There are people around the world who are calling out to be heard. But there are very few people who can listen to their silent cries. Melanie Closs is one of them. Melanie, through “The Other Side” : a US based non-profit organization, is reaching out to girls and listening to their problems and concerns, and is giving them a platform to voice their stories to the world.
The Other Side explores the problems of girls living in certain communities and addresses those issues with the help of drama and creative play.
To The Other Side
The Other Side employs drama as a means to communicate with the world. As Melanie describes,
“Other Side Intercultural Theatre creates a community of girls through global drama exchange. Girls explore what it means to be a girl and what kinds of problems they face in the context of their own community and culture, using drama and creative play, and share what they have learned with an international group, and vice versa. Both groups learn about each other, develop support and friendship, thus building community, empathy, confidence, and the passion to make a change in their lives.”
The Other Side is symbolic of the other side of the world where life, culture and values are very different. Despite this differences, girls face problems wherever they go but The Other Side brings them together and allows them to be each other’s strength. The Other Side works in collaboration with the International schools and appoints “Ambassadors of the Other Side” to carry out their projects. Currently, there are 3 school/community groups in New York as well as PPES in Anupshahr.
To New Beginnings
5 years ago in 2010, when Melanie was on a 9 month world trip, she witnessed a different world than her own. And this new world in front of her eyes asked to be heard and needed to be changed. She visited the Pardada-Pardadi Educational Society in Anupshahr, Uttar Pradesh. As a volunteer, she taught drama and fell in love with the school and its mission. After returning home to New York, she not only wanted to bring about a change in the lives of girls in Anupshahr using drama, but also wanted to find a way to bring the culture of girls from New York to those in India.
“As a travel addict, I love meeting people from different places and finding some commonality within the context of our cultural differences. I wanted to find a way to create a space for that kind of human understanding and empathy for girls in New York and India, and after the development of one first project in 2013, The Other Side took off,” says Ms. Closs.
Ever since then, Melanie kept coming to Anupshshar and 4 out of 5 of her trips were focused on The Other Side. Though to continue the program at the schools for more than 3-4 weeks is a recurring challenge for her but she firmly believes that hard work and success come hand in hand. And she has proved the same. She added, “The improvement of English language throughout the school, and teachers/administrators truly understanding our organization’s mission and what we aim to do for girls at PPES.”
To Chasing Dreams
When we asked her about her dream for the organization and where she saw herself in the next 5 years, she told us, “In 5 years I would love to see us working with 3-4 different countries with Ambassadors in each country. One dream I have is for 2 girls from each country to come together and create a play together for an international festival, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, about their shared and varied experiences as girls in their home country.”
It sounds easy but it is very important that we never stop dreaming. Today her dreams are changing the lives of hundreds of girls around the world. The simple agenda that she keeps in her mind is- “If one girl feels inspired, or connected, or a change- then we have done our job. It doesn’t have to be the whole class!”
To looking back and moving forward
Coming from a big city like New York, Melanie takes joy in the simple living of Anupshahr. India, to Melanie, is spiritual and she found a mystical connection in the little things she witnessed in her journey – from the Ganga banks to watching the night sky. Always a lover of colors and the rich history of India, Melanie shared with Hersaga one of the most memorable incidents from her journey so far. It was about Sonam, a young girl from a village in Anupshahr who was forbidden to dress in western attire by her parents, but mustered the courage to demand the freedom she deserved. During the summer camp, Faith, a foster child who lives in Brooklyn with her grandmother found inspiration in Sonam’s story.
“Faith gave a personal message to Sonam, saying that learning Sonam’s story about having the confidence to ask her parents for the freedom to choose the way she dresses had inspired her to confront her own father about her feelings. As our girls learned about each other that week, we had come to understand that this girl also has a difficult time talking to her father. When she heard about Sonam’s confidence confronting her parents, she wanted Sonam to know that she was going to try to communicate her rights and problems to her father, just like Sonam did.”
To Inspire and be Inspired
The woman who inspired Melanie to reach out to girls and to prioritize their education over everything, is her teacher, Jan Micha. Jan introduced Melanie to PPES and helped her grow and become strong, and with her support, today Melanie has become an excellent teacher and a helping hand to girls across the globe.
The Other Side is a 501©3 Organization, which enables them to raise tax-deductible donations. Over the years, through her several visits to India, Melanie and The Other Side has given girls a unique platform to discover their potential and thus changed their lives. They also intend to add their groups in Tel-Aviv, Israel as well as Chile in 2016. Through their creative curriculum, they allow the students to learn and enjoy themselves. Melanie has made some priceless memories in India in her journey and she hopes to explore other places and give an opportunity to women across the world to take the pedestal and be heard.