girls had a good laugh and got in a good run – so I’d call that mission accomplished.

Chaos at Saint Thomas International!

We came back to the mat and Ginie went through some basic kihon, and then taught the girls traditional Goju Rya kata Seisan (or at least the Shito Ryu interpretation of Seisan). Meanwhile, I took aside the two smallest girls, Neha and Diviyanshi, and taught them some basic punches and blocks. It was worth kneeling on concrete for an hour just to see Divyanshi throw her first punches and yell her first kiai’s.

After the training, we quickly handed out some gifts I’d brought from Australia – sweet treats, mini koalas and kangaroos, and hair accessories – it’s impressive how the girls make sure that everyone has their fair share! And then we headed over to Sensei Sohan’s dojo at ICM Sisters.

The girls collecting koala keychains and various sparkly hair items

Sohan’s dojo

A short drive later, we were at ICM and the iconic blue walls were in sight. As guests, Ginie and I got the privilege of teaching katas from our respective styles – Ginie taught Seisan to the more advanced students while I taught the Kenpo Short 2 form to the white and yellow belts. Anjali and Ganga, the two FairFight-sponsored students, made us proud as always and picked up Seisan immediately.

Ginie shows some bunkai on Pankaj
Elsie supervises the yellow belts

At the end of class, we gathered around and watched Ginie present Sensei Sohan, Devesh and Pankaj with a special commemorative picture frame and FairFight t-shirts, to mark 7 years of working together on FairFight India. Ginie also gifted Devesh and Pankaj with a set of kali sticks each – they’ve never used them before so it’ll be fun to see them try them out when we’re back at Sohan’s dojo next week.

That’s all from this very long but productive day in India. Tomorrow, we’ll be travelling further out to visit education centres and communities with Ajay. It’s sure to be an eye-opening day so watch out for tomorrow’s blog!

That’s all from Sarnath for tonight!

7.1. Touchdown for FairFight India 2023!

Hi! My name is Elsie Cheung, FairFight Outreach Officer and Australian Kenpo black belt (the martial art that you’ve never heard about but I promise you actually exists), and I’m taking over Mary’s blog for the 7th FairFight outreach visit to Varanasi!

It took us over 24 hours to get here, but watching the sun rise over Varanasi as our plane touched down reminded us why we’re here. 

Ginie at Schiphol Airport on the morning of March 15

This is Ginie’s first time back to India since 2019 and my first time ever visiting. Mostly, I was just excited to see some cows on the street after Ali made such a big fuss about them in October (spoiler alert: there are a lot of cows. It’s iconic really – why aren’t they listed in any sightseeing guides?).

Uday, the local programme manager and father-figure to the Disha girls, made the early trip to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hotel, welcome flower necklaces in hand, where we met up with our trusted translator and big-sister-figure to the girls, Moyee. At this point, we were both pretty sleep deprived and Ginie was on the hunt for black coffee. I made the mistake of admitting I don’t drink coffee or tea, and having downed 3 cups herself in the space of 15 minutes, I think she regrets bringing me along now, but let’s move on.

Sunrise in Varanasi on the morning of March 16
Uday, Ginie and me with welcome flower necklaces at Varanasi Airport at 7:30am on March 16

After a short rest, Ginie, Moyee and I met up with Uday, Elisabeth Bernard, the 87 year-old founder and president of Act & Help, the French charity that provides the funds for the educational support of the Disha girls, and her husband Jean Max, who’s run youth development programmes in Varanasi for 25 years already. We shared updates about our projects over lunch that was definitely above my spice comfort level and came up with some exciting plans for a new sponsorship student (more on that soon!).

Now is also a good time to remind everyone that Ginie speaks four languages and it’s scary how good she is at talking about FairFight (also she’s currently massacring a swarm of mosquitoes beside me with an electric shock paddle, and now I’m truly terrified – she’s dubbed herself the ‘Mosquito Reaper’).

