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Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India

by Tiljala Society for Humans and Educational Development
Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India
Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India
Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India
Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India
Girls and their parents at our January meeting
Girls and their parents at our January meeting

It seems like a very long time ago, but when I was in Kolkata in January I met up with almost all the sponsored girls on this programme. What struck me most of all was how confident the girls have become. They all spoke English with me and were able to tell me about school and what they hope to do with their education. I was so proud of them. Their living conditions are very difficult especially for those who need to study.

I was concerned that Zainab’s attendance at school was very poor, as low as 30%.  We have set 85% minimum attendance as a qualification to remain on the programme. This seems to me fair – as there are many girls desperate to have the opportunity in life that our donors have given Zainab and co.  So Shreya, Aamna and I tried to understand from Zainab and her mother what the problem was. The family of 5 lives in a single room. So Zainab only gets to sleep at 11 when her parents go to bed. Her school day begins at 6 am – and she had been struggling to wake up in time, and felt exhausted all day. She’s a teenager and her body just wasn’t able to cope. Her mother was very co-operative and said that they would try to make changes in the family routine so that Zainab could get enough sleep and be fresh for school. They agreed to come back into the office a week later to report on how things were working out. Mother and daughter duly returned. Zainab looked 100% better. She had attended school each day and was getting enough sleep. She loves school and wants to do well in life, but the family had slipped into a routine that made schooling difficult for Zainab. Very few of these girls have literate parents so it is sometimes down to the programme staff, Shreya and Aamna, to provide the mentoring, guidance and sometimes firmness to keep the girls on track.

Since my January visit the world has changed for all of us. India’s lockdown began in mid March so there has been no school or college for any of the girls. Many of their families have suffered terrible hardship as their parents cannot work.

Shreya and Aamna have kept in touch with all the families and have ensured that all got food rations as part of Tiljala SHED’s emergency food distributions.

But India’s pandemic is far from abating. Kolkata is not as hard hit as other large cities, but there is still no regular education available. Your donations will be needed more than ever once the girls are back at school and college. Meanwhile, we are doing our best to get as many of them joining online classes as possible. Sofia, for instance, has no access to the internet but three times a week she is able to join online classes on a friend’s phone. Ayesha has been attending online classes but is now able to go along to tuition classes. Gradually things are opening up. We are working with each girl to ensure she's getting whatever help is available to her.

January Meeting
January Meeting
January Meeting
January Meeting
One of the mothers receiving food rations
One of the mothers receiving food rations
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Shabnam
Shabnam

On the face of it, Shabnam’s circumstances sound as bad as anyone’s. She lives in the Darapara slum sharing 2 small rooms (80 sq ft) with 10 other family members. Her father was an embroiderer but has almost lost his sight and cannot work anymore. Her mother is a maidservant, earning just Rs2000 (£20) per month. Her brother is a salesman bringing in Rs 6000 (£60) per month.  He himself has two severely disabled children.  The family is originally from Bihar and are respectable, my colleagues tell me: they would rather starve than beg. But on this tiny income of just about £80 a month they regularly face starvation. Thanks to Tiljala SHED’s emergency food programme, the whole family receives rations occasionally.

Meeting Shabnam in the Tiljala SHED office recently, I would never have guessed what terrible hardship she suffers.  For Shabnam, defying the odds, is at college and studying to become a lawyer.

“My first priority is my family” she told me.  “The first thing I’ll do when I start earning is release my mother from her job”.  She said, “I’ll give all the happiness to my mother and father because they deserve it”.

Thanks to the generosity of Bhawanipore College where she has a scholarship, to a private benefactor and to extra tuition and lots of moral support from staff at Tiljala SHED, Shabnam is getting close to realising her dream. She passes all her exams with flying colours.

It is the combination of Shabnam’s drive and ambition and the external support she gets from Tiljala SHED and donors like you, that leads to success. As a qualified lawyer, Shabnam will change many more lives.

Please consider a generous donation to this excellent project so that we can empower more women and girls like Shabnam.

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Zeenat
Zeenat

Zeenat was one of the first girls enrolled in this project in 2016. She was living in a tiny single room in the slum with her mother and younger brother. Her parents are divorced so her mother, a saleswoman, supports her family on just £30 (or $40) a month.

Many girls in Zeenat’s position would have found themselves married off in their early teens, practically illiterate, poor and destined to a life of drudgery and childbearing. But Zeenat and her mother clearly had different ideas. Zeenat, against the odds, remained in school. We met her when she was in class XII and about to leave school. She very much wanted to go on to university but needed the financial support to do so. 3 years on she is studying Law at Calcutta University. She is doing well, having passed every semester and wants to become a barrister.

Zeenat is unusual in her ambition and imagination and we were very happy to take her on. Thanks to your generosity Zeenat has every chance of changing her destiny and perhaps changing many lives for the better through her career. It is rare for girls from this kind of background to step out of the slum in this way and we are so proud of her.

Your donations cover the cost of fees, books, stationery, travel, nutritional supplements, medical aid and other incidentals. It makes the difference between continuing her education or abandoning her dreams.


