Girl Rising Trip to India

A group of current MPH students and DrPH graduates, led by Associate Professor Amita Vyas, traveled to India earlier this year as part of the Girl Rising initiative, a grassroots campaign for empowering girls worldwide.

The campaign grew out of a 2013 documentary by the same name that features nine girls in developing nations who have overcome extreme challenges. Dr. Vyas produced the Hindi version of the documentary, Girl Rising India (2015). The Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) group traveled to four schools in Bombay, Lucknow, New Delhi and Jodhpur and found six stories—each of which talked about a central issue—to create a curriculum to help educate students in grades five through eight.

“Striving to make kids global citizens” and open up their minds to different norms and issues is the goal of the curriculum, said Jordan Genovese, an MPH graduate student. The program also shows students that there are people like them all around the world,  added Megan Landry, data-collection lead and a Milken Institute SPH adjunct faculty member.

The curriculum is based on the idea that by empowering and educating girls, they can succeed in society. It should also be noted that the program helps boys as well because it strives to create equality, allowing girls to make their own decisions and boys to see that girls can achieve the same things they can.

In the coming months a pre-curriculum test will be administered, and the curriculum will be implemented by mid-summer, when the school year starts. Nitasha Chaudhary Nagaraj, research scientist, estimated that the project will last an additional 12-15 months. She hopes the project can expand to other countries after India.

For Michael Matheke-Fischer, who helped with data collection, this trip made his work come full circle. Previously he did fieldwork with childhood nutrition, which was a short-term fix to an immediate problem. In contrast, the Girl Rising program let him ask, “What’s next?” and he appreciated taking part in an initiative that will have long-term, empowering effects.

Nagaraj noted that Girl Rising is not a sad story, but one of triumph. Education is one of the main issues girls face in India. Many drop out of school by eighth grade. The goal of Girl Rising is to get girls to stay past the 10th grade, because if they stay that long, they’ll be more likely to finish school. Studies show that increases in female education lead to more productive work forces and higher GDPs.

“The people seemed so content,” said Genovese, who was amazed by the kindness in the culture. Landry noted that she learns something new about herself every time she travels abroad, and Nagaraj was struck by the rawness of the people.

There was a unanimous agreement among the participants that their studies at the Milken Institute SPH prepared them for this trip. Genovese reflected that the Prevention and Community Health Department focuses intensely on analyzing programs, so the field experience linked precisely to her classroom lessons.

The fact that not everything goes according to plan while in the field was also a good learning experience. Matheke-Fischer said he appreciated that this trip was a “soft landing” for field work because there was room to ask questions and make mistakes. Dr. Vyas and her group plan to continue to do meaningful work to increase girls’ education, health, well-being and empowerment.