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

WELCOMING ANU VAIDYANATHAN ON BOARD WITH EDUCATE GIRLS!

Anu Vaidyanathan is an impressive – and quite intimidating – woman who has already achieved so much at such a young age! Not only is she a bright professor with a PhD, but she is also a successful triathlete who has been traveling around the world for her sports. She uses her notoriety to raise money for causes she believes in and has recently decided to dedicate part of her time and her efforts to Educate Girls.

Let Anu tell us more about her support for our program and her dedication to girls’ education:

  1. Why do you embrace Educate Girls’ cause?

“Education has served to open many doors in my own life and I believe that it could potentially be the cornerstone to differentiate one’s self out of whatever circumstances one finds themselves in. Educate Girls is unique in both its leadership and focused efforts in Rajasthan, where several cultural and socio-economic factors come into play when speaking about educating women. Having taught in rural Punjab, I got a glimpse of the great disparities in opportunities between rural and urban populations, more so for women. I am very excited about working with a great team of thinkers and looking forward to being a part of their efforts.”

2. Can you tell us more about you and how you intend to use your multiple skills to help Rajasthani girls get the education they deserve?

“I have tried my hand at being an educator, an entrepreneur and an athlete, with no holds barred and a very supportive family. It would be a great privilege for me to share the lessons I have learned along the way (in terms of resilience, self-reliance and persistence) with the girls that are a part of Educate Girls’ outreach and also learn about the immediate barriers they face, understand how much of it can be solved by better funding and how much needs a deeper social debate (either in academic or other public forums) and contribute meaningfully to the objectives Educate Girls have set for themselves.”

3. What gets you the most excited/inspired about working with Educate Girls?

“I would be most eager to visit the field and understanding the gaps in the system that pose as barriers. I am also excited about sharing my knowledge about training for marathons and putting together to run on behalf of Educate Girls and potentially raising funds through sustainable programs in the future.”

4. What would you say to the children you’re helping? What message would you like them to keep in mind as they grow into confident young women?

“I would say to them that self-belief would get them further than any teacher or brand-ambassador can! More seriously, I would reinforce the fact that they are unique and worth every effort in helping their own lives along and that hard work would yield benefits.”

We are so happy and proud to welcome Anu on board and have her advocate our cause around the world! With women acting as positive role models, we can see change happening and a bright future for the next generation of girls!

Please read more about Anu’s incredible career and commitment on her website.

Twitter: #educategirls #impact #triathlete

FONDA GONZALES – A JOURNEY INTO INDIA

Young girls eating their midday meal at school
Young girls eating their midday meal at school.

I am a graduate student studying Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. I came into this field of study with a bachelors in Child and Family Studies, and have always had a focus on international work within both of these degrees. As part of my program I knew that I wanted to complete my practicum requirements abroad, and I knew right away that it would be India.

In a country with well over 1.5 billion people, I was intrigued and eager to learn about the many different issues that women and young girls face every day. I wanted to know how the people of India take care of their communities, and help ensure that marginalized communities have access to resources.

Coming to Educate Girls gave me a sense of the hardships and lifestyles that young girls and tribal families live on a day-to-day basis. It gave me the awareness and the knowledge of how education can be so valuable to those who are never quite able to attain it. It also made me realize my own privilege as a college educated woman. My intent was to learn from others and to understand, acknowledge, and validate the experiences of young girls who are facing some very challenging issues.

I visited schools, went to trainings, and met girls from various ages. They made me part of their group and felt comfortable enough to share their story with someone who was a complete stranger. Perhaps in a way I wasn’t a stranger. Maybe they saw our interests and goals were similar, supporting the education of girls, and that is where we had our common ground. Whatever it was I felt included, I felt accepted, and I also did everything to make them feel the same.

There is only so much one can gain from reading about these issues or watching a documentary on child marriage, female illiteracy, or dowry. I wanted exposure. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted my eyes to be open and my life to be changed. I got all of that. This opportunity has enriched my life in so many ways, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful. I have always known that I want to work as a professional abroad, in developing countries, to support inclusion, peace building, and social change. This has only given more meaning to my goals and has encouraged me to continue on with this outlook.

Twitter: #educategirls #education #impact