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

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

Seema, our hard working Team Balika, from Pali District in Rajasthan
Seema, our hard working Team Balika, from Pali District in Rajasthan.

Seema is a 16 year old girl from Pali, Rajasthan. She lost her father at the age of 11, a tragedy that people in her village blamed her for, saying she was cursed. Seema was miserable. To add to her despair, she was married off to an abusive alcoholic who was twice her age. Eventually, he threw her out onto the street. Seema’s situation, though heart-breaking, is not unique.

68% of girls in Rajasthan are married before the legal age of 18. These girls often drop out of school and begin to work in homes where they are susceptible to abuse, adolescent pregnancy and often have no decision making power. 9 out of 26 ‘gender gap’ districts in India are in Rajasthan, where 40% of girls drop out of school before they reach 5th grade.

Seema was alone, living on the street when our Team Balika member, Sharda, found her. Our Team Balika are the champions of our cause with over 1500 volunteers working towards rejuvenating government schools and improving learning outcomes. Sharda counseled Seema to help her learn to face her struggles with confidence. With Sharda’s help, Seema gained the courage to re-enroll in school, where, after studying for two years, she passed her 10th grade exams with flying colors.

Today, Seema herself is a proud member of Team Balika. She works with Sharda to enroll out-of-school girls, support school teachers, and conduct life skills education sessions. Seema’s ability to overcome her situation is an inspiration.

Our Team Balika members are crucial elements of the Educate Girls model. They go door to door to convince families to prioritize girls’ education. They mobilize communities to form School Management Committees, giving community members a platform to assess schools and influence the local education system. Furthermore, Team Balika helps to increase learning outcomes by working directly with teachers and headmasters to introduce creative learning techniques in classrooms. Their efforts on the ground are not only essential to our success as an organization, but create lasting impact on the lives of people in the communities they serve.

Through the efforts of Team Balika, Educate Girls has enrolled over 59,000 girls. Our goal is to improve access and quality of education for around 4 million children living in underserved communities in India by 2018.

Twitter: #educategirls #impact #genderequality

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