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

RE-ENROLLED AND RE-INSPIRED

It is not uncommon in India, particularly in rural societies, for girls to leave school before they reach the 5th grade, as early marriage and domestic duties are prioritized over a complete education. This situation almost became a permanent reality for 12-year-old Meena.

Meena’s village, Nokh, is without a local primary school and after several years of traveling a great distance on foot to attend the closest school, Meena’s parents, deciding this an unsafe journey for a young girl, asked Meena to stay at home and help them with domestic and farming duties.

Meena spent 2 years out of school and describes it as a “very bad” time in her life. Meena had thoroughly enjoyed her short-lived education and, as a dropout she said, she was constantly thinking about her studies and the life she would not have as a result of terminating them prematurely. Consequently, she says, her work at home and on the farms suffered, as she could not fully commit herself to her duties.

Now enrolled and studying at the Raipur KGVB, Meena is fully committed to her studies, to her teachers and friends as a Bal Sabha cultural secretary and to the pursuit of becoming a doctor.

As with an increasing number of girls in Pali, an Educate Girls Field Coordinator persuaded Meena’s parents of the benefits of education in the safe surroundings of the residential KGVB. Meena tells us that when she returns home for holidays it is now her parents who are her greatest support and the first to encourage her to apply herself to her studies and pursue her ambitions.

Twitter: #educategirls #impact #genderequality