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Orissa "Meena Girl" gets international award

© UNICEF / Argentina
Jyotimayee Mohapatra receiving the Youth Action Net Award

Jyotirmayee Mohapatra, the “Meena Girl” as she calls herself, received the prestigious Youth Action Net Award in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the amazing work done in Kendrapara, one of the coastal districts of Orissa, India. The award is set up by the International Youth Foundation, USA.

Jyoti is one of the 11,000 Meena Girls in Orissa.  Why are they called” Meena”? Who is Meena?

Meena is the lead character of a series of animated films developed by UNICEF about issues relevant to children. More than 10,000 children and adults along with NGOs, subject specialists and government officials took part in the creation of Meena films that were launched in 1998.

These Orissa “Meenas” are real-life versions of the optimistic, compassionate and intelligent girl portrayed in the illustrations and films they have grown to love and admire.

The girls first met the icon ‘Meena’ when Nature’s Club, a local non-government organisation, began screening Meena films in Kendrapara district in 1999.  Using the process recommended by a UNICEF study in 1994 - that the film screenings be preceded and followed by discussions in groups - Meena stories gradually became a powerful tool to initiate discussions on various social themes. Gradually, the girls began meeting informally to discuss the Meena stories and other issues.

The meetings became more regular and this increased participation led to the formation of Meena Clubs. Soon, people started noticing and talking about these girls.  As the word spread, more and more girls were inspired to form their own Meena Clubs.

The Meena Clubs started organising various cultural programmes in their localities and celebrating festivals like Rojo Utsav (festival for girls), with support from UNICEF. This gave them a sense of achievement and the confidence to do other things. 

They involved themselves in matters like school enrolment, diarrhea management and campaigning for safe drinking water, amongst a host of other burning issues. The girls worked closely with the district authorities.

The local administration welcomed their role as partners in development programmes. Says the Head of District Administration,” The Meena Groups have helped us in achieving results – in the social service sector, the health sector, nutrition sector, family welfare sector and primary education sector…We would like to extend this kind of experiment as a government sponsored project for community mobilisation.”

The success of their efforts motivated them to gradually take up sensitive ‘hard’ issues like atrocities against women and land disputes.

In 1999, a super cyclone (hurricane) swept across coastal Orissa, the Meena girls joined hands with rescue teams and helped in every way they could. They worked with the affected people to ensure community hygiene and public health in the affected areas and helped distribute relief material.

Has the going been smooth for the "Meenas"? Replies Jyoti,” We realised that problems cannot be resolved with aggression; that it helps if we are soft spoken and non-threatening. UNICEF helped us understand the difference between being aggressive and assertive. This proved very useful.”
 
Today, there are about 250 Meena Clubs spread over five districts of Orissa – Kendrapara (130), Jajpur (35), Jagatsinghpur (60), Puri (18) and Khurda (exact number not known)  -- and over 10,000 Meenas.

There are hundreds of Meena Clubs/Associations in various parts of India. Meena is being used in many schools to help impart life skills. Meena is an important component in the gender sensitisation programmes at the National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development (NIPCCD).


Renu Ghosh
Assistant Project Officer
UNICEF
India

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