This September 4 we met with our 58 Blossom Bus riders, their parents and the heads of five villages at Mankaki school in Hathin block, Mewat for a community Sports Day to celebrate the impact of education. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and the sports activities were rained out, but those present took the opportunity to gather and discuss the wonderful benefit of the Blossom Bus project and their hopes for the future of girls’ education in Mewat.
The families told us that the Blossom Bus is now well known throughout Mewat, and it would easily be filled by girls from every village if we could meet the demand. The village head of Mankaki shared his gratitude for what he called a “trend-setter service” which he believes will change the face of Mewat. (Mankaki is the home of our beneficiary Anjum, who wrote a stunning manifesto of women’s rights a few months ago.)
Parents and village heads alike spoke about how important the project is for girls who never thought they would go to school past grade 8, since parents consider it unsafe for their daughters to walk four to five kilometers to neighboring villages where the only secondary schools are available. Project Manager Suraj Kumar (affectionately called “Uncle” in the villages) acknowledged the support of all the villagers, and thanked them for the tremendous faith and trust they showed in our staff.
Suraj also took the opportunity to discuss more broadly the Right to Education Act of 2009, effective April 1, 2010, which guarantees free quality education for all Indian children up to grade 8. He asked those present to raise demand for school transport, which should rightly be provided by the government to girls so that their right to education can be realized.
This fall, we will be expanding to provide bus transportation to 100 young women on five buses to attend secondary school. The villagers and Blossom Bus riders agreed that girls now studying in grade 9 and 10 are the first in their villages to reach these grades – and that prior to the project they could not have achieved this dream in a district which posted a 2 percent female literacy rate in India's 2001 census.
The 58 Blossom Bus riders were given school bags and uniforms, as were 40 other girls from Mankaki village for encouragement. All children present were given sweets, a rare treat, as a token of appreciation for their participation. Our warmest and sincerest thanks to each and every one of you, who have helped bring this remarkable project to life.
My name is Arastun. I am 16 years old live in Mankaki village of Mewat. I was studying in grade seven when I fell down at home and injured my spine. One of my legs started getting weak, and walking even 100 meters was a great pain in my legs and arms. I was limping badly and it was impossible to walk three kilometers to the school where I was studying.
My father, a poor man working as a farm laborer, took me to many doctors and hospitals but I could not be cured completely. The bigger casualty of the accident was my education as I could not walk to school. While under treatment, the teachers at my school agreed to keep me enrolled in the school and even promoted me to grade eight last year, but I was very sad as my father being a poor man could not think of a transport for me to travel to school. My father wanted me to study, and even my grandfather tried every possibility to keep me in school without a success.
One day my grandfather came home smiling and told me that I can go to school. I could not understand the reason behind the smile on my grandfather’s face but was wondering how can this be possible? The next day a van stopped in front of my house and I was asked to board it with help of two of my classmates. I thought I was going to school in a van hired by parents of some other students in our village, and maybe this was a one-day complementary ride to make me happy. I asked my classmates and was informed that the van was being provided by one organization called Lotus Outreach and will be carrying all of us to school every day.
I could not believe my luck and was so happy to going to school even though I could not walk. Children in villages of Mewat cannot think of these types of services being made available for free.
This is a blessing for me personally. I am in grade nine now, down because of my illness but not out. I sometimes feel depressed as I am disabled, but very happy to go to school, meet my energetic classmates - friends who always encourage and help me in forgetting that I have some disability. I want to go to school, study as long as I am alive. I do not know for how long I can survive as I am living on medication, but I am happy that I am alive and in school, lively with my schoolmate friends.
Long Live Blossom Bus.
The marks came in yesterday for our Blossom Bus students' first set of exams, and we’re pleased to say the results are astounding - every one of the 46 young women who participated in this initiative was promoted to the next level! The report card for six girls who passed the eighth grade - with flying colors - is pictured above.
Nearly forced to drop out due to a lack of transportation, these girls have made themselves, their teachers and their parents proud. Without this seemingly small intervention, their reality today would look much different: many would have been married off (some as young as 12), while most of the others would be tilling the fields for wages far below the sustenance level.
Instead, the Blossom Bus riders adopted bright new attitudes - and their parents have gotten swept up in their enthusiasm as well. Impressed with their daughters’ success, they are now committed to getting through the annual harvest without the extra hands so the girls can continue their studies; parents have even implored our staff to keep the buses running through May. Although the pilot was originally slated to end yesterday, upon hearing this great news we immediately told our officers in Mewat to keep it rolling!
