The first few days of our visit to SOVA in Odisha, India were filled with meetings, interviews and other interactions with SOVA staff, trainees and general community members. These encounters proved to be valuable to us in our effort to gather information and media regarding health care and culture in Odisha. However, something felt different about our time speaking to adolescent girls in the Srimula community.
We walked into a small community building and were immediately greeted by the curious faces of over 20 young girls. Seeing their expressions, I couldn’t help but think that this was their first time laying their eyes upon people of different ethnicites. We joined them, sitting in a large circle around the room. After administering and collecting a survey on adolescent reproductive health, Prasanta opened up the room for discussion. “Now is the time for any questions you would like to ask.” After moments of silence filling the room, I asked the girls, “Do you play any instruments?”
Laughter filled the room, as the girls seemed taken aback by such a simple question. Soon, our conversation developed as we learned a little about the girls’ personal lives. We talked about what hobbies we share (reading, listening to music, singing) and Emily and one of the girls even had a dance-off in which the girl performed a classical Indian dance to traditional music.
By the end of our time together, the girls’ confused looks had turned into shy but friendly smiles. This was a small change, but meant the most to me as it indicated one thing- we were finally developing real relationships with community members.