Thank you for making this possible. 

 

A note: You will have heard from Global Giving that there is a problem disbursing your donations to the project. This is beause all Global Giving's disbursements to Indian projects have been held up at government level.  I am working on a solution which will unblock the funds and get your donations safely where they need to go. Meanwhile, the project is moving forward as we always aim to keep a modest cushion of funds for just this eventuality. 

Thank you for your patience. 

Zeenat's 5th semester results
Zeenat's 5th semester results
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Zainab
Zainab

Zainab was one of the first girls to be sponsored under this programme back in 2016. She’s from a desperately poor family, living in a single room and surviving on her father’s tiny salary of Rs4000 (about £45) a month. Zainab is a hard-working student and loves knowing that she has a sponsor, Jean, who lives far away in England.

Jean’s generosity provides Zainab everything she needs to ensure she can benefit best from her education: uniform, shoes, a school bag, books, stationery, the cost of travel, extra tuition, nutritional supplements and so on.

But being a sponsored girl means so much more than that. Zainab is also a member of the Gyan Azhar library, a girls-only facility where she can study, borrow books and use the computers. There are also frequent invitations to the library for opportunities to learn beyond the school curriculum. This summer there have been awareness sessions covering good nutrition, personal health and hygiene. They learned how to spot and how to prevent tuberculosis. They had a session on menstrual hygiene. On Earth Day, the girls learned about environmental issues discussing the problems of plastic waste: they had a go at making their own paper bags out of newspaper. Young volunteers from local schools organised a drawing competition, dance, singing and fashion events for our girls.  

So, for Zainab, being part of the sponsorship programme is more than the school kit and other educational expenses: it is also about widening her horizons, expanding her understanding of how to stay healthy, enjoying new cultural experiences and meeting other young people from around the city.  Zainab can aspire to life beyond the tiny room in the slum, a life beyond illiteracy, drudgery and child-bearing. 

Thank you for giving Zainab and all the other girls a vision and hope of a better future. 

A healthy body
A healthy body
We made paper bags!
We made paper bags!
Ayesha receives basic computer course certificate
Ayesha receives basic computer course certificate
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Ayesha and her mother
Ayesha and her mother

“Ayesha is 12 studying at Anjuman Girl’s High Secondary School. She lives with her family of 5 in a single room. Her father is a painter who paints posters. His monthly income is not stable because his work is temporary. Ayesha’s brother is a labourer in a small shoe making shop and his wages are very low. Total family income is £30 a month, not enough to run the whole family.  Ayesha may have to stop studying due to her poor family income.  She is a bright student; she aims to become an art designer. If she gets proper guidance and financial support then she has a bright future ahead.”

This is what my colleagues wrote about Ayesha in 2016 when we were first looking for a sponsor for her.  There are two things that strike me about this: first, that hand-painted posters, once a huge industry which produced the most wonderful advertising posters whether for Bollywood films, butter or cement, are definitely a thing of the past.  I wonder that Ayesha’s father finds any work at all. Ayesha’s mother is a delightful woman who is totally committed to ensuring Ayesha gets the education that she herself never had, but she is illiterate and works entirely within the home making sure her husband’s meagre earnings stretch to fill all the needy stomachs.  The other striking part, is that Ayesha might have had to stop school if she hadn’t been sponsored.  The reason for this is not that school isn’t free.  Ayesha’s school is a government school and there are no fees.  However, school uniform, books, bus fares etc all had to be found, and this was beyond means of the family.  The next thing would have been to marry her off so that someone else would feed and clothe her. All that bright ambition would have been wasted and Ayesha would have ended up just like her mother.

Happily, Ayesha did find a sponsor. Sheila has supported Ayesha over the last three years.  There were moments when I worried she might drop out.  In a very traditional community like this, a girl who takes a boyfriend, can be hustled into an early marriage – thus abruptly ending her education.  But she has stood firm and I’m thrilled to report that Ayesha has passed her class X exams (equivalent to GCSEs) and has enrolled into class XI. So she remains on track.  It isn’t easy from here though: class sizes at the Anjuman Girls High School are as big as 120 girls, so she will continue to need all the support we can offer under this sponsorship programme. Sheila’s contribution covers all books, extra tuition fees, transportation costs, uniform, shoes, school bag and any necessary nutrition or medical needs. She is a member of our Gyan Azhar Library, a safe space to work, borrow books, to use the computers and internet. She attends cultural activities – dance, craft and also lifestyle sessions on nutrition, menstrual health and online safety.

We are desperately looking for more sponsors like Sheila, who will commit £30 a month to supporting a girl like Ayesha.  The equivalent of one hour’s private tuition in UK provides a whole month of vital educational support.

Thank you

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Organization Information

Tiljala Society for Humans and Educational Development

Location: Kolkata - India
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @TiljalaSHED
Project Leader:
Jane Manson
Kolkata, India
$38,617 raised of $60,000 goal
 
523 donations
$21,383 to go
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