It is now March, and in Haryana, India winter is thawing, festivals are beginning, and spring is coming to blossom. In India, this is the time when students take final exams and move on to the next grade. And so it is that Lotus Outreach’s own spring blossoms are blooming—the Blossom Bus girls are graduating high school!
In the next month, the very first group of Blossom Bus riders is finishing the twelfth grade. Many of the 34 young women who are finishing this spring are the very first women in their families to complete high school!
Two such young graduates are Priyanka and Renu. Although they are excited for their achievement of graduating high school, they feel disheartened that their parents will probably soon ask them to marry after they have completed school examinations. For many girls in this area of India, marriage is common as early as age 14, but these young adults still yearn for independence and further learning.
With no interest in marriage, Priyanka and Renu asked us to approach their fathers about continuing their education at the women’s university 20 kilometers away.
Twenty years ago in Mewat, only two percent of women belonging to the minority Muslim “Meo” population even attained literacy, but now Priyanka and Renu women want to continue to forgo marriage so that they can go to college – a level of education even their fathers have not seen.
The local women’s college is 20 km away from the Durgapur village, and given the dangerous conditions for women travelling alone, as it is for the other Blossom Bus riders, it is too dangerous for young women to be riding public buses alone.
The two young women hesitate to ask their fathers if they should be allowed to take this almost unprecedented first step towards a post-secondary education. Priyanka’s older sister was married after she had completed high school at age 18, an exceptional enough achievement in a young Meo woman’s life, but Priyanka doubted that her father would allow her to remain unwed and in school. She and Renu both asked us to speak to their fathers on their behalf.
Speaking together with the two young women and their fathers, we proposed that should the girls be allowed to attend college, the Blossom Bus program would assure their safe transport to and from the college. Without any hesitation, both fathers nodded in agreement!
Our surprise at the fathers’ answer must have been obvious, because the fathers explained that they enthusiastically support the education of girls, but they had only been concerned for their daughters’ safety in transit. Their progressive mentality is part of a cultural shift that might not ever have happened in this area if not for Lotus Outreach’s Blossom Bus!
Lotus Outreach is beginning to move the Blossom Bus program forward, providing college transportation to as many of the 34 Blossom Bus graduates as possible.
You can support these girls in shattering the glass ceiling by donating to support the program! Just $10 can cover the transportation costs of one of these girls for her first month of college!
Thank you for everything you do to support Lotus Outreach and women’s education!
Thanks to donors like you through our partner Global Giving, Lotus Outreach’s Blossom Bus is bigger than ever! We just expanded our bus services to 50 new girls from 8 villages in the state of Rajasthan, India. The girls are located four to eight kilometers from the school in rural areas where it is dangerous for a young girl to walk alone. Combined with the 250 girls already using Blossom Bus in the neighboring state of Haryana, the total number of Blossom Bus riders is now 300!
When we reached out to school teachers in the Senior Secondary School of Kaman Block in Bharatpur, they pointed us to a number of students in need of transportation. Among the many students they directed us to was young Pooja.
They told us Pooja was an ideal, hardworking student. She had studied hard to reach eleventh grade but suddenly disappeared from class. It is all too common for girls in this area not to even make it eleventh grade, because they are married away at ages as young as fourteen. Lotus Outreach went to investigate Pooja’s mysterious dropout.
We approached Pooja’s family, and they told us the whole story. Pooja lived with her mother and younger siblings quite far from the school – nearly eight kilometers away – but had been traversing the distance on her bike before harassment by some village boys made it too unsafe.
Biking alone can be hazardous for Meo Muslim girls in this area, as groups of young men lay in wait for them and then attack and sexually assault them. Rather than risk a horrible attack, Pooja reluctantly withdrew from school.
We told Pooja and her mother about the availability of safe transportation through Blossom Bus, and they were ecstatic! Pooja’s dream had been to complete her studies and work professionally so she can support her family in the absence of her father. With the consent of her mother, reassured by the presence of 49 other Rajasthan girls on the bus, Pooja’s dream was revived and now she is back in school!
When women have so much to offer their communities, it is tragic to see their potential unrealized simply because they lack transportation to school. The cost to provide transportation assistance to a young scholar is only $150 for an entire year!