The Mosquito Reaper

After lunch, we all headed over to Saint Thomas International School to see the Disha girls. It took us a moment to get over how big they’d grown, especially Ginie, who used to be able to pick up Rishika in her arms. Nothing makes you feel more old than seeing a little girl grow up and double in size, but let’s be honest, none of us are convinced that Ginie is as old as she says she is.

We got to meet the newest and youngest girl, Divyanshi, a the daughter of three generations of prostitutes, rescued from the ghats, who might be the smallest but certainly had a big personality. It was so wholesome seeing the older girls guiding her and acting like big sisters to her. Ujala immediately put her yoga skills on show, to the delight of the other girls.

Ujala, who teaches yoga to the other girls

It wasn’t long before Moyee, the ageless Mosquito Reaper and I were roped into getting our nails and hair done by the girls. When the Disha girls offer to pretty you up, it’s an unspoken rule that you always say yes. Now’s not the time to try and be an intimidating, badass karateka. If you’re offered sparkly nail polish and braids, you say “I LOVE sparkly nail polish and braids”.

Impromptu hair salon in Saint Thomas

Tomorrow, we’re planning to have our first training with the girls. It’ll be Divyanshi’s first time trying karate, and Ginie had the brilliant idea of organising a mini-sized gi for her. We now bless you with the cutest photo you will probably see from this whole trip, maybe even for the rest of your martial arts life. We will fight you if you disagree.

Diviyanshi, the youngest Disha girl

So now the three of us are back at the hotel – finger nails printed, hair braided, waiting for our Thali to arrive, and ready to spend tomorrow afternoon with the girls again before we head to Sohan Sensei’s dojo at ICM Sisters to catch up with Anjali and Ganga. Stay tuned for our next blog!

6:10 Feels on Shuffle

This blog may be a little limited because I’m linking to a wobbly hotspot in the absence of accessible Wi-Fi. So just a few pictures and a brief update on our exit … I’ll put together a couple of post-trip reflections when the dust settles again.

And talking of dust… here’s the smog over Delhi airport – air quality very poor at present.

Ten hour layover in Delhi was an ideal time to upload lots of seminar pictures and videos, however, like all plans here on project, I had to be prepared to ditch it and go with plan B. So here’s a few snaps from this morning and a couple of thoughts. I’ve called this ‘feels on shuffle’ because of the deeply conflicting emotions every time I leave.

So this morning we went to see the girls for a last social call; no training. They did my hair for the journey. But not Ali’s.

Muskan is the hair magician – assisted here by Pooja with Ali admiring their handiwork.

Then a few little gifts – they were delighted with their Tokaido teddies and also some hair accessories kindly donated by the Ramadan family.

Then onwards to the dance party…

Dancing time – compulsory!
Didi didi, dancing! 🥰
Ali coaches Harald through the moves

Then it was goodbye with about 500 hugs and lots of tears. I always wish I could just teleport away at this stage as I’m not good with protracted farewells. But the moments are still precious.

I might say it doesn’t get any easier but that’s not true. The first time, I didn’t know if I was going to be coming back. Now, the sixth time, they know I will, and I know it too. So it’s a different poignancy because we are sadder but also more secure.

Third round of final hugs

Being on project is exhausting and keeps me very much on my toes. Orange alert 24/7. So I’ll be glad to get home to my loved ones (both human and furry). And we’re leaving with some satisfying progress in all aspects of the FairFight India outreach. But more of that when I get to the retrospective blog.

For now from Delhi airport, with seven more hours until we fly, I’m closing the active daily blog with profound thanks for your part in FairFight India. The girls all send their love to you too 🥰

6:9 Ali Sweeps In (and punches for the ippon)

Today was the showpiece seminar of our whole visit: Ali’s advanced competition sparring which brought in keen students from far and wide. One student, Rohit, came 1000 km to train with Ali and many others also came vast distances on trains, bikes, rickshaws, and buses.

Going …
Gone! Akash meets the floor 😊

Ali worked them hard through the hot sunshine – building footwork patterns to evade and strike using high scoring techniques.

