My name is Padma. I’m 21 years old and live in a small village in Pali District, Rajasthan, India. My journey till now, even during these young years, has been filled with harsh realities – things I never expected could happen to me.
When I was in the 8th grade, my parents got me married along with my elder brothers and sisters. This custom of getting brothers and sisters mass married is common in my region to cut down on wedding costs. While boys are often given the freedom to continue studying after marriage, girls are expected to stay home. My father told my in-laws that he wouldn’t send me to their house for at least a year after the marriage, so I could at least finish the school year. Shortly though, my in-laws started pressuring my father to send me to their home and finally my father relented.
At the beginning my new family members were fine and I was learning to adjust in my new home, but eventually I started experiencing a change in the way I was being treated. Fights were picked on the smallest and silliest of things and household chores were increasingly being heaped on me. I was sent alone to the jungle daily in order to collect wood to be made into charcoal and sold. I had to use that same wood for cooking each night. Soon I was being regularly abused and beaten. My husband was fed up with having me around; he saw me as more of a nuisance than a wife. He threatened to leave home or commit suicide if I continued to stay with him and so my father-in-law begged me to leave.
Believing that I would be taking a step to make my in-laws happy, I left and returned to my parent’s home. I didn’t tell my parents of my situation or that I couldn’t go back to my husband. I thought I finally had a few moments of peace but this calm didn’t last long. Neighbors and other members of the community had started questioning my whereabouts. Rumors spread that I had run away. Having a runaway daughter-in-law made my father-in-law appear weak and unable to control his household. A few days after I had left, he came to my home with a few others and beat me up. They also beat up my mother and younger brother. Though they did not want me to return, attacking my family and me was punishment for bringing shame to the family. My father vowed to never let me return to their home. That’s when I knew I had the opportunity to start fresh. I got back to my studies, completed both my 10th and 12th standards and pursued a Bachelor of Education degree. I’m grateful for the support of my parents and their good decision to not forcibly send me back to my husband. I know many girls don’t get this support and lead miserable lives.
I was approached by an Educate Girls Field Coordinator to become a Team Balika. Since I was among the most educated in the community, they thought I would be a good fit. I went to a recruitment meeting and learned about the opportunity to make a difference in my community, and to help girls who may not otherwise have the opportunities that I had. I saw Team Balika as an opportunity to help my community to realize the downside to marrying girls young, and the importance of education and teaching a girl her rights. Today, it’s been a year since I’ve become a Team Balika and I’ve learned so much. I have the confidence that I can achieve anything I put my heart to and my sincere desire is that no one has to suffer what I did. Perhaps if I had been more educated and my parents too understood all our rights, I wouldn’t have taken the abuse as I did. As a Team Balika I find myself in a position of influence and an agent of change. I have become more confident and am more informed of my rights. As I speak to students, parents and teachers I know I am reaching my community in a way that will shape our future for good. Educate Girls has had a profound effect on me, and I am happy that I can be a part of such a wonderful organization!
Team Balika is comprised of over 5000 community volunteers who work as champions for girls’ education and catalysts for school reform in the worst gender-gap districts of Rajasthan. They boost enrollment, retention and learning outcomes for all students and have so far helped to enroll over 70,000 out-of-school girls in school. Team Balika is trained in community mobilization & outreach, CLT techniques, and leadership. They are often between the ages of 16-25 and are among the most educated members of their communities.
Your donation to Educate Girls helps us to keep impacting the lives of not only the girls we enroll in school, but also of the many volunteers, staff, and community members who work tirelessly to further the cause of girl child education in India. Please donate now on Global Giving to help our team send more girls back to school.
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Meena was born into a Rajput family living in the Chanud Village of Pali district in Rajasthan, India. The Rajput community doesn’t 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 and are motivated by her passion to help impact the lives of girls in her community and to give them the same chance that she was given to succeed.
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, involving 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.
Educate Girls' goal is to improve access and quality of education for around 4 million children living in underserved communities in India by 2018.
Please donate now on Global Giving to send more girls back to school.
