Written by Rajina Shrestha, a Women LEAD intern and Leadership Institute alum.
When I was in 10th grade, my school had a call from a leadership institute to send a student as a representative of the school to learn to be a leader. The teacher then asked the students who were interested in joining to give a speech in front of the class on why they should be selected for the program. The class captain stepped in, then came the star student, and after a few of them, one of the shy girls in the class volunteered. “I want to go to this program and be a part of it because I need it”, she said. “Among all of us, I am the one who needs it the most. I need this kind of help and opportunity to prove myself. I know I will benefit the most if I am given this chance.” It was the best speech of the day. I gave her an encouraging smile before the results were announced. Then the teacher cleared his throat and ruthlessly announced looking at the girl, “Yes, I know you really want this, we need to send as our school representative someone who we’re sure will shine, not someone who might.”
Many students during their school life do not get the proper platform to speak for themselves. Those who aren’t star students often don’t get the opportunities they need to succeed. In my 12 years of school life, I have always experienced the administration showering opportunities on the same bright students every time. So when we come out of school, there are two groups of students representing the same school: one that has a collection of experiences in numerous fields and the other who just gathered academic certificates. While the students are losing opportunities to learn new skills and gain new experiences, society is also losing many promising youth, who if pushed a little, could prove themselves worthy.
The School LEADership program is a follow-up program from the summer Leadership Institute organized by Women LEAD. It is led by the Institute alumni to pass out on knowledge they learned in the Institute to students aged 14-15 in their own schools. The curriculum addresses issues specific to middle school students including Leadership training, Public Speaking skills, teamwork, effective communication, time management, Self defense, and youth issues like Bullying, cheating, Depression, substance addiction and abuse, family problems, relationships, Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Human Rights and so on. Via school leadership, we are currently impacting over 130 students (30% of which are boys). We aim to empower a larger group of youth with the knowledge and skills we’ve earned, help them become more socially aware and create opportunities for themselves.
This program serves as a gateway for high school students who haven’t had the opportunity to develop as leaders. A few tips and a lot of practice will enhance their public speaking and help them polish their presentation skills. Also, since this is the age when they are beginning to explore and understand serious issues, making them aware of issues like domestic violence and human trafficking will inspire them to work towards it. They become more capable of dealing with it. Learning facts about issues such as drug trafficking and brain drain gives them a better perspective on the issues affecting their lives.
The sessions are planned with time for games so as to create a fun learning environment. The responses from the students have been great! In the school leadership sessions I have been to, I have witnessed a huge amount of participation from the participating students, who take advantage of the stage provided for them. Because, now, their voices, opinions and participation are valued.
In fact, it’s the trainers who say they’ve learned more than they believe they could have given: Sharmila Dhungana, a student from St. Marys who is co-leading the NAMSS program says, “I became a leader and a follower at the same time.” Shruti Shakya, a student of St. Mary’s and a trainer at BDS commented, “School leadership has proved to be a platform to develop my leadership skills. It is a matter of pride to train students of grade nine and share experiences from the Women LEAD training.” Their satisfaction with sharing their knowledge seems to be another reason for the success of the program. Urjala Maharjan, from AVM says, “Working with shy students and building more confidence in them is an awesome job! I love to teach and learn from them.”
I asked Claire Naylor, the co-founder’s view on the School Leadership program:
What is the difference between the two week Leadership Institute and the new four month School LEADership program?
The new program is being led by the Alumni members, so it is multiplying our effect. Both the girls leading it and the students in school benefit. Being a weekly program, the participants have five days to absorb what they learned and actually put what they learned into practice.
What are your expectations from this program?
After the program, both the trainers and trainees need to identify themselves as leaders, in their own ways.
What kind of benefits do you see for the alumni members via this program?
They will be able to use the knowledge they were taught during the Leadership Institute. By speaking in front of around thirty juniors, they are practicing their public speaking skills. They will have better conflict resolution skills by handling the arising situations themselves. They will become role models for the students they are training and then learn to act as so. Since they will be investing in their juniors, this will strengthen their relationships with their Juniors: they will learn the value of mentoring.
Since the new program involves boys as well now, what king of changes do you expect? And what kind of perspectives do you think the boys will be able to give on gender issues?
We still have to wait and see the results. We are not bringing up these issues to make them feel targeted, but for them to develop an understanding. They should learn that women’s issues are not just women’s issues, they are social issues.
When you prepare materials for each session, what things do you keep in mind?
I first sort out what the objective of the session is, and how that is related to Women LEAD’s vision. Then while making it age appropriate, I find ways of presenting the content. And think about the ways they can be more engaged and to think about it more seriously.
How different do you find working with this age group?
This age group has more energy than the older ones. When they do an activity, they do it with all their heart, they’re more excited. They don’t really care if participating in the activities is cool or not. They know how to enjoy it more and follow their hearts.
Why a “school” based leadership program?
Because if the schools take ownership of the program , it becomes more productive, When students learn in the school environment, they are more comfortable learning than in a new environment. And hopefully, it will become a culture in the school that way and a part of their core activities.
How did you feel seeing your plan work out into action?
Seeing them in a position I was felt really good actually. It was a concrete example of them being leaders, while still in their youth. They seem comfortable encouraging and interacted with their juniors. The first session we planned was for public speaking as that was found to be the most sought for skill for the participating students.
After the program, the follow up programs will include a lot of leadership opportunities for the participants inside their schools and outside too. They will run a campaign in their schools depending on the issues they want to highlight in each of their schools. They will hopefully become class captains, club presidents and maybe even bigger someday. Some steps have even started, with the AVM HSS’s students now being Ambassadors for Burn Violence Survivors(BVS)’s Violence Against Women’s awareness campaign.At this pace, we really expect the program to be hugely productive.