Delicate featured and slight of frame, the sight of 20 year old Fehmina Parveen does not immediately convey an image of strength. Her voice is soft, slow and measured. But talk to her for just a few minutes and you will soon get a sense of a young woman who knows her mind. Talk to her for a little while longer and you will come away with the feeling of meeting someone whose quiet strength enables her to plan her future with clarity, optimism and determination.
Fehmina has a goal. She has several goals actually. Aside from striving to be a ‘good human being’ she wants to complete her BSW, work with physically challenged children and help improve Indian society. In that order. But her immediate goal is finding a job. It is what convinced her to join the CSWC program three months ago, when she first met Nishat Akhtar of ETASHA’s Community Mobilisation team in Shaheen Bagh, South Delhi where she lives with her mother and younger sister. A 2nd year student of IGNOU, Fehmina joined the course because it provides placement and Fehmina wants to work. Fehmina really wants to work.
“I have wanted to work for a long time but was unsure how to look for a job, let alone apply.” she says, struggling to make herself heard over the sound of noisy kids playing in the background.
“I just knew I wanted to work,” she says quietly. Studying via correspondence means Fehmina feels she has the time to work and she would like to earn some money for herself and also for her family. Her two elder sisters are married and her mother is a housewife. Her father, a cook, works away from home.
When ETASHA set up a satellite centre in Shaheen Bagh, designed to reach young people in communities further away from its Career Development Centre in Madanpur Khadar, Fehmina joined the very first batch. From the start, she was a star! Naturally intelligent, inquisitive and dedicated to learning, Fehmina came every day for three hours to study spoken English, selling skills, computer skills and to help develop her confidence and communication skills. Has it worked?
“Yes, of course!” she says emphatically. “I am here talking to you because my communication skills have improved so much. I couldn’t have done that before!”
“Also, the field visits helped me and the teaching methods were so different to anything I had known before. So creative and interesting. And the staff, especially Arjumand Ma’am and Tarana Ma’am were so helpful. Very supportive.”
So having completed the course and bagged the Best Trainee award, one would expect Fehmina to be joining the rest of her CSWC batchmates for the rounds of interviews that begin in the last week of the program, but sadly not. She has one obstacle; her parents don’t want her to work.
“I want to work in a call centre but my parents won’t allow it. They have some misconceptions about working in a call centre. I am trying to convince them that I would only be working during the day, and that a cab would pick me up and drop me off and that lots of girls work there but still they have this misconception that it is not a decent place.” Fehmina’s recent visit to ETASHA’s CSR partner NetAmbit convinced her that that is the work for her in the short term. “The salary and benefits are good and I think I would enjoy the work.”
Arjumand Fatima, Centre Manager at ETASHA’s CDC in Madanpur Khadar says this is a common problem within Fehmina’s community and that ETASHA works with families to try to assure them that placement is only offered in credible companies providing a safe environment.
“We talk to the family of every trainee before they join to ensure they are supportive of the son or daughter’s desire to work. As with so many other families, Fehmina’s parents changed their minds when it came to the crunch. We are talking to them and are planning a parents’ visit to NetAmbit soon to help dispel some of the myths surrounding working in a call centre. We hope that they will change their mind when they see the reality.”
While she anxiously hopes for a change of heart, Fehmina is quietly confident that she will get her away.
“I think that if I work hard and study hard anything is achievable, and that everything else is just small problems to be overcome.”
So can we expect a call from her soon to say she’s starting work?
Fehmina is very serious as she answers the question as honestly as she can.
“I hope so. I don’t know but I will try my hardest!”