Published: 07th October 2020
How Rayna Singh is empowering young girls from a Delhi slum through taekwondo lessons
Rayna Singh, a 17-year-old American Embassy School student, is making a difference in the lives of young girls by teaching them self-defense and instilling confidence
Rayna Singh was in the fourth grade when she moved to Delhi from San Francisco. The move and the ensuing cultural differences made Rayna shy and quiet, claims her father Amar Singh. That’s when Rayna took to martial arts — taekwondo, to be specific — and slowly, over time, regained her confidence. It was this firm belief in the power of martial arts that Rayna then took to train 20-odd young girls from a slum near her school in taekwondo.
Rayna was introduced to these girls, aged between 7 and 16 years, through her school’s Make a Difference programme. The American Embassy School, which Rayna attends, runs this programme to help young girls from underprivileged backgrounds learn English and other courses. “They were already coming to school on Mondays and Fridays,” says Rayna. Eventually, she visited the slum, which was an eye-opener. “One of my taekwondo teachers used to live in that slum. When I had the opportunity to visit the area in 2018, I realised that most of these girls would have to get married before they turn 16 or 18. They won’t have the confidence to defend themselves in certain situations. Even if I could make a difference in the life of one girl through the confidence I found through martial arts, then I wanted to do it,” says the now 17-year-old.
She has been training in taekwondo for over seven years now and has a second-degree black belt in the martial art. However, Rayna is not alone in her initiative. She is supported by her younger sister and mother with the classes. “Her mom is an instructor as well and Rayna can now officially instruct others in taekwondo,” her father tells us. The girls from Vivekananda camp attend the taekwondo lessons after completing their classes under the Make a Difference programme.
Speaking about how she began her foray into taekwondo, Rayna says, “My teacher in fifth grade, Susan Vernon, was also the school's taekwondo instructor. She urged me to join the programme. Initially, I joined just for fun but it was only later that I took it seriously.” Today, Rayna is the lead instructor and the director of the programme with the girls from the slum. Other than her mother and her sister, classes are conducted by Susan and another instructor, Hardayal Kumar, as well.
During one of the training sessions
To keep lessons more interesting, Rayna would add more variety and even play games. “The girls were learning something new, so their attention wouldn't wane,” she says. However, she says that she didn’t face many problems in convincing them to attend the classes. “Even their parents didn’t object to them attending martial arts lessons,” says Rayna who adds that it gives her immense pleasure to see the girls shed their inhibitions and yell loudly while doing the moves, “Initially they were shy and couldn’t hit the targets properly, didn’t yell as much as the moves needed. But as they improved, they found their voice." She recalls, “They were also really glad to know that the programme was exclusively for girls.”
Today, the girls are able to communicate with other students of the school. And this is the confidence that Rayna had hoped to build.