In March 2014 I spend two weeks volunteering with India, one week I spent working in the popular Elephant program, while the second week I spent working in the women's program.
This program is a bit different than how I imagined it. The women and girls come for the program after school or work. There are older women, and young teenage girls typically.
In this program, the women learn pretty much any skill work that they can use to generate an income for themselves. In some cases the women have been thrown out of their husband's family. With no where to go, as most of their own families will not take them back due to shame, these women need to learn a skill set to support themselves. Other women and girls come to learn a skill in order to help provide for their families.
The women learn how to sew clothes, by hand and with a sewing machine. They learn how to make patterns for clothes as well. Hair braiding, eyebrow threading, makeup, henna, and manicures are also taught.
As someone from a western culture, at first this seemed somewhat sexist to me. Volunteering in a women's empowerment program to teach them how to sew and do makeup? Kind of ironic. However, India is not a culture that is accustom to women working. Women get married to a man their family arranges for them. They move into their in law's house with their husband. They live under their husband's mother and father, and do all the cleaning and cooking for the household.
In a part of India where tourism thrives, there are many western women who want to buy a traditional Saree, get henna designs done on their hands, have their hair braided in a traditional Indian style, or have their eyebrows done and nails manicured. Learning these skills is a sure way for these women to generate income for themselves and support themselves, and even opens up a doorway for them to start their own business. What better way to empower a women than to give her a way to make her own money and own her own business without a man?
As a volunteer in this program, you primarily teach the women and girls English. This is essential, as most of their ability to make an income depends on communicating with tourists.
It is a bit challenging, as you have women and girls of all ages, some of whom are completely illiterate in their own language, and others (the teenage girls in particular, as they learn English in school) who are almost fluent in English.
If you have someone else working with you, splitting the women into groups based on skill level can be helpful.
Even if you are alone, the women all basically need to learn to speak English rather than reading or writing it. Talking with them, helping them with pronunciation, proper sentence structure, using "I" vs "me", plural forms, and just getting them used to talking in English with a native English speaker (many of the women and girls are shy) is very helpful.
Utilize the younger more fluent girls to help the ones that know less or no English. These girls get bored easily and will start to chatter amongst themselves.
Other things that would be helpful to teach them would be basic math and business skills such as how to determine how much money you need for the week, and how many sarees or henna you're going to need to sell in order to make that money (how to determine a profit.)
After you are finished, the girls usually have the "beauty" portion of their class. This time is fun for them (and you), especially the teenage girls. They may ask you to be their dummy while they do your hair, makeup, nails and practice henna.
I enjoyed this part of the day, and also is a good time to talk to the girls in English about their life, and your life back at home.
You do have a translator with you when you volunteer here, transportation, accommodation, meals, local weekend tours, and air port pick up/drop off are all included.
Overall a fun program that really opens up your eyes to being a woman or girl in a non western culture.