GYAAN Center Advances Female Empowerment in India

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TACOMA, Washington — Nonprofit organization CITTA is building the GYAAN Center in Jaisalmer to help advance education for girls and promote female empowerment in India. Jaisalmer is known as the “Golden City” for its distinctive sandstone buildings, which the GYAAN Center’s architecture emulates. The center will consist of a girls’ school for kindergarten through class 10 students, a women’s economic center and a marketplace. By combining a school with an economic training center, CITTA hopes to encourage women to bring their daughters to school while mothers receive training in local handicrafts. Overall, CITTA is building the GYAAN Center to combat the low literacy and economic disadvantages that women and girls face in the region.

Background on the Organization

CITTA supports development around the world by partnering with low-income communities. CITTA uses what it calls its “HEED model,” focusing on Health, Education and Economic Development in the specific communities with which it partners. The organization tailors its assistance to the community in question, working with residents to bring the help that that community needs.

Michael Daube is the founder and executive director of CITTA. He is an artist who started the organization after extensive traveling in Southeast Asia. Daube wanted his nonprofit to focus on empowering women because they can be left behind during development efforts. He has focused his organization on healthcare and education because of their meaningful impact on development. Daube named CITTA after a Sanskrit word that he defines as “mind in connection with the heart.”

GYAAN Center

The GYAAN Center, CITTA’s latest project, will consist of the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls’ School, the Women’s Cooperative and a marketplace and exhibition hall. The buildings will be architecturally integrated into one location. CITTA decided to build the GYAAN Center in Jaisalmer, a city in the Indian region of Rajasthan, because of low literacy rates and a decline in traditional crafts. The area is deeply traditional and many girls are unable to receive a formal education.  Jaisalmer is the home of cultural crafts such as textiles, but people with traditional skills and training are becoming increasingly rare. CITTA is hoping to convince women to send their daughters to the GYAAN Center’s school by offering them training in traditional crafts. The exhibition hall and marketplace will be a place where local women can sell their crafts to tourists and other customers.

While designing the GYAAN Center, CITTA reached out to a number of well-known and influential figures. The royal family of the city of Jaisalmer supports the project and has contributed to CITTA’s efforts. Additionally, CITTA asked famous designers to provide the center’s architectural design and the fashion design of the students’ uniforms. Diana Kellogg, a well-known New York architect, designed the center’s buildings pro bono. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, a famous Indian fashion designer who has worked with brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, designed students’ uniforms pro bono as well.

Both designers turned to traditional Jaisalmer art for inspiration. Kellogg designed the center’s buildings to be built from Jaisalmer’s famous sandstone, which earned Jaisalmer’s nickname of the ‘Golden City.’ She designed the buildings to be round, modeling their shape after the nearby Jaisalmer Fort. Mukherjee designed the school uniforms to be made using ajrakh, a complicated textile printing technique that uses woodblocks. Ajrakh typically uses red and indigo dyes to create geometric patterns and is a traditional textile technique of the region. Mukherjee hopes that by using a traditional technique to create students’ uniforms, students will feel pride in their region and heritage.

Female Empowerment in India

So far, CITTA has completed construction on the school, which will open in January 2021. (The opening had originally been planned for early 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) The school will have the capacity to educate up to 400 students of varying ages at a time. CITTA will build the Women’s Cooperative and marketplace in phases over time. If all goes well, the center will  to teach girls and women the skills necessary to support themselves. Overall, the GYAAN Center is expected to provide an immeasurable impact on female empowerment in India.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

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