Maharani camps help young girls understand themselves better
As a Maharani camp facilitator P. Mathiarasi, 27 spends a lot of time with the girls who attend the camps.
“I remember when I first walked in and met the girls, I greeted them in English and they all kept quiet and avoided eye contact. I had to switch to Tamil to get a response from them. But, I’m happy to say that by the end of the camp, they were more open to me and friendly,” she said.
“Upon further interaction with them, I found more than half of them were from broken families, or had single parents and never had proper guidance in life. Most of the girls are talented and skilled but were not confident enough to express themselves as they had poor self-esteem,” she added.
Mathiarasi recalled one participant who was very reluctant to speak in front of others.
“She was very afraid that others might laugh at her. She was so miserable about it and I spent 20 minutes trying to coach her to speak up,” she said.
“She started off a little nervous but when she gained the confidence, she delivered a very good presentation which amazed me. The girls who come for the camps are talented and sometimes, they just need a little encouragement or someone to tell them that they can do it,” she said.
One of the modules of the camp talks about sexual and reproductive health, a topic that many parents shy away from discussing with their children.
“After we discussed the topic, a few of the girls spoke to me about how they were inappropriately touched by someone they knew and did not even know that it was inappropriate! I was deeply disturbed by their stories and advised them to alert their parents and teachers if it happens again,” she said.
Mathiarasi said such topics like sexual health and menstrual hygiene which are still regarded as taboo need to be explained to the young girls especially those from rural areas.
“Unlike those who grew up in cities and towns, these girls did not have the exposure and coming from an environment of broken families, they definitely need a guiding hand,” she said.
Mathiarasi also noted the transformation of the girls from arrogant, rude and insecure teenagers into approachable and confident girls.
The Maharani programme, initiated in Malaysia by RYTHM Foundation in 2010, has helped over 7,500 girls from poor and marginalised communities. It provides the girls, aged 13 to 16, with the skills and knowledge to enable them to achieve their full potential. Through the Maharani programme, girls learn about gender, sexual and reproductive health; ethnicity; culture, and the importance of physical and spiritual wellness.
This gives them the tools to develop into confident, responsible and civic-minded women and members of society.
This article is part of the series to share the journey of Maharani’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2020.