The Blossom Bus program has been operating in Mewat since 2008. Currently, the program supports 300 girls attending middle school and high school to continue their studies. This August, Blossom Bus has arrived at a new benchmark: transporting 15 high school graduates to college. Moving forward to pursue a tertiary degree of their choice is an accomplishment previously undreamed of. We are deeply honored to be part of their incredible story of triumph.
One of the 15 graduates traveling to college is Zeba. Zeba lives with her parents Akbar and Asmeena, and four siblings in Mamolaka village. Akbar and Asmeena recognize the value of education and all of Zeba’s siblings, one a younger sister, are attending school. But Zeba shares, “I never thought I would be able to go to college. No girl from our village had attended any college till date. The reason is that parents are not comfortable with the hostile environment around the villages and in college.” It is a dream come true for Zeba and her cousin Sanam, who is also a Blossom Bus rider to college.
Zeba and Sanam graduated high school riding on the Blossom Bus. They were disheartened at the prospect of having to suspend their studies, since their parents would never allow them to travel the 20 km from their village to the college town of Palwal. They asked the Blossom Bus operator if there was any possibility of extending the transport facility, and their request was relayed to us.
Once the logistics to expand the program were sorted out, we relayed to the 15 graduates accepted into college that a Blossom Bus would be available to them. The young women were astounded and extremely relieved that their parents were supportive of them joining the women’s-only college. Students and parents were very happy that the Blossom Bus had been expanded to provide them transportation to college.
Zeba and a few other students communicated with Glenn in English and were astounded at their gained ability to communicate clearly to an Australian man in his own language. Zeba said, “I never imagined that one day I would be talking to a foreigner in his own language.” Zeba’s parents and friends also recognize what a remarkable accomplishment this is.
Zeba and Sanam are trailblazers in their family and community. Sanam’s two elder sisters were already married at the age of 14 and 15, and sadly never attended a day of school. Zeba and Sanam’s fathers, who are siblings, get by through working odd jobs and farming on a small piece of land that doesn’t even provide enough grains for the family’s own consumption. Young women of their background achieving a college education will have a profound impact on this family and the entire village. Zeba and Sanam are leading the way as the first women to pursue a tertiary education in a community where tragically many are not able to complete more than five years of primary school. We salute these young women’s striking determination and commitment. And we salute you, Blossom Bus’s generous donors, for your support of this project. Blossom Bus’s accomplishments is the direct fruit of your generosity!
For this Blossom Bus report, we asked our splendid India Project Manager, Mr. Suraj Kumar, to interview two of our 300 Blossom Bus girls. Suraj, very sweetly, chose Manju and Manju! Manju from Dhamaka village and Manju from Bhatt Ki village.
Dhamaka’s Manju very joyfully shared:
"I graduated middle school two years ago. With no high school in my village, I had to drop out. My parents didn't allow me to travel to another village to school.
After a year, I heard about a bus for girls to travel to school. My father was hesitant since he is poor and couldn't afford bus fares. After realizing the bus was free, he allowed me to ride it to school.
My sister Madhu and I now ride the Blossom Bus to school. My father would have married us off by now if we weren't attending school.
We both want to graduate high school, and we'll continue to college if we can."
We do hope both Manju and Madhu are able to continue their education into college, and we are committed to continuing providing them safe transportation to and from college.
Bhatt Ki’s Manju gave us a glimpse of truly what a great accomplishment it is for a girl in rural Mewat to graduate high school:
"I am the eldest of five siblings. Two of my brothers are in high school. One of my sisters is in 6th grade, and the youngest is in 2nd grade.
When I finished elementary school, I got enrolled in a middle school 5 km away from my village. The school gave me a bicycle, but my parents were always worried about my safety. They wanted me to stop studying after middle school.
I heard about the Blossom Bus. After I was able to get a seat on the bus I started attending high school and now I'm about to graduate. I'm the first girl in my extended family to reach high school, since we belong to a lower caste.
My father is so happy. He wants me to join the police force after I graduate. He's already preparing me to become a police officer by taking me on a 3 km run every morning."
It's extraordinary how a simple intervention like Blossom Bus can foster such life opportunities to the young women reached by the program, while also bearing an enormous potential to transform the cultural mindset towards female education and the role of women in society. With the recent heartbreaking news of the sisters abused and killed in Uttar Pradesh, it's becoming increasignly evident that the situation Indian women are facing is of universal concern and it demands action. We at Lotus Outreach are deeply grateful for your support of young Indian women through the Blossom Bus sponsorship.
Now, nothing better than hearing these extraordinary young women tell their stories themselves!
To watch the interview with Manju from Dhamaka, go to: https://vimeo.com/96960633
To watch the interview with Manju from Bhatt Ki, go to: https://vimeo.com/96946382
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/.
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