A few days back, I overheard a conversation at the office about an event that the Sakhi team was organising where the girls from our two Sakhi cohorts (Perambur and Choolai) in Chennai were finally going to meet and interact with each other. It sounded so exciting that I thought I should trade my otherwise lazy weekend for a day with these cheerful and full-of-life young girls. On a bright Saturday morning, I entered the magical art lab in the Perambur High School, which the school refers to as the Sakhi classroom. Standing against the blue wall with little fairies and twinkling stars were a group of highly energetic girls preparing themselves to host the Sakhi girls from the Choolai cohort. Twenty-six girls studying in 9th standard were coming all the way from Choolai to Perambur for their first peer interaction/facilitation session. The girls from Perambur, the first-ever Sakhi cohort, are now studying in 11th standard, and they were committed to being the best hosts to their junior cohort.

The girls decorated the room with their drawings on the board, warmly welcoming the Choolai Sakhis. They divided the responsibilities among themselves. Some of the girls sat with laptops, busy preparing a presentation while some were rehearsing the instructions for the icebreaker sessions, some tidied up the room and arranged art materials for an art session, and a few others were confirming if the snacks were arriving on time. They were all running around and clarifying their doubts with Mahalakshmi, the wonderful facilitator, who manages the Sakhi Perambur Cohort.

The word ‘Sakhi’ means companion. Project Sakhi was initiated in Perambur High School, Chennai, with a group of 24 adolescent girls. The idea was (and still is) to support them from the 8th standard until they complete their graduation. The girls are exposed to a wide range of opportunities through interactive arts-based sessions, academic discussions, lectures, leadership workshops, participating in community projects and more. Our intervention focuses on academic support, mentorship, career guidance, social-emotional learning, creative expression, and leadership skills.

Now, Project Sakhi has grown to be the biggest intervention of NalandaWay, running across 9 major cities of India, where 225 girls from the most marginalized communities are building their lives with confidence and pride.

 Peer-to-Peer Learning

According to the International Encyclopedia of Education, research has shown that collaboration among peers in a learning environment can enhance students’ socioemotional development. This includes improving their concept of self and having a better attitude towards learning. Through Sakhi, we are in the making of an adolescent girl-led space, creating a greater sense of belongingness and openness to discuss uncomfortable topics and to participate and voice against the topics that matter to them.

Sorna, the facilitator of the Choolai cohort led the girls to the Sakhi classroom, and the Perambur Sakhis greeted them in unison with a loud “Welcome Choolai Sakhis”. Each session was planned for 20-30 minutes. They started with a fun ice-breaking activity to introduce themselves, followed by Warli art with music, talked about a shared love for Korean drama, and danced their hearts out to Tamil songs. This was followed by a well-curated presentation on brain chemistry, where they talked about happy and love hormones and how to cope with stress in everyday life. Interestingly, the Choolai girls, the audience for the day, took notes and pointers very meticulously and answered the questions posed by the hosts. I noticed that the girls were very comfortable laughing at things they could relate to and I could hear a few giggles after they cracked some inside jokes.

One of the girls from the Perambur Sakhi cohort put on her big-sister smile as she said to me, “Akka, imagine all the Sakhis growing up and meeting after 10 years. All of us will still be friends and we’ll be earning well in jobs that make us happy.  We’ll see how far we’ve come, together. I want to give my best to my juniors and help them in whatever way I can!”. Listening to her,  I realised that sharing dreams is the best possible thing that human beings can do for each other. NalandaWay started Sakhi with the dream of creating sisterhood and companionship among adolescent girls and now they continue to dream the same. Kudos to the entire Sakhi team! It was a weekend well spent for me.

Written by Lavanya NK. Lavanya is a part of the Strategic Partnerships team at NalandaWay Foundation where she also contributes to the research and ideation of new projects. She holds a Master’s Degree in Ecosophical Aesthetics from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. She loves writing about arts, history and films.