‘Abortion’ was today’s topic. As the 30 teenage girls passed around model foetuses, and listened to the teaching, I soon discovered that most had never heard about babies’ development before – and some of the group were on the verge of adulthood.
Viva’s Dare to be Different course is breaking new ground in this neighbourhood on the outskirts of Darbhanga, the fifth largest city in Bihar state, eastern India.
The leaders, Pastor Sameer Paul and his wife Sarita, from Agape Church, are the only ones in the local community to teach 15 to 18 year-old girls the truth about crucial life issues such as puberty, hygiene, sexually-transmitted diseases, love and friendships.
Schools’ curriculums don’t cover these themes (and many girls are forced to drop out by late teenage years anyway). Families don’t share the facts of life either: most parents have a clear plan for their girl to be married early, and would rather they didn’t know such things.
To understand the situation better, Sarita (right) told me the story of one girl who, when she started the course, was in a relationship with a boy with whom she was infatuated. She was in serious trouble at home – her parents had found out about it, felt disgraced and had set up an arranged marriage the following month.
The session about love prompted the girl to talk to Sarita. “Through the class, she realised true love is not about receiving but giving, that it waits, and that there is commitment in love. She also realised that true love should connect her with family, not separate her from them,” Sarita said.
“Afterwards, she shared her experience with me. I counselled her and said this is not the end of your life: you can change your attitude.
“As a result she gave up the relationship and started giving time for her family. They noted the change in her. She started to pray to Jesus. The marriage that was fixed by her parents was called off.
“Her parents, who had also barred her from going to college, have readmitted her. She has now completed her post-graduate classes and her life is completely changed.”
By empowering girls with knowledge, the four-month course also increases confidence, self-esteem and hope for the future – all of which are naturally low for them in a society that favours sons over daughters. Being with the girls for an afternoon, I saw joy on their faces and a real hunger to learn.
One told me: “I have learned that I am uniquely made. Before I was very conscious about my looks – I used to wonder how people see me and what they think about me – but after this training now I do not worry about these things – I know that I am God’s beautiful creation.”
Another said, “I always used to feel dejected when people said anything bad about me. It would impact me very badly. But here I have learned that, with low self-esteem, I was going nowhere in my life. I was taught how to make my self-esteem healthy, and the steps to take, and that helped me make changes in my life.”
It was a pleasure for me to meet Sarita and Sameer, who are fantastic role models for these girls, as they open their home each week to them. The couple are persevering in their ministry in a place where Christians are in the minority, and their church’s outreach is bearing fruit.
Pastor Sameer (left) said, “After seeing our work, local people have realised that our church is not only about sharing Jesus with people but we are trying to bring transformation in this society.
“Families have great trust in our course because they know that whatever we are trying to teach them is for their good. Through the changed girls’ lives, even the lives of parents are changing. Yes, changes are definitely coming!”
“My dream is not only to have this programme in this place but to extend it to villages and cover the entire area.”
Sarita added, “When I first came to the Lord, my desire was to save girls from abuse. We are seeing transformation in the lives of girls as a result of our training programme, and this is a great blessing for our ministry.”
Watch the short video about the impact of Viva’s Dare to be Different course in Darbhanga.
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