The significance of this initiative for the community it serves is profound: out of 70,000 students in the Hathin block of Mewat in 2009, only one Muslim girl was studying in grade 9. Next year, nine Muslim girls will attend grade 9 and four will be in grade 10 only because of the Blossom Bus. The opportunity being presented is not lost on these young women, who as a group have had perfect attendance since the start of the project.
Please join us in congratulating them for their achievements! Your support has helped turn the world around for these 46 eager students, and we thank you sincerely on their behalf. We hope you may consider renewing your support, bearing in mind that $150 will keep one of these girls in school for an entire year.
When the right factors converge, even the course of longstanding tradition can be rerouted. One of the most important factors is the support we receive from generous donors like you! You make possible the Blossom Bus program, which places a new destination on the map for pious Muslim girls in rural Mewat, Haryana. Our partner and advocate for education, White Lotus, is relying on its stellar reputation with the community to bring that destination within reach.
The parents of 11 children, Farooq and Amna were planning marriages for four of their daughters – Farana, 15, Ruksana, 14, Murshida, 13, and Farzana, 12. With the girls’ completion of grade 5, the highest level of schooling available in Babupur village, marriage was the safest option to ensure the girls were properly provided for. Responsible parents in Mewat don't permit their daughters to commute several kilometers unattended through empty fields, where they may be subject to harassment or attract undue attention.
Yet these young women had a taste of the upper schooling available to their brothers. Until their father found a job driving a truck that kept him away from home, he had accompanied the girls to an upper primary school in a neighboring village. Farana advanced as far as grade 8, but her father’s employment signaled the end of her and her sisters’ academic careers.
Murshida dreamed of reaching grade 12, like her eldest brother. When White Lotus Officer Suraj Kumar approached her mother this April about sending her and her sisters back to school, her heart leaped. Although her marriage was being planned, it hadn’t yet taken place - there was still time to take another path. Her mother refused, but Murshida spoke up in support of Suraj’s appeal: all four sisters wanted badly to return to school, and could travel together.
Suraj suggested a better solution. He proposed supervised transportation, even allowing for one person from the family to serve as the chaperon. Amna still balked, but Murshida and her sisters argued that their brother got to attend school eight kilometers away while four daughters were being refused even with transportation available. Amna relented, but left the final word with their father.
Suraj contacted Farooq by telephone to resolve the matter. Learning that the organization offering transportation was the same that had been working in the area over the previous three years to improve the conditions in schools, Farooq gave his consent. The work of White Lotus was esteemed in the community, and he felt safe giving its new program a chance.
Since this fall, Murshida and her three closest sisters have traveled to school together on the Blossom Bus, and feel confident they will each at least reach the tenth grade. Best of all, says Murshida, is that none of the four will be pressured to marry before she is 18. Lotus Outreach joins Murshida and her sisters in thanking you, our generous donors, for making the Blossom Bus possible.
Dear friends of Lotus Outreach,
With your generous support, 46 girls in rural India are now back in school as a result of the Blossom Bus project which is currently providing them with daily chaperoned transportation.
We met one bus load of girls as they were returning from school on September 16th. The girls told us that it is exam time for them as well as all children in lower secondary school (grades 7, 8 and 9). All of the girls are very excited about going to school, some 3 miles (5 km) from their homes, and told us that their parents were previously not comfortable with them going to school outside their village, especially unaccompanied, so the Blossom Bus is a godsend.
Fourteen year-old Farhana Begum, in the 9th class, confirmed to us that all of the girls are first generation learners and that “after 5th grade we all stopped going to school due to lack of safe transport.” Farhana continues, “our parents agreed to send us but not without safe transport including a trusted chaperone.”
All of the girls then chirped in excitedly asking us, “Can we have a bigger bus? There are so many of our friends that wish to go to school too and cannot until they also have transport!” To watch the video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c9m99oj8NI.
SAVE THE DATE!
Will you help us make their wish come true? Beginning midnight October 12, GlobalGiving will be matching all donations by as much as 50% (donations up to $499 will be matched 30%; $500-$999 will be matched 40%; and donations $1,000-$2,500 will be matched 50%) and we are using this opportunity to get more buses to out-of-school girls in Mewat, as there are hundreds of girls “ready to go” but lacking reliable transport. Please mark this event on your calendar (matching fund pool is limited)!
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