Emergency in the Sahel
Support the urgent needs of children in the Sahel affected by the food crisis  

Bandana Mandal,
animator in the Kabaddi project

«Through my own development, I had the chance to help others develop.»

Bandana Mandal is an animator and has been working on a daily basis since 2019 on the ground in several cities in West Bengal as part of the Kabaddi project run by Terre des hommes (Tdh). She describes the situation of the young girls she follows and the risks they face. In a touching and sincere testimony, she also reveals how she herself has achieved personal transformation and emancipation through this mission.

What is the general situation of the adolescent girls with whom Terre des hommes works in Malda and Siliguri?

The girls tend to have a migrant background and often live in poor housing. Their parents move around a lot, every five or seven years. When I started interacting with them, I quickly identified their lack of autonomy. Some had never been out of their homes or to school and had no idea how to maintain their health and hygiene. They needed support to understand these crucial things.  

Are these girls at risk of dangerous migration or human trafficking? 

They are prey. They are offered work, they are told they will be well paid, but they are ultimately trafficked or taken to a place from which they can never return. Some don't even have the capacity to recognise that they are victims. There are some who voluntarily go to the traffickers in the hope of a better future, without realising what is really waiting for them. They do not know how to distinguish between a job opportunity and a trap. 

How do they relate to sport in general?

Since they cannot leave their homes, playing Kabaddi is like conquering Mount Everest. So initially they felt ashamed to play. Imagine conquering Everest and receiving sexual harassment or bitter words as a reward. The relationship between women and sport was ambivalent: the playing field was a place of peace but also of harassment, fear, or tension. But now it is above all a place of freedom.

Why is the Kabaddi decisive for this project?

Building trust, collaboration, communication, managing emotions, accountability, creative thinking... These life lessons learned on the job have an impact on their daily lives. There is a saying: when you want to make macro changes, you start by making micro changes. The Kabaddi acts as a stepping stone in a larger scheme.

In concrete terms, what is your role on a daily basis?

I go from door to door and talk to families. I have one-on-one interactions with children, help them play Kabaddi, hold meetings with community members and facilitate sessions on gender issues. These sessions have a practical impact on my life because before I teach certain values, I already try to implement them in my own life.

What motivated you to do this work and why did you choose it? 

With the society and family background I come from, I never thought I would ever get this far. I used to think that I was stuck, that I wouldn't get my liberty, that I wouldn't be able to get free because I was a woman and that I would be under the societal pressure to marry no matter what. So the opportunity to show who I am, to be available for an organisation like this, was important for me. Through my own development, I had the chance to help others develop. As long as you can give, people can take from you too. And it goes both ways: the more I give, the more I can take. And the more I can take, the more I can give.

Is there a particular story that symbolises your work?

At a session on gender where I was only with boys, some of them laughed at me, wondering what I could teach them because I was a young woman. Later I received phone calls and one boy asked me: “I have a friend whose period has stopped, what can I do to help her?” It's not an extraordinary example but compared to the original situation, it's a touching progress.

What positive changes are noticeable in everyday life as a result of the project? 

First of all, many gender biases have been broken. The revolutionary idea that girls have the right to play has been catalysed by Kabaddi. Secondly, many more parents trust their daughters to leave the house alone. When children in turn try to communicate their thoughts to their parents, they express themselves better. This helps parents understand their children better and everyone gains. Finally, when boys help with household chores, mothers realise that it is not only the children who benefit from the sessions, but the whole family.

What are your wishes for the children you work with? 

Today they are sharing their stories with me, they are sharing their dreams with me, becoming sensitive to gender issues, growing up. My wish for them is to become pillars and foundations for society to stand on. I want them to have such strong foundations that they can help other weaker foundations to become stronger.