Lotus Outreach is striving to make sure as many girls as possible can get an education. Still, hundreds of girls we have identified are waiting to get on the Blossom Bus. Donate today and help a girl realize her dreams and actualize her fullest potential!
Government schools in the Mewat district of Haryana, India have been highly dysfunctional for at least 20 years. The population is 90% rural and 70% Muslim. While the last decade has seen some improvement in literacy since the 2001 census (when female literacy in Mewat was reported to be less than 3%), the schools are only just coming out of a very dark period in which parents understandably lost their faith in the public education system.
The poor quality of Mewat’s schools is compounded by a conservative Muslim culture and high incidence of violence against women which, when brought together, tends to influence parents to keep their girls cloistered, uneducated, and destined for early marriage. This dynamic is thankfully changing, in large part due to the intervention of the Blossom Bus in concert with our LEARN program, which mobilizes villagers to demand accountability from local education authorities.
Girls travelling to school through the rural countryside face a very real threat of rape and violence. The lack of upper primary schools in each village exacerbates the problem and while we have been lobbying through LEARN for upgrades to full elementary education (grades 1-8) in all villages, many still don’t offer schooling beyond grade five. And if a girl doesn’t have a grade-appropriate school in her village, she simply stops going.
It is for these reasons and more that families in Mewat hesitate to keep their adolescent girls in school, so for the time being we are providing buses and jeeps to ferry girls to and from nearby schools. We now have one big bus with a capacity of 50 girls and two big jeeps with capacity of 20 girls each. All of these vehicles are making two rounds in the morning and afternoon. Jeeps make three rounds each day in the morning and three in the afternoon as one school at Aharwan starts at seven in the morning and closes at 12. All vehicles carry girls from different villages to this school at seven in the morning making two rounds and then carry girls from villages at 8:30 to other schools at Aharwan and Chaisa.
The LEARN program is bringing profound changes to negative attitudes and behavior with respect to education while working deeply within these villages through community meetings, development of School Management Committees, Sports Days, and more. The Blossom Bus is one further component that gives us leverage with families in Mewat and enrollment and retention in higher grades is rapidly increasing as a result. There are now hundreds of girls in grade nine and above from the predominantly Muslim villages in our work area whereas in 2009 – just four short years ago – there were absolutely none. Zero.
We use our local field staff to identify at-risk girls from villages that are somewhat distant from the schools they need to attend. Some of the girls had been in school but would not continue after lower or upper primary (after grade five and grade eight, respectively), and some had dropped out a year or two ago.
All of our Blossom Bus girls are role models and change agents, and continue to actively promote education for girls their communities. Some girls like Afsana — a first generation learner and the first Blossom Bus girl to reach high school–have personally brought a number of girls into higher grades by themselves.
We thank you so much for investing in this project and giving these girls a chance to become model daughters and citizens. To learn more about the Blossom Bus or pledge additional support, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/the-blossom-bus/.
308 girls back in school + breaking news!
Thanks to your generous support, we now have a total of 208 secondary school girls in Haryana, India enrolled in the Blossom Bus program for the 2013-14 academic year. The grade breakdown of these girls is as follows:
The Blossom Bus is also excited to announce service expansion into the Kaman block of the neighboring state of Rajasthan. Beginning July 1, 100 girls enrolled in Jurheda School in Rajasthan will begin receiving daily bus transportation as a result of your donations and our partnership with Girl Effect. Like Mewat, Kaman’s education system is plagued by crumbling infrastructure, lack of oversight, and indifference to girls’ schooling, particularly at the higher grade levels.
We thank you again for enabling us to more than double the reach of the Blossom Bus AND extend this critical service to a new state in India, a landmark event for the program.
Starting at 9:00 am EDT on June 12, donations made to Lotus Outreach projects will be matched 50% by GlobalGiving. We are using this rare opportunity to help us complete our sponsorship campaign for poor university girls in Cambodia at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/gateways/.
The GATE Women and Youth Scholarship (GATEways) project will allow Lotus Outreach to send 100 impoverished Cambodian girls to university, enabling them to rank among the 2% of women in their country to possess tertiary education. By supporting women's higher education, GATEways is working to rebuild the intellectual class in Cambodia which was tragically purged during the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Click here to donate now and your gift will be matched 50%!
