“Archana didi humari hero hai”- for 18-year-old Safina (name changed), Community Motivator Archana is a bigger star than any film celebrity. Safina is one of the 30,000+ girls that Project Manzil is paving the way for a new tomorrow- a path sans the drudgery of child marriage and teenage pregnancies, which plagues several villages of Rajasthan. By mobilising girls and counselling their parents, Sarpanches, and other local leaders, together with facilitating placement in gender-audited prospective job opportunities, Manzil is facilitating the skill-building and employment of young girls in six districts of Rajasthan.
While Governments and NGOs operate several skill development and welfare programmes, what sets Manzil aside is the comradeship. From the Team Leader to grassroot Community Motivators (CMs), no one views these girls as suppressed souls waiting to be redeemed. Rather the girls are seen as allies waging everyday battles against the society’s persistence of marriage and who embolden Manzil’s mission.
In our visits to community meetings in Tonk, Reshmi ‘s (name changed) parents came forward to share their stories. Fear of the unknown fuelled by neighbours’ constant barrage of taunts, it was not easy to send their daughter outside the village for training or jobs at first. However, the CM’s grit and their own daughter’s resolution convinced them to take the first steps. Post-training at a DDU-GKY centre, today Reshmi is General Duty Assistant (GDA) in a multispeciality hospital of Jaipur-funding her college degree with her salary. This account forms an archetype in our travels- repeated across other districts like Jaipur, Udaipur, Bhilwara, to name a few.
In Dungarpur, a predominantly tribal district, we were introduced to Puja (name changed). Puja’s is the kind of story that brings a lump to your throat. Married at 15, paralysed due to a freak accident, and abandoned by her husband at 16, Puja stood amidst the 50 odd strangers and village folks to share her story. It was Manzil’s District Coordinator, who sparked a train of thought in Puja and her parents that there was more to life. Post her recovery; Puja joined a tailoring course at a PMKVY centre. Today she is earning more than her brothers and hopes to become an entrepreneur. On bad days, when her zeal dips slightly, Manzil team ensures she is counselled and motivated again. Manzil breaks the boundaries of aspiration, which are low, set by the circumstances of these girls. Stories like that Reshmi, Puja, or Safina are legions in Manzil. By providing constant motivation to girls, resolving the reluctance and doubts of parents and communities, Manzil has been an unstinting ally of the Rajasthan government to break the vicious cycle of early marriages and pregnancies.
At the end of the field visit, Manzil team, were clear on one thing. These stories are not to seek self-pity or get trapped in a victimhood mentality for these girls. Their life stories are used as reference points to prevent thousands of other girls from being in the same situation. Today after 1.5 years of the programme, Manzil’s effect is electric. Girls in the project villages are waiting to join skilling courses and employment, seeing their peers go out and earn. In every State’s socio-economic and political history, there is a watershed moment. By facilitating the training and employment of 60,000 out-of-school girls and providing market-driven vocational and life skills for 90,000 in-school girls, Manzil is steadfastly inching towards that moment in skilling and aspirational jobs for girls.
-Sreejita Dey and Archana Gautam
 Archana is our hero- Translation
 A programme implemented by IPE Global Limited, supported by Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, UK (CIFF)
 Sreejita works as a Manager in IPE Global in the COO’s office
Archana is a Community Motivator with Project Manzil