This is a guest blog from Room to Read's Global Director of Girls' Education, and provides insight into the global landscape of girls' education and Room to Read's role in this landscape. A student from Room to Read's Girls' Education program in India is featured in the piece, alongisde information about the program as a whole.
Nearly 1 in 3 adolescent girls in South Asia are married or in union. In Zambia, 61% of adolescent girls justify wife beating. In Bangladesh, of all young women of secondary school age only 47% attend secondary school. We are overwhelmed by daunting statistics and stories of gender-based violence and discrimination playing out on the world stage, reminding us of the long road ahead to gender equality.
However, increasingly we are also hearing stories of transformation and the success of determined young women who overcome odds, rise above injustice and inspire action. The rural entrepreneur who not only lifts her family out of poverty but stimulates her local economy as well. The brave young woman who insists on attending school despite cultural traditions and successfully negotiates against early marriage, proving her value to her family. In my work as an advocate for girls’ education across Asia and Africa, I have met hundreds of these remarkable young women and there are thousands more out there just like them—young women who have commanded attention and refused to remain silent. I have seen what is required to incite determination, confidence and pride in deserving young girls. There is no silver bullet solution to the world’s gender inequality. There is, however, a crucial step we can take to begin turning the tide—give girls a platform and amplify their voices and soon, each story of empowerment will no longer be the exception, but the rule.
In many societies around the world, the current generation of young women are paving a new path for themselves and those that will follow. They are developing skills such as self-awareness and empathy, communication, decision making and problem solving, critical and creative thinking and how to cope with emotions and stress. These skills will be employed to navigate many areas of a young woman’s life such as her daily interactions, her education, her health, her rights and protection, her social responsibilities and her future. When coupled with academic skills, these life skills are what empower girls to develop into women that will challenge inequality, change perceptions of women, and expand the opportunities for future generations.
It is important that girls are given opportunities to share their stories of determination and resilience with their communities and with the world. This month three graduates of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program will travel from their rural villages in India, Vietnam and Cambodia to address audiences in Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney and personalize how an investment in girls’ education can effect indelible change. These young women have surmounted physical, emotional and societal challenges to achieve their dreams of an education. Nisha, from India, convinced her illiterate parents to let her continue with lower secondary school even while running her father’s tea shop after he was paralyzed in an accident. She managed to run the small business, pay her older brother’s school fees, and overcome injuries from a serious road accident herself. Nisha is currently pursuing a Bachelors in Humanities at a well-known university in Uttarakhand. Tay Thi, from Vietnam is in her last year of teacher training college after facing challenges to her education that included her parents burning her textbooks… twice! She argued that she’d be better able to help the family of nine with an education, and went hungry while defying her parents and continuing in school. And, Sum Sin, from Cambodia has overcome extreme poverty and social exclusion to become a primary school teacher. Sum Sin’s mother, who sells fish in the local market, lost her husband and four other children. She couldn’t be more proud of her daughter who has always believed in education and is now educating the next generation of learners from her village.
Nisha, Tay Thi and Sum Sin believe that with the opportunity to pursue an education comes a unique responsibility to pay it forward. Tay Thi has served as a guest speaker and shared her experiences in overcoming difficulties with junior alumnae of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program during the program’s annual alumnae gathering. She has also contributed to an advice handbook written by senior alumnae for new graduates of the program, helping those that follow in her footsteps chart their own paths to success and happiness. They serve as excellent role models to younger girls in their own communities and this will soon to expand to include communities overseas.
As the dialogue around women’s rights and girls’ education heightens, particularly on International Women’s Day, let us remember that there are millions of young women just like Nisha, Tay Thi and Som Sin, all with a story to tell. The more we listen to their experiences of struggle and of triumph, the more they will inspire us all to see the strength, potential and contributions of women.
Photo caption: After overcoming adversity to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, Sum Sin now passes on the power of education to students in her village.
Below is a story from our Girls’ Education program in India, featuring a special Life Skills session organized for girls in the program in Delhi. Thanks to generous donors like you, Room to Read is able to provide these unique, valuable experiences to girls who otherwise may not have had these opportunities.
Since the start of this project, GlobalGiving donors have raised over $26,000 for Girls’ Education in India. We are so grateful to supporters like you who make this work possible. Thank you!
