The untold stories of Agra

"Many people come to see the Taj, but nobody comes to visit us. We are so honoured that you come," said one of the leaders of the ground-breaking men's care program in Agra during our visit this week.

It was a simple observation, but quite profound, as it was us who felt privileged to be invited into this urban community and immersed into a side of Agra which very few people will ever see. It really captured the essence of our journey. Many come to Agra to see the monuments, we've come to share the stories. When we created this project we wanted to take people on a journey through what they know about India, whilst also challenging these perceptions by presenting a different side of the country told through the voice of those who've never had a platform before. And there's no more powerful example of this than the day we spent in Agra.

Having ticked-off the Taj in the morning, we quickly jumped in the car and within a 10-minute drive found ourselves immersed into a fascinating community who we would come to learn have been transformed by the highly successful men's care program. Focusing on changing the attitudes, behaviours and opportunities available for women and girls within the community, the program has one key ingredient; it's the men who are actively driving the need for change and recognising it must start with them.

The community in Agra was where this program was first piloted, and has since spread across many other World Vision projects across the country due to its success. Having met this group and seen their passion and conviction shows how strongly they believe in its purpose.

Some of the behavioural changes may be as simple as helping out with household chores like vegetable preparation, making tea, and even grocery shopping. These are actually significant shifts in the dynamics of the relationships these men have with their partners, which is certainly leading to happier households.

On the more significant end of the spectrum there are also stories, like the one we discovered when we met Ashok, a member of the Agra community who made the incredibly brave decision to bring his daughter home from an arranged child marriage when it was apparent she was unhappy and being mistreated by her husband's family.

This is unheard of in India, however having spoken to members of the men's care group and learned more about the pitfalls of child marriage, and the importance of an education, he made a decision which would ultimately cause his much criticism, financial burden, and went against his culture. Thanks to a change of perspective, he knows he made the right decision and his daughter is now smiling again.

The men meet regularly to discuss challenges they are facing, and one man described the bond that has grown, saying it began as a group but it has now become a big family. They discuss not only relationships with their partners, but also ensuring the rights of children (particularly girls as well), with a focus on educating others about the pitfalls of child marriage, as well as educating the children about their rights particularly around sexual conduct to expose any mistreatments that may or could occur.

It's an incredibly empowering program to have witnessed, as it has now become a belief system which they will pass on to future generations. They are looking to take this well beyond their own community, as they proved when they showed us a range of letters they've written to government advocating for the rights of the girl child as well as campaigns they've been involved with that tackle these type of issues.

Many people come to Agra and are in awe at the site of the Taj Mahal, yet what we saw was just as, if not more, inspiring. When we started this project, many said we should focus on education for girls, however what we quickly learned is to create any type of that sustainable change for girls, you need to educate the boys about why this important as well. In Agra we saw an amazing example of this in action.

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