24 January is celebrated as National Girl Child Day in India, first initiated in 2008 to highlight gender-based discrimination faced by girls in our society. Pro Sport Development (PSD) is an award-winning social enterprise that uses sport as a tool for the holistic development of children and youth, and gender equality is an integral part of our programming. To celebrate National Girl Child Day this year, we highlight Anandita Behera’s story, a participant in our programs.
Anandita Behera is a Class 10 student of Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir, located in the community of Patrapada in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Anandita has been a part of PSDs programming since 2017. By participating in two of PSDs programs — Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) and Community Sports Program (CSP) — she has been able to explore herself and discover her strengths and capabilities. PSD’s programs have given her many opportunities to push her out of her comfort zone to find out more about herself, aiding her journey through her puberty and teenage years.
While the CSP program focuses on the socio-emotional development of children by developing soft skills, the KBC program seeks to empower adolescents to take leadership within their communities to challenge issues of violence against women and girls (VAW/G) using a sports-based methodology to facilitate interactions between girls and boys and question gender stereotypes. These programs have been integral for Anandita’s development into a strong-willed and confident girl, who enjoys participating in physical activity and sport with her friends.
One of the cornerstones of KBC is understanding that the root of ending VAW/G lies in changing gender relations between men and women, boys and girls — this cannot be done without the active and equal participation of youth. Thus, the program aims to empower women and girls and make them self-reliant.
Anandita shares her learnings from KBC and says, “Self-awareness means awareness of yourself and self-empowerment means not to depend on others. I do my work myself; I help my mother and father as well in their work. They too are proud of me. But even today, there are families that think that girls depend on everyone, which is not right.”
Thus, KBC has been instrumental in integrating the spirit of questioning the wrongs in society and taking a step, no matter how small, in instilling positive change.
The KBC and CSP programs have built a confident Anandita, who shines as a leader in her class, school and the larger community. She has recognised this improvement in her communication and leadership skills, noting: “Nobody used to listen to me before. But since joining PSDs programs, I have gained the ability to talk with teachers and friends.”
More recently, her confidence was evident when she participated in an international youth exchange, organised by PSD, in collaboration with Urban Initiatives, a Chicago-based sport-for-development organisation that works with marginalised youth in the city to mould them to become community leaders. The virtual exchange, held in November 2020, saw a group of students from Bhubaneshwar and Chicago discuss different aspects of their lives, in an effort to promote cross-cultural interactions and understandings between them.
During the session, Anandita gave a presentation on the Sambalpuri sari, an illustrious hallmark of the heritage of Odisha, explaining to all how the sari is weaved and what the different patterns represent. Giving the presentation in English, her third language, was no easy feat, but Anandita took it in her stride and delivered her presentation without hesitation.
Reflecting on the exchange, she noted that she found it easy to connect with the other students, even across cultural barriers, and hoped to participate in other such activities in the future so that she could further develop her leadership skills.
Anandita has also found that sport has made her a more disciplined person. While earlier she was lazy and easily distracted, she has now found purpose and direction in life. Her father, Ashok Kumar Behera, had also noticed Anandita become more disciplined, pointing out, “Before she was very lazy, didn’t listen to our instructions, and did not study on time. After participating in the PSD program, she is active for all the work. She studies at the correct time, I have seen her sports spirit, good behaviour and she respects everyone too.”
This has been crucial for her during the pandemic. She notes that though the ensuing lockdown was a critical time for her and the larger community, she found her discipline helped her focus on her studies, even though she was not attending school anymore: “Because we were not going to my school, [many children] did not study properly. But I attended all my classes online.”
And recognising the importance of maintaining physical activity and movement, she has kept up with fitness activities and doing yoga through online sessions organised by PSD, ensuring that she does not become inactive while staying at home.
At a more basic level, the PSD programs have, through the various games and sports played in the sessions, allowed her just to have fun — after all, she is a teenager. She loves to play games with her friends, and her favourite sport is netball. Through her sessions with PSD, she found that she is indeed a good netball player.
The game has also taught her a lot about being a team player, a change her teacher, Anil Kumar Subudhi, has noted in her. He also found that she enjoys competing in tournaments and engaging in healthy competition with her peers.
Being part of PSDs programs has helped Anandita learn so much more about herself and her abilities, and she has been able to come into her own. The sessions have helped her hone in her confidence, leadership, and talent while also learning to enjoy herself and have fun.
Taking these learnings, Anandita hopes to channel her abilities and skills to become a changemaker in her community. She wants to continue building her skills as a youth leader and aspires to become a social worker in the future.