The students especially enjoyed the spectacular takedown section as Ali got the crowd cheering to encourage and motivate those keen to compete but lacking the confidence to sell their techniques.

Ali sells his scoring punch here…
He asks the crowd to support the score…
Neha gives it her hearty approval with both arms flung high to celebrate 😊

Ali taught takedown set ups with simple dance footwork to make it fun.

The Disha girls had already had three sessions with Ali so when it came to working the sequences, they had some great rhythm and flow.

Ali issues … PRAISE! (????!!!!)
It was great to meet with such a range of keen and talented competitors
Sushmita woting her defensive kick – brave when cornered by a scary Sensei!
It was baking hot but Ali is not looking forward to a chilly autumnal drizzle when we get back

Building 360 vision and reactions, the students were given a ton of fun games to build their skills

Neha impressed us with her excellent focus
She worked hard for the whole seminar
Later, she even took her own group of smaller students 🥰
Happy Disha girls after a 4 hour stint
Great group of students – dedicated and energetic
Always special to spend time with these precious people 🥰🥰

Meanwhile, further south the Norwegian team were hard at work all day filming their acid attack documentary. Harald was up at sunrise. Somehow, my ghat pictures don’t flow like this!

Footage taken near the old Orange Cafe site – it’s had
to close due to the horrendous impact of Covid on the tourist trade
Moyee has been a tremendous asset to the team with her sensitive translation and wonderful relationship with the survivors. This documentary will be very powerful.

It’s late here now and this blog feels very incomplete. The story of Sangeeta will certainly resume in the future but I’ll wrap with a big thumbs up to Ali Nyoni for his huge contribution to this project.

He’s coped well with the inevitable challenges of being on project: discomfort, exhaustion, uncertainty around meal times and endless hiking with gallons of water ‘just in case’. He’s participated fully in every aspect of the project, asking valuable critical questions about the work we do, and jumping in to assist whenever opportunity arose. He’s taught with boundless energy and made a skill out of fun.

He’s ok by me ✅

Tomorrow we say goodbye to the girls and set off for the long journey home. We both have to get back to work asap – although I’m taking Monday off (we should arrive at Heathrow for 8am). Ali plans to meet his teaching commitments on Monday afternoon 😳 so I hope our journey is smooth and sleepy. I’ll report from Delhi tomorrow.

Our project gofundme is still a little short of target. If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog you’re probably already a donor, however, if you can think of anyone who might be able to chip in to support all the work we’re doing then the link is here or http://gofundme.com/fairfightindia2022 should take you there.

Goodnight from a very tired but happy FairFight India team 🙏🥋🥰

6:7 FairFight: Agents of Change

Rural India – Guria is the location for Project Mala’s Senior School

Today we went to run a seminar for Project Mala (see October 2019 ‘Where we’re going, there are no roads’ for more context). These girls have come from shanties and huts, from poverty and isolation. They have been selected for their early potential and educated by Project Mala to an elite level for their age. They are confident and articulate. Many are heading for university and beyond, with the support of the charity.

Sometimes your own power can surprise you!

The dropout rate for women in higher education here is troubling; the reasons why they often drop out (harassment, assault, misery) even more so. I have wanted to experiment with target deselection work for this demographic. Teaching how to be a hard target, how to avoid and manage conflict in power-imbalanced relationships, understanding how to set and maintain boundaries … these are the foundations. Plus we shout and learn counter-assaults as that’s fun and good for emergencies.

Escape drills
The perennial dupatta ‘what-if’?’
Finding can-opener solutions
Working together on ways to manage difficult people without disrespecting ourselves
Loved this ‘takeaway’ answer
Group picture of strong young women 🥰

The students responded well to the concept of ‘Don’t be an easy target’ and Uday helped me a lot with translations. It was a privilege to work with them and I hope we can build on what we started today.

Then it was back to Varanasi for Ali’s next teaching commitment – Sensei Sohan’s club in Sarnath. Again, regular readers will need no introduction to this dojo. We are constantly welcomed here and enjoy working with the mixture of students who are supported by this club.