Despite a light drizzle, the air of excitement was palpable as 30 girls from Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program in Delhi arrived at a special life skills session. Anxious to begin the day’s activities, the girls lined up neatly to meet their mentors for the day—female drivers employed by Sakha Cab Company.
Today, the eager young students would learn the rules of the road, basic vehicle maintenance and, of course, how to drive. In large cities like New Delhi, which can be unsafe for women, the ability to drive is more than just a practical mode of transportation—it is a key to independence.
For the special life skills session, Room to Read India partnered with Sakha, a social enterprise that provides employment opportunities to women as drivers for other women, corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They also provide a women’s taxi service throughout Delhi that will eventually be owned by the female drivers themselves.
Sakha’s professional drivers were equally excited to work with our Girls’ Education program participants, and began the day with a lively question and answer session in which they candidly shared the individual challenges they had faced in striving to achieve their career aspirations, and how they overcame them. “I used to be very shy, but learning to drive has given me so much confidence—I am a different person now,” shared Chandni, a 22-year-old Sakha employee.
Next up was an overview of vehicle parts and care as well as a test ride courtesy of the female drivers. Squeals of joy could be heard all around!
It wasn’t only the girls, though, that learned something. They brought with them some of Room to Read’s local-language books to share with the women they met, including one that teaches traffic regulations to children. “One of the biggest regrets that I have is that I couldn’t finish my education,” said Chandni to the girls. “Room to Read has given you the wonderful opportunity to complete your education, so make use of it!”
Name: Neha Age: 13Region: Chauli, Jharkhand
Neha is a 7th grade student at High School Chauli. Prior to this year, Neha was a problematic student – starting fights in her classes and making rude comments about the other children. When teachers and classmates would try and correct Neha or help her to figure out a mistake on a math or English assignment, Neha would fly into a rage and often leave the classroom. In one instance, in her Home Science lab, she abused her lab partners so much that they left the classroom out of fear of being around the young girl. Then one day a student alerted a Social Mobilizer - a female mentor who provides support to girls in the program - about Neha’s behavior, explaining that Neha made students afraid to come to school and distracted them during the school day. When the Social Mobilizer spoke to Neha, she seemed defensive and unable to really take responsibility for her actions and her behavior.
Soon after this conversation, our team visited Neha’s home and spoke to the girl and her mother about Neha’s outbursts in the classroom and the ways in which her comments were hurting other students in her class. The Social Mobilizer invited Neha’s mother to attend life skills workshops with her daughter where our team led the two women in role playing exercises to highlight the impact of Neha’s current behavior. After one of these workshops, Neha broke down crying and explained that she suffers from a chronic illness and that most of her behavior is fueled by the pain and discomfort she is in. Upon hearing this news, our team worked with Neha’s mother to figure out how to address this underlying cause of Neha’s behavior, addressing both the physical and emotional needs.
Now in Grade 7, Neha’s behavior has improved dramatically and her classmates enjoy being around her. When she does act out, Neha takes responsibility for her actions and apologizes almost immediately. Neha is even helping younger students with their coursework, tutoring these children and encouraging them to continue with their studies. Our team is extremely proud of Neha’s progress, and we look forward to tracking her continued achievements.
This report features Girls’ Education program student Shabnam, an 11th grade student who lives in Rajasthan, India. Shabnam was interviewed for our most recent Girls’ Education yearbook. You can view the whole yearbook here. The stories in this yearbook are done in an interview style, and girls are interviewed by someone from their community. For this story, Shabnam was interviewed by Noor Mohammed, Founder of the Alwar Mewat Institute for Education and Development (AMIED). This story is a great example of the impact that the Girls' Education program has on both its participants and their communities.
In the Mewat region of India, where Shabnam lives, the female literacy rate is only 6 percent. Most girls in Mewat do not receive a formal education and are expected instead to remain at home—looking after siblings or their own children. Shabnam made history in 2011 when she became the first girl in her village to graduate from 10th grade.
She joined school after completing an intensive bridge course set up by Room to Read and our local partner organization, AMIED, and she has been thriving ever since.
Noor Mohammed: How would you describe the village you grew up in?
Shabnam: In Mewat, education is hardly given any importance. Girls are not allowed to study at all. The general mindset of the community is that girls have to look after household affairs and bear children; school is never prioritized. At least, not until you and AMIED started working here—visiting our homes and talking to the elders in the community.
