THE POWER OF A SECOND CHANCE

Meena Bhati with a girl from the village in Pali District, Rajasthan
Meena Bhati with a girl from the village in Pali District, Rajasthan.

Meena Bhati (pictured above with a girl from the village) was born into a Rajput family living in the Chanud Village of Pali district in Rajasthan, India. The Rajput community does not believe in educating a girl child; many families there do not even wish to bring a girl into this world because she is seen as a liability. She grew up in a society where women were treated with inequality in all walks of life. Meena was lucky that her parents gave her the opportunity to study, but only until class 10. She pleaded with her parents to allow her to continue her education after class 10 but she was told to pay attention to household chores and prepare for marriage instead. Soon after she was married, much against her wish.

Little did Meena know, she had another chance waiting for her. Her husband was a teacher, and understood the importance of education. Instead of risking her life with an adolescent pregnancy or being forced to work at home, Meena was re-enrolled in school. Though their parents disapproved, Meena’s husband stood by her side and supported her. She now holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and is taking post-graduate courses in Hindi and Rural Development.

Meena joined Educate Girls 6 years ago, and is our longest-serving employee. She has risen through the ranks and is now a Field Communications Manager. Many of our staff and volunteers, as well as people in the community, look up to her. Though inspiring, Meena’s story is not the norm.

There are 3.7 million out-of-school girls in India. Over 50% of girls in India between the ages of 10 and 13 drop out of school. The state of Rajasthan has 9 of India’s 26 worst gender gap districts in education, where 68% of girls are married below the legal age and 15% are married below the age of 10. Of girls who are enrolled in school in Rajasthan, only 1 in 100 will reach class 12, and 40% of girls leave class before class 5. Many girls are not as fortunate as Meena, but they still deserve a chance.

Educate Girls finds out-of-school girls, enrolls them, and gives them an opportunity to realize their potential. Our holistic approach to education mobilizes communities to take a stand against gender disparity. It involves parents, schools, community leaders, local government, and our own village-based volunteers (Team Balika) to ensure increased enrollment and retention of girls in schools, and improved learning outcomes for all students. We believe that by empowering village communities to prioritize education, more girls can be educated at a larger scale. If more girls are educated, then their health, income levels and overall livelihoods improve, having residual effects on the surrounding community and society as a whole. Meena’s story is an example of what can be achieved when a girl is given a chance to be educated.

Our goal is to improve access and quality of education for around 4 million children living in underserved communities in India by 2018.

Here is a video (in Hindi) of Meena speaking about her ongoing work with Educate Girls.

Twitter: #educategirls #impact #teambalika

REACHING OUT FOR HELP: THE STORY OF ANJALI AND RANI

Anjali learning at school in Rajasthan.
Anjali learning at school in Rajasthan.

Anjali is a 9 year old from Rajasthan, India. She loves drawing, watching movies and painting her hands with beautiful henna designs. She goes to school every day and her parents support her desire for education. Anjali is lucky because not every girl in her village has the opportunity to study.

Her cousin, Rani, who is just one year older, got married last summer. In a couple of years, Rani will leave her parents’ home to move with her husband’s family. In Anjali’s school, there is a girls’ parliament called the Bal Sabha (Girls Council). During Bal Sabha sessions, young girls are taught life skills. They have the opportunity to speak up about their concerns, and by doing so, they gain confidence. Anjali really likes being part of the Bal Sabha.

She particularly enjoys the dance and theatre performances they put together. Two months ago, the Bal Sabha girls presented a short play in front of their classmates. Anjali was playing a Team Balika Member visiting a house where a young girl was about to get married. Anjali’s character had to convince the parents to stop the wedding from happening and to send their daughter back to school instead.

The issue of child marriage is quite problematic in the region, and Anjali had to use many arguments to explain why girls should get educated instead of being married off so early. The story had a great impact on the audience and many students had something to recount at the end of the performance.

Since Educate Girls started its program six years ago, almost 11,000 girls have been trained as Bal Sabha leaders in the districts where Educate Girls works. These young girls grow up educated and confident, with knowledge and skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Since the play was performed, Anjali talked to one of Educate Girls’ volunteers. She mentioned her cousin’s marriage and the fact that Rani didn’t go to school any more. Our volunteer has been to Rani’s house several times to talk to her parents. After much persuasion, they have finally agreed to send their daughter back to school until the time comes where she will leave their home. Now Rani and Anjali walk to school together, play and do homework in the evening.

Twitter: #educategirls #impact #genderequality

EDUCATE GIRLS SHOWED THE RIGHT PATH: NAVLI’S STORY

Navli Kumari, an incredible Team Balika from Sirohi district, Rajasthan.
Navli Kumari, an incredible Team Balika from Sirohi district, Rajasthan.

I am Navli Kumari from Abu Road Block in Sirohi district, Rajasthan. I was fortunate to have been able to live with my father in Abu Road, a relatively developed area that facilitated my studies. Sadly, after my father passed away, I had to move back to my native village which is an Adivasi area where girls do not have any access to education. In fact, there wasn’t a single school there. I was the only girl in the village who had studied till the 12th grade. It was very disheartening for me to see that most girls were deprived of even primary education. Seeing them, I often wondered how I could use my education for the betterment of my community but saw no existing avenue. I desperately wanted to see a school building in my village.

One day, an Educate Girls Field Coordinator came looking for me. He mentioned that he was in search of an educated person in my village who could volunteer to bring back girls to school and handhold them through their learning process. He told me that I would fit the role perfectly and then gave me deeper insight into the organization and its interventions – this was my first formal introduction to Educate Girls.

I was highly motivated by Educate Girls’ methodology, but I realized that this was a challenging proposition. Educate Girls’ model is based on partnership with the government and revolves around a core element – Team Balika or community youth leaders who volunteer with the organization. I chose to become a Team Balika because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in my village. When I first went door-to-door trying to convince parents to send their daughters to school, many doors were slammed in my face and many abuses were hurled at me. But I knew I had to be patient and persistent. Gradually parents allowed their daughters to step out in uniform.

I have been a Team Balika for 4 years now and take pride in saying that with help from Educate Girls I have enrolled 46 girls in school and stopped 2 child marriages. After many years of unsuccessful attempts, a school has finally been set-up in my village. The support and creative training offered by Educate Girls has achieved dual purpose in my life. Not only has there been an increase in the confidence & learning levels of the girls who are being enrolled, I too have been empowered. I’ve been trained in essential skills and taught a solution-finding and constructive approach to dealing with every situation. From a place where achieving my dreams seemed impossible, to where I am today – contesting as a candidate in the local elections and being viewed as a leader with potential –Educate Girls has been the wind in my sails.

Twitter: #educategirls #teambalika #impact

I FOR IN-LAWS

I for In-Laws Child Bride Poster
I for In-Laws Child Bride Poster.

‘I for In-Laws’ signifies how child marriage makes a young girl lose her childhood and also her identity. It is worrisome that, if the present trends continue, 100 million girls across the world will be married over the next decade. That would mean 25,000 girls being married every day for the next 10 years.

68% of girls in Rajasthan are married before the age of 18. They are torn away from their parents and compelled to obey their in-laws.

Our project ‘Child Brides: Send them to School Instead’ is our effort to send girls to school. We work in Pali and Jalore districts in Rajasthan where we stress on education and work towards the prevention of child marriage.

Join our ‘Send Child Brides to School’ campaign and support us to send every girl child to school!

Twitter: #educategirls #stopchildbrides #genderequality