Raina Singh is no ordinary teenager, the way she inspires a young girl from a slum near her school.
“Decide what you want to be and work hard to get there. I will not only teach you how to defend yourself but you have to keep your head up.”
17 years old, in Chanakyapuri, Delhi American Embassy School , Teaches Taekwondo to girls living in slums to promote self-defense and give them the courage and confidence to dream big.
When Rayna was nine years old, her family moved to India from San Francisco. Having lived a sheltered life until now, he began to see the differences between haves and have-nots. As she grew up, her passion for giving back to society grew.
Taekwondo for change
Life changed for Rayna when she was in 5th grade and she met her teacher Susan Vernon, a passionate martial artist and a dedicated academic.
“I started doing taekwondo as an extra activity for recreation. I wanted to join the club because my teacher Susan started the program. She was a fun teacher, so I thought I would give it a try. I had no idea what would happen next! Later that year, I participated in my first Taekwondo competition. The competition is called ‘World’ because people from all over the world come to compete. It is the largest single-style martial arts tournament in the world. That’s when I started taking this game seriously. ”
Her instructor insisted that Rayna compete in all four traditional events, including Sparling. As a young black belt, he also began to teach Taekwondo to his peers.
At the American Embassy School, English classes were attended by some nearby students as part of the Make a Difference (MAD) initiative that the school has held and continues for many years.
“Through that program I noticed that some of these young girls were really shy – over their age. As I spent time with them, I realized that they had a lot of energy and fun to love, but confidence. Was lacking. I realized that if he had the opportunity to build self-confidence through Taekwondo, his life would change for the better, “she says.
Hardayal Kumar, a staff member in the Department of Technology, and an instructor in the Taekwondo program, invited Rayana to visit a nearby Vivekananda slum to see how and where these young girls were growing up. Hardayal helped connect Rayna with the Vivekananda community, and Susan associated Rayna with the Make a Difference program.
The three worked on a plan where the Vivekananda girls, who used to come to the campus to study English once a week, stayed for an extra hour and trained in martial arts with Rayna and Hardayal.
“Through personal initiative and with the support of others who saw his potential, he was boot-strapped to get out of the slum. That journey was eye-opening. At the same time, I also enrolled in the Taekwondo Instructor Program, an international instructor training program designed to develop leadership and coaching skills. All these events inspired me to start teaching Taekwondo to these young girls. “
Stepping up the initiative
An initiative that started with just four to five children slowly started moving forward. Initially, only Rayana, Hardayal and other staff taught here. Soon, his younger sister and mother, Black Belt Leaders and instructor trainees also helped. In a short period of time, 25 girls started training and testing regularly, working towards their own black belts.
Rayna talks fondly to 14-year-old Anushka, who started at the age of 12 and is now helping as an assistant trainer. Vishaka, another very inspired martial artist, is learning various taekwondo forms and also enjoys working with weapons such as ssahng jeol bong.
Families initially considered it a great opportunity for their girls to learn English. However, some opposed martial arts training. Hardayal helped him to address his concerns and change his outlook.
Also, initially, the girls had to be uncomfortable with the obligatory kihap (an outcry) during practice. Rayna says that she received a lot of encouragement to be comfortable with the idea.
Rayna is currently in the 12th standard and is preparing for college next year.
“I am interested in business and psychology, and am looking forward to earning my bachelor’s degree in business. I think an MBA or Master’s degree in psychology may also be an option in the future – although it seems far away. However I am hoping that this small, emergent initiative will continue and many more girls will have a chance to embrace positive change. ”
She is also training her third-degree black belt this November. She believes that taekwondo is similar to a lifestyle.
“Great things happen when you take a resolution and start living it every day. Community change requires a lot of patience. Empathy and understanding make all the difference. Taekwondo has inspired me to challenge my boundaries; this is just the beginning.”