We first met in December 2008. The face didn't ring a bell. She was there with her son. The introduction was formal, but we ended up speaking for five hours. Rather, I listened while she spoke - of her experiences, her challenges, her victories, and all that she's learned over the course of her decades long work. Her name is Tara Ahluwalia, or Taraji, and I will be volunteering with her for the next six months in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
Feel free to look up the city on Wikipedia, but if you can't spare those ten minutes, here's a sixty second trailer. Bhilwara is named after the Bhil tribals, who have been displaced to the hills. 54% male, 47% female. Huge textile hub. India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" claimed that "Bhilwara has the highest no. of registered private motor vehicles (four wheelers) in Asia." Now there's a conversation starter you probably haven't used.
Taraji used to work for UNESCO, training local women as saathins. After ten years, the Women's Development Program was handed over to the government. Funding was cut-off, the program aborted. Nevertheless, Taraji continued to work with women, educating them on gender discrimination, female foeticide, increasing awareness on legal rights...in other words, raising their self-confidence through empowerment. Twenty-four years into this work, Taraji continues to single-handedly improve the lives of women throughout Rajasthan. She recently held a Wenledo training for eighty female police constables, teaching them self-defense techniques. On an unrelated note, I hear that if you want to get to her house in Bhilwara, just ask anyone in uniform, and they'll tell you how to get there. No directions necessary.
Having met her, read about her work, and talked to volunteers who've interacted with her I am ready to begin what I know will be an amazing half-year. An immense store of knowledge awaits me. I'm a thirsty sponge- let the absorbing begin!