NM: So tell me, how have things changed now?
Shabnam: Well, we definitely have more girls coming to school. Also, no one in the community ever wanted to talk to our didis (social mobilizers). Now they are treated with great respect.
NM: What about your own family? Do they support your education?
Shabnam: My parents work on the farm all day and there are six children in my family— three boys and three girls, so there is a lot of housework to keep me busy in addition to my studies. I have to clean the house, cook, look after my siblings and help my mother feed the buffaloes in the field.
My mother has supported my education the most. Neighbors have told her that letting me go to a co-educational school and interact with boys is against the conventions of Islam, but she always supports me. During my 10th grade final exams, my father was completely opposed to letting me travel the 20 km (12.4 mi) to the exam center. He said I needed to finish my household responsibilities first, and my brothers refused to help out on the farm if he continued to allow me to study. It was very difficult to negotiate with them and explain how life changing these exams could be for me. The results would determine my admission into engineering college, and I had imagined a new future for myself—one where I would earn money, have a job and be able to take care of myself. It has taken many years to convince my father, but slowly he has started to come around.
NM: Now that you are in the engineering college, what is a typical day like for you? Has anything changed?
Shabnam: The biggest change is that I livealone in a one-bedroom apartment. I wakeup, cook food for the day and wash myclothes. Then I study for an hour and leavefor my engineering classes, which are aboutan hour’s walk from home.Classes end at 3:30 p.m., and I usuallystop by the market on my way home tobuy vegetables. Then I finish householdchores and try to study before work. I don’tget a chance to see my parents very oftenbecause the village is far away.
NM: You are so independent. Are you scared of anything in the future?
Shabnam: There is no fear. A lot of girls didn’t get an education before, but now things are changing, and girls have an opportunity to prove themselves. I do think sometimes about what would happen if I were not able to study. You know, my family sacrifices a lot to pay the rent for my apartment. I just pray that I am able to finish my education. I have this daydream of being in an office, sitting in front of a computer!
NM: So what exactly would you say education means to you?
Shabnam: Education is the tool through which I can become independent in my life—both financially and emotionally. Through education, I can judge right from wrong. It helps me solve problems, express my opinions and stand up to my brothers and father. I can tell them, “look at what I am capable of achieving!”
NM: What are your plans after graduation? More school? Work? Marriage?
Shabnam: I will get my bachelor’s degree in technology and become an engineer. After school, I will pursue a government job so that I can help build facilities and infrastructure in my village. I know a lot of girls look up to me for inspiration now, so I feel I have a responsibility to succeed in life and help them. When I am an engineer, people in the community will be convinced that girls can study and have a right to build a future for themselves.
During the reporting period, the Girls' Education program team continued implementing the activities and program components reported on in our previous GlobalGiving reports. In this report, we want to deeply thank Global Giving donors for your support and generosity by sharing a story from the field. This story features B., a Girls' Education program participant in India.
For years, B. Beemamma wanted to become an officer with the Indian Police Services, but her father, a daily wage laborer, had decided she would get married. When B. was 11 years old and in the 6th grade, we launched our Girls’ Education Program at Zilla Parishad High School, her school in Mushrifa village.
From the beginning, our field team began implementing GEP activities such as providing material support (school fees, uniforms, notebooks, etc.), remedial education, tutoring, medical camps and meetings for parents and the community. The social mobilizer who looks after the GEP girls in Mushrifa got to know B. and the challenges she faced. She made home visits, met her parents and encouraged them to participate in the quarterly parents’ meetings. As a result, B.’s parents have attended every one of these meetings which are a vital component of our program. It is during these meetings that parents learn about the importance of girls’ education, the adverse effects of child marriages, and the impact of the program on girls in their village.
As B. thrived in her studies, actively participating in the science and math fairs, life skills workshops, and other competitions, her parents truly began understanding their daughter’s interest and promising future—so much so that B.’s father decided to encourage her to continue her education. Her older brother, a university student, helps with her studies and serves as one of B.’s greatest inspirations. She is now one of the top students in her 8th grade class and, very recently, with the encouragement and support of our field team, won first prize in a singing competition.
Your support and generosity is helping provide resources and opportunities to girls just like B. Thank you!
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