The fine print:
Follow our progress on the Bonus Day Leaderboard, which will go live Wednesday morning.
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Since we visited the charismatic Afsana in 2012, she has been busy inspiring other girls in her village to join the Blossom Bus and attend school, and the ripple effect of her efforts is highly evident. There are now six girls from this tiny, middle-of-nowhere village picturesquely sandwiched between ponds filled by underground aquifers and quarry stone for road and wall building.
All of the one- and two-room homes and in this otherwise minimalist setting feature exquisite hues of ochre and mottled green-grey sandstone and slate. I’m sure for the locals these materials are not at all inspiring, as they see their homes as simply an extension of the barren landscape. But for a visitor with an eye for aesthetics and enviro-friendly development, a settlement of single story dwellings blended into the landscape -- with not a single sign board or plastic wrapper in sight -- is the stuff of ecotopias.
We planned to visit some of the girls we had brought back to school through the Blossom Bus and as it turned out, we were delighted to know Afsana was ‘in town’ and we could meet her as well.
Our first stop was to the single room home of year 8 girl Sarita, 16 years-old from Hutchpuri Village where we also met her mother, older brother and his son. Her mother Jumna doesn’t know her age but her oldest son tells us the oldest daughter is 30, so we guess Jumna is around 45. Jumna tells us, “I’ve never been to school, not even for one day. We are poor and became even poorer when we had to sell our buffaloes to marry our daughter and lost the income from selling the milk. We have no land and I now fully understand the importance of education. Girls learn how to speak out and can also get a job and provide a decent income for the family.”
Sarita has three older sisters; one completed grade 5, another grade 6 and the third never went to school at all. Her father does not work and her older brother is married and provides $25 a month so the family has food to eat. Sarita was forced to drop out of school after finishing grade 7 a year ago and tells us, “my family is very poor and they asked me to drop out of school and stay at home. I was very sad and disappointed but could not argue with my parents at the time. During the past year however I’ve been inspired by Afsana. She is now in grade 10, the first from our village, and is very popular and inspiring. She seems very educated to us and speaks well. All the girls look up to her. Afsana lobbied for us to join the Blossom Bus too. I asked my family many times and they finally agreed to meet the driver and they were convinced it was important and that they should let me go back to school. Now I am very happy!”
She further tells us, “the primary school in my village is not good and teachers are not teaching well. I am now attending class 8 at Chaisa village high school some 5 kms away. We leave at 7.30 am and start back at 2.30 pm. It only takes 20 minutes or so for the journey. I really enjoy studying, English and Hindi are my favorite subjects.” When asked about her future dreams she tells us with a faraway look in her eyes, “I want to go to college and study science.”
As we heard Sarita’s report about Afsana being much looked up to and an inspiration to the girls of Hutchpuri, I was delighted that we would be able to meet and catch up with her during our visit.
We gave our regards to an ornery camel as we entered pathways taking us further inside the village to where Afsana was waiting with her mother, her older sister and the sister’s daughter. We all lit up with delight at seeing each other but were surprised they were living in a lean-to and not in their pucca brick dwelling. It turns out the oldest boy has married and now dominates the main house with his wife and growing family while the rest of the ‘girls’ make do under a thatch roof with no walls. It’s kind of shocking to me but Suraj and Shyam Vir, our local staff, feel the location is good and cool during the summer months.
We launched in to our interview with Afsana and asked how she was progressing and what’s been happening with other girls in her community. She tells us she convinced four new girls to join the Blossom Bus and she herself has just completed her year 10 board exams and expects to progress to year 11 in this academic year. The results are not yet out but she tells us, “I expect to get a 1st division pass. I am top scorer of 16 girls and somewhere around the middle if you include the 64 boys at our class level.”
We look around their simple dwelling and note there is a light and ask if that assists Afsana in studying at night to which her mum replies, “ We don’t ask her to do any work, we’re supporting her in her studies and we put up a light and connected electricity to this dwelling so she can read at night.”
When asked about the future, Afsana tells us soberly, “I want to study at college but its 25 kms from here. We will just take it one step at a time. First I have to clear year 12.” We can’t help feeling there is a bright future ahead and feel compelled to help this inspiring young woman as much as possible.
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