Case studies

Writing a New Story

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A disturbed childhood turned Jacinta into a quiet girl. However, the feelings squirming inside her found another outlet. Whenever emotions filled her to the brink, she picked up a pen and transferred her thoughts onto paper, sensitively conveying her complex emotions through beautiful poetry. Jacinta is one of the 100 young leaders on our Changelooms With.in programme. She has been working in Jharkhand to help tribal girls use poetry and creative writing to raise awareness about the issues of exclusion they face.

Jacinta Kerketta

Fighting to study

Hailing from the Kurku tribe, Jacinta Kerketta is a resident of Khudpos – a village in the Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

Throughout her childhood she saw her alcoholic father indulging in physical violence. Jacinta and her two younger sisters faced discrimination as their father backed their two elder brothers, who had inherited their father’s addiction habit.

“My hapless mother did everything in her capacity to fulfil our wish to study,” Jacinta fondly recalls. “She even mortgaged whatever ancestral land we had to pay for our education, although later she had to face the wrath of my father,” says the 32-year-old.

“During my school days I had to work in the fields or in shops, or even go home to home giving tuition to children,” Jacinta says as she remembers the hardships of not having enough money.

However, the fire burning inside her to gain an education brought her and her two young sisters to Ranchi – the state capital of Jharkhand - where they pursued their schooling.

Using writing to express emotions

By this time, Jacinta had started writing for a few newspapers and television channels: “I used this medium to pour out my heart’s agonies and dejections.”

At a young age, she received the Indigenous Voice of Asia award from a Thailand-based organisation – Asia People’s Indigenous Pact (AIPP) - and the Ravi Shankar Memorial Award from Banaras Hindu University India.

Passionate about creativity, Jacinta started promoting her writing work on Facebook and built up a network of professional writers to support her.

She then landed an opportunity to work as a research consultant in Jharkhand for a Delhi-based organisation, Feminist Approach through Technology (FAT).

What followed next was the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) fellowship, which gave her a chance to travel to communities and study their problems.

Becoming a Changeloomer

Seeing her interest in writing and community work, Jyoti Lakra - an old colleague from the UNDP fellowship programme - informed her about Changelooms With.in.

Changelooms With.in is a year-long fellowship that provides training, mentoring, and financial support to 100 young leaders wanting to address social exclusion within their communities.  

“I always dreamt that after becoming financially independent, I would help other girls like me,” says Jacinta, whose dream was realised with support from Changelooms.

Her Changelooms project aims to train tribal girls in creative writing and photography and to develop leadership skills in these girls.

Identifying the project area

Jacinta started by identifying two tribal blocks - Samtoli and Rengarih - in the Simdega district where she would train 40 girls in creative writing. She chose one school in each block and decided to train 20 girls in each.

“The idea was to create awareness through creativity and writing, and enable them to raise their voices against oppression,” she says.

The area is home to Naxalites – native insurgents fighting for their rights – and poor farmers. Five dams have been constructed on land donated by the villages but people living there have neither electricity nor water for irrigation. There are not many opportunities for higher education or employment. Living an excluded life, girls also face the threat of trafficking.  

Promoting creativity and expression

The main challenge was to prepare the girls for creative writing: “Initially they were hesitant to speak up and talk as they had many inhibitions.”

Realising that they also came from a similar socio-economic background to her, Jacinta began with sharing her own story to inspire them. Later she encouraged them to share theirs.

“I explained to them how agony and tears can be converted into literary expressions,” says Jacinta, the poet inside her speaking.

Slowly, the girls started to share their feelings with her and soon they began converting their feelings into stories and verses.

With the girls’ permission, Jacinta sent a few of their stories and poems to a local Hindi newspaper - Prabhat Khabar (‘Morning News’) - that published 4 of them. Another 15 are under consideration. Jacinta also posts her students’ work on Facebook.

“In their writing, the girls have raised issues like early marriage, disturbed childhoods, child labour and the exploitation of women, which they have witnessed in their communities.”

Setting up a library

The next step was to push their imagination, which Jacinta realised was only possible if they got the chance to read good authors.

“I started a library in Rengarih by purchasing 45 books with the financial support I received under the Changelooms project,” says Jacinta. She has the promise of some more books from a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor and a Delhi-based research scholar.

“A German organisation, Adivasi Kooridnation (‘Tribal Coordination’), has also assured us support in publishing my students’ work,” says an excited Jacinta.

The schools where the project is being carried out have been encouraging all the other children to start expressing their feelings through creativity and writing and the news of change has reached the neighbouring villages too: “The head of the Bagchakta Panchayat [village council] has asked me to initiate similar activities in his village.”

A personal change

Twice, Jacinta has been invited on a national television channel to talk about her Changelooms project, which has brought a tremendous change in her.

“I observed a boost in my confidence and improvement in my communication skills,” says Jacinta, who also now inculcates flexibility in her day-to-day activities.

“The Changelooms training also helped me in grasping the philosophy behind the development of the ‘self’,” says Jacinta, who has resumed her studies and is currently pursuing her Masters.

Jacinta now aims to form an organisation and offers of help are pouring in from many different quarters.

“My desire is to create many national and international writers from the tribal community,” she says, sharing her dream. “This is the only way a true picture of the community can be presented before the world.”

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