We got held up behind a herd of goats and then a tractor unloading bricks (as you do) so I was especially pleased to see Anjali leading the warm up when we arrived a little late.

FairFight-sponsored Anjali running the show

Anjali and Ganga both train at elite level thanks to the kindness of Sohan and some help from Fairfight. They are so talented – it’s always a pleasure to see them at work in the dojo. For me, karate should build good leaders and so this display of confidence in one of our students was very pleasing.

Anjali and Ganga

Ali was on stunning form – whisking a special lesson out of the ether after a quick assessment of the students. He wowed them with some strategic work on jabs, head kicks and managing distance. He tested their reactions and showed some spectacular takedowns as well.

Akash has an Ali-style trip
Ganga had some speedy high kicks
Ali showing some referee-deceiving tactics
The instructor group
The compulsory group picture 😊

Tomorrow it’s down to the ghat to meet with Sangeeta, then back to Disha for more training with our own girls. Thanks for following! Goodnight from me (and my caterpillar, my grasshoppers, and my other random roommate bugs!)

6:8 Who tells your story?

Ali and Muna talk fashion

The whole team went south today in order to introduce our Norwegian colleagues to Sangeeta. The interview that Moyee and I made last year was enough for this crew to gain funding for a proper documentary on her story as an acid attack survivor which they hope will raise awareness of this tragically common act of violence.

Lovely to see her fit and well after the awful typhoid she experienced earlier this year
Sangeeta and Moyee catching up 🥰

We wanted to be sure Sangeeta felt comfortable and safe when being interviewed so Moyee has taken on the role of translator for the film. Of course, there was no way of knowing for sure that this would allow Sangeeta to explain her experience fully but she knows we care about her and want her to be heard clearly.

It was great to meet Sangeeta’s husband this time as well – he’s here to support her as the film is made
Moyee and Sangeeta heading off to meet Elin, Harald and Petronelle

We also met the legendary Heifara – very briefly – but long enough to get her to tell Ali the monkey story (see blog seasons 1 and 4)

And then… and then… and then… 🐒

Ali and I were treated to a lovely lunch with Uday before heading north to train with the Disha girls.

The view of the dojo from the girls’ living space

We had an exciting warm up of reaction games.

Here’s me trying to run faster than Neha
Training with the girls does also mean lots of hugs 🥰 (Here’s Rishika)
Ujala continues to use her growth spurt very effectively 😊
Muskan isn’t sure about this evil thumb lock
Including this so past readers can see that ‘Chorti’ Kajal is not little any more. I’ve started calling her Lumbi-Chorti Kajal (Tall-little Kajal) 🤣
And yes, that’s ‘little’ Anjali on the left 🥰
Devesh was also kicking Ali tonight (never ends well!)
Reaction games with Sushmita and Anjali
And finally, the Ali ‘one more time’ stretch session. Brutal
Sushmita and Rishika sticking it out well

As we went back to the hotel, we heard from Team Norway. The day’s filming has gone brilliantly and Sangeeta was an absolute star. She had them all in tears at one stage but they were so moved by the raw power in her account. So pleased we have been able to facilitate this, and big credit to Moyee and Sangeeta for their sensitivity and courage.

Elin at work
Harald at work behind the camera 😎

I’ll leave you with this sobering report from the Guardian. Many countries have a way to go to ensure safety and independence for half their population. India, undeniably, needs to move faster and further for its daughters.

6:6 Old Haunts and Happy Jaunts

Assi Ghat- a familiar view to blog regulars
Mud clearance – there’s a wide stone walkway under that mud. A long way under…
People-watching on the ghat is always fascinating
Collecting Diwali petals from the Ganges
Bathing in the holy river (No, I haven’t. No, I won’t. Seriously. Have you seen the chemical analysis?)

This morning we visited Assi Ghat to make arrangements for Friday’s documentary filming (of which more later). It felt very grounding to be back in our old base; logistics dictate that we have moved the base northwards to ensure quick and easy access to the Disha girls. I’m hugely attached to the ghat and Ashish cafe though, having spent a considerable time in the neighbourhood over the years.