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 and mistreated 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 of the house. 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 are subjected to work in homes where they are susceptible to abuse, adolescent pregnancy and often have no freedom or 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 and living on the street when our Team Balika member, Sharda, found her. Our Team Balika, comprised of over 1500 community volunteers, are the champions of our cause. Sharda counseled Seema and helped her find hope in the midst of her struggles. With Sharda's help, Seema was enrolled in a government-funded residential school for girls where she went on to clear 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, create school improvement plans and influence the local education system. Furthermore, Team Balika helps increase learning outcomes in children 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 rejuvenate government schools and 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. The creative teaching techniques that they use to improve learning levels has benefited about 6,00,000 children. Our goal is to improve access and quality of education for around 4 million children living in underserved communities in India by 2018.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the child
A couple of months ago, we set up a drawing contest in the schools of Pali, in Rajasthan. Our staff asked students to draw their thoughts on education. Most drawings featured child labor and underage marriage.
One of the most striking drawings was done by 9-year-old Gauri. On the left she crayoned a boy and a girl walking around a sacred fire, the symbol of Hindu weddings. The girl is wearing a traditional outfit: a lehenga and a veil. On her chest you can see a mangal sutra, which is the necklace worn by married women – the Indian equivalent of a wedding band.
Both kids seem unhappy and even though they are holding hands, their faces look stern and helpless.
On the right hand side of the paper, Gauri drew the same children, smiling happily. They are wearing school uniforms and walking towards a building where the words 'Rajasthan High School' are written.
Gauri’s drawing is an insightful representation of what young girls endure in Rajasthan. In this rural state, 68% of the girls are married before the legal age and 40% drop out before reaching 5th grade. Education is a right in India, and child marriage is not legal any more – nonetheless old customs are long to die. If we want to change this, mentalities have to evolve and parents have to understand the importance of educating their daughters instead of marrying them off so early.
This is the reason why Educate Girls interacts directly with the communities to provide quality education for all and to give girls better opportunities in life.
Our Team Balika, a cohort of 1,600 volunteers, works tirelessly to leverage the learning outcomes in the three districts where our program is implemented. They train parents to form School Management Committees in order to assess their schools and help teachers and school masters introduce creative learning techniques into the classrooms.
By empowering villages and giving them tools to improve their local schools, literacy rates climb up by 25%!
This month we are celebrating our 6th-year anniversary and are proud to have enrolled more than 50,000 girls into school during that time. If things go as planned, gender inequality will eventually become history in India.
When this happens, girls like Gauri will not draw gloomy pictures of child marriages anymore.
If you want to contribute, support our program by telling your friends and family about our work. We are also grateful for any donation you can make:
Thank you for your generosity!
Let us introduce Mangi, one of our Team Balika volunteers. Mangi is a young woman with dreams of her own. She lives in Rajasthan where she fights for girls’ education in her community.
Mangi was married off at the age of 10. She had to drop out of school to move in with her in-laws. Soon enough her alcoholic illiterate husband started abusing her, and she had no choice but to run back to her parents home. At that point, Mangi decided to get back to her studies and managed to complete high school. Thanks to her strong will and her parents’ support, she now attends university.
Of course it isn’t easy. She has to defy everyone in the village. In rural India it is not common for a young woman to travel alone – even if it means only 10 kilometers to attend college.
People comment on her behavior and her in-laws complain about her attitude. She tries to fight and to speak up – but it is not easy to be heard. The entire society is patriarchal and child marriage is still customary.
Mangi sums up the situation: “A couple has to bear children soon after marriage and they have to be sons, not daughters! If it is a daughter, they wish for her to die at birth! And if she still manages to stay alive, there will be no education for her. Education is only for boys.”
Mangi is a strong believer of equal opportunities for women. This is the reason why she joined Educate Girls’ team and now advocates for girls’ education. She is part of our amazing Team Balika and works towards rejuvenating the government schools in her village.
Thanks to volunteers like Mangi, 52,000 girls have been enrolled. We are present in more than 5,500 schools in Rajasthan. Our goal is now to expand to 37,000 schools in more than 15 districts of India by the end of 2018. To do so, we need your help!
Please donate on Global Giving to send child brides back to school:
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