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.
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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.
A special thanks to all of our “girl champs” for your generous efforts during the November 2012 Girl Effect Challenge. Though we were unable to edge into the top six, our supporters mobilized to raise over $10,000 for our Blossom Bus program throughout the month, which will allow us to double the number of Blossom Bus riders to 300 beginning this April.The story of 17 year-old Manju underscores the power of an intervention as seemingly minor as providing a ride to school. Members of a scheduled caste, Manju’s family of seven is landless and poor, and their survival depends solely on the labor of the father Vijay who paints houses in nearby villages. Though Manju faced teasing from her upper-caste classmates, her father was determined to overcome class barriers and felt strongly that keeping Manju in school would prove a catalyst for this change. The Blossom Bus identified Manju and 13 other lower-caste girls in her village as "high priority" given their vulnerability to dropping out of school, and all 14 girls are now attending grade 10 with daily bus transportation.Manju will graduate to upper secondary school this year and is determined to finish high school--and continue on to college if possible. Manju will likely be part of the first cohort of a planned extension of the Blossom Bus project, which will begin transporting girls transitioning to high school this year. The Blossom Bus will also be expanding to the border with neighboring Rajasthan, a high-need region to which our LEARN education watchdog program recently expanded.We offer our heartfelt thanks to you for helping Manju and her peers in their uphill battle to pursue education in a country that was recently reported as the G20’s “worst country to be a woman.” With your help 300 young women will be able to achieve the promise of education, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty for themselves, their families and the countless generations that will follow them.To read more about this project or pledge additional support, please visit www.blossombus.org.
Lotus Outreach and the Blossom Bus are in the final hours of the second annual Girl Effect Challenge. Victory in this challenge would mean we could double the number of Blossom Bus girls next year to 300, bringing new hope to 150 girls that have been forced to drop out of school and are at-risk of becoming child brides.The only way we can guarantee victory and continue our invaluable partnership with Girl Effect in 2013 is through your vote.A donation of just $10 to the project = one vote for the Blossom Bus, and there are two simple ways to cast your vote: Donate online at www.blossombus.org-or-Text "GIVE 5307" to 80088 to donate $10*You can track our progress on the Girl Effect Challenge leaderboard here.So far this year, 150 girls have received rides to and from school each day as a result of the tremendous outpouring of love, support and energy we received from you all in the 2011 challenge. 99% of these girls graduated to a higher grade level this spring, with many making history in their village high schools. We know you can help us cross the finish line again and enable these bright young women to continue blazing trails in their communities.If you have already donated toward the challenge this month, thank you!!! Please continue to be a voice for these amazing girls by telling your friends, family and colleagues about this challenge via email, Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to ask them to donate $10 to cast their vote too.
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