A man swims. A girl collects petals.
The mud walla rests. Another man squats to look over the river … the ghat always seems like a poem.
But while the river brings its own zen, the chaos of Varanasi is never far away! #rickshawjam

It was also good to show Ali some of the local sights and various road-living livestock. He’s now fully stopped pointing at cows. And goats. He’s waiting for an elephant.

Ali’s collaborative warm-up game

Later it was back to the north for training with the Disha girls. They knew what to expect from Ali this time. There was plenty of fun, and plenty of hard work!

Consecutive fast responses and positioning were on the menu today
Arti working on deflecting Ali’s punch
Kajal on the quick kick drill
Ali says faster!
Neha hasn’t quite got the head shield yet
A higher-level reaction drill that was a huge challenge for all
Kajal – ferocious and fabulous 🥰🥋

And we returned to find Team Norway had arrived bang on time.

Ali greets Harald, Elin and Petronelle

Tomorrow the project leaps from its twin focus (Red Brigade and Disha) and doubles its goals. Firstly, those of you who remember Sangeeta will know that after our interview with her last December, Harald and his colleagues applied for funding to make a documentary about acid attacks on women in India. They will meet with Sangeeta to begin filming on Friday.

I’m adding an extra goal to my own work as I dive out into the countryside to deliver a personal security seminar for rural girls hoping to attend university. The drop-out rate for young women in higher education is unfortunately strongly influenced by experiences of harassment and assault. I should finish writing this blog now so I can tinker with the seminar plan a little more. This wasn’t on the original itinerary but we’re keen to test this pilot workshop so to Project Mala in Guria we will go. From me, and from the various bugs and grasshoppers here, goodnight!

6:5 Disha Diwali

Introducing newest Disha girl – this is Neha. She is 6 years old and is the niece of Neelam (also a Disha student)

Welcome to the blog. New readers will need to bear with me here – or perhaps read back into the archives to understand why these reunions are so very special. TLDR: FairFight’s India outreach was founded for these girls back in 2016. I first met them in January 2018, so have known them for nearly 5 years now. Seeing them grow up as a strong, confident mini-community has been a privilege granted only through the ongoing support of people like yourself. Yes, you, good blog reader. You rock. They come from the poorest backgrounds and, due to AshaDiya Foundation, they receive food, shelter, and education. We have a long-established partnership with the foundation, supplying karate training with professional development for the local instructor team. Ali is here as a FairFight ambassador to bring his vast range of skills and experience to help them succeed.

Competition time!

After introductions, Ali lost no time in getting reaction training going. Many of the girls had told him they loved competition; he therefore tested their response times and they loved trying to anticipate and read the clapping.

Anju ran out the winner here!

Later it was time to get on the mats. The girls are always selfie-ready!

No more Mr Nice Guy, Ali quickly started issuing penalty squats to ‘encourage’ speedy execution of instructions.

This gesture says it all, really!

It was nice that he took the time also to kick me in the head 🙂 I sometimes have that effect on people…

And the students loved applying the drills together.

Pankaj and Devesh have a lot to be proud of – these girls are keen and focused in their training. They had reached green belt before the pandemic; they will soon begin retesting to assess where they can be graded after the Covid hiatus and recovery.

Afterwards they were keen to show us their remaining Diwali fireworks, which was really good fun.

Diwali Catherine Wheel

For those of you on Bug Watch (sound on) here is my roommate Dave, who serenaded me all night and was a master of evasion.

I did eventually find him, and although he looks a bit poorly here after sharing my shower, he did recover and went off to find a more accomodating roommate.

I’ll leave you tonight with the pure happiness of a safe, nourished, loved little girl. Neha has clearly bonded beautifully with her Disha sisters. She has a big smile and an affectionate nature; I’m sure she will be a tremendous asset to the Disha community. Watching her jumping for joy as light and hope burst into the sky, it was very easy to remember why we do this. Goodnight from Varanasi and thank you for being part of this.