Educate Destitute Girls in Kolkata, India

by Tiljala Society for Human 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
Zaira then and now
Zaira then and now

This is Zaira.  She joined the Global Giving sponsorship programme when she was just 4 years old.  She lives in a 100sq ft rented room in the Tiljala slum with her family of five.  Her father earns just Rs4000 (£45 or USD58) per month as a labourer.  When the parents approached Tiljala SHED, we thought Zaira was too young.  However her mother, Nazni, told us how Zaira was already loving primary school.  Her parents were so keen that their daughter should have this chance and that they would do everything they could to support her. All her mother wants is for Zaira to get an education and have a better chance in life than she had herself. How could we say no?   I am so delighted to report that 2 and a half years later, Zaira is doing really well.  She has just completed class 3.  She scored an astonishing 87% in her year end exams and still loves school.   She says she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. 

For Zaira’s family sponsorship means that they do not have to go without food or get into debt in order to provide Zaira with the books, school bag, shoes and uniform that she needs.  She’ll receive extra tuition where she needs it; she will attend a variety of cultural, arts, sporting events; she is a member of the Gyan Azhar library where she can study, learn computer skills, read and borrow books.  The family also receives a small allowance to ensure that Zaira gets good nutrition.

It costs just £27 a month to sponsor a girl like Zaira.

Zaira with her mother and sister
Zaira with her mother and sister
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We have recently enrolled Shehnaz onto this education programme.  Shehnaz is special because she comes from such a deprived background that most girls of her age (19) would already have been married off and producing children.

She is from the rag picker community in Tangra. Her parents are both illiterate.  Her father is 40 and a violent alcoholic and no longer lives with the family. Her mother, aged 35 (must have been just 16 when Shehnaz was born), keeps her family of 5 together by rag picking.  They live in a shelter of about 2.5m x 3 m.  They have no toilet and no running water.

Shehnaz has remained in education and is about to sit her class 10 exams.  We enrolled her on the scheme because she needs continued financial support to help her pass these exams and go on to complete 2 more years of school and maybe even go on to university.  It takes a great deal of determination and the support of her mother for a girl like Shehnaz to choose education against the social pressure to drop out and marry. 

She and her mother deserve and desperate need this support.

So what does it mean to Shehnaz to join the Global Giving Education Programme?

 These are the costs that Shehnaz’s mother would have to cover – out of her £35 per month income from rag picking:

  1. Any necessary academic fees will be paid.
  2. She will receive a nutrition allowance – ensuring she eats enough nourishing food to keep her healthy
  3. All school books: The girls purchase the books they need and bring the books in to be stamped (see the picture below) and the costs are reimbursed.
  4. They receive a school bag and an umbrella
  5. School uniforms and shoes are supplied where needed
  6. Any costs incurred in travel to school are covered (usually for those at college – most walk to school)
  7. All stationery is paid for

 But as a member of the programme Shehnaz also benefits in the following ways

  1. She is a member of the Gyan Azhar library, a safe space to work peacefully, to borrow books, to use the computers
  2. She will enjoy excursions – to the cinema, museums and exhibitions
  3. She will be invited to events held at the library where she will learn new skills – dance, jewellery making, guitar lessons
  4. She will have computer training
  5. She will attend various sessions on health and hygiene, her rights, use of social media
  6. And she will have access to the staff of the library and of the education programme for advice and mentoring.

We want every one of the girls on this programme to reach her full potential and we work closely with the girls and their families to ensure that they can fulfil their ambitions.  Their mothers are always supportive – as they know the consequences of failing to complete an education.  They want more for their daughters.

We all want to thank you so much for your amazing support and please do tell your families and friends what a difference they too could make to a vulnerable girl like Shehnaz

Thank you

With mother & disabled brother - at our office
With mother & disabled brother - at our office
Labels go in all books purchased for the girls
Labels go in all books purchased for the girls


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Resham, Child Club leader, future journalist
Resham, Child Club leader, future journalist

63 million women, girls missing due to India's preference for boys

I was shocked at this headline in the Times of India a couple of weeks ago

According to Indian government statistics 63 MILLION girls were either conceived but never born, died as infants or neglected in childhood and died young. I was in Kolkata when I read the headline and had spent the previous day with a wonderful group of young women and girls from a very deprived rag picker community in the Topsia Canalside Squatter camp. It’s a horrible place, a narrow strip of land surrounded on both sides by the putrid waters of one of Kolkata’s canals.  They call them canals, but in truth these are huge open sewers.

Over the decades the rural landless poor have migrated to the city in the hope of making a better living for themselves and their families.  Many end up in illegal shelters on government land like this Topsia encampment. They make a living through rag picking, operating cycle rickshaws or doing exploitative piecework. Illiteracy, disease, poverty, child labour, child marriage, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence are common problems across all such deprived communities. 

When I read that appalling headline, I immediately thought of Saika, Resham and their friends in the Topsia Canalside Squatters. What a fantastic bunch of girls. They are members of the Topsia Child Club which is responsible for monitoring the welfare of children in the community. They have been trained by Tiljala Shed through workshops, street theatre and other interventions to recognise where child rights are being violated. They are particularly proud that they called in the right authorities recently to have a child marriage stopped.  They love this work and clearly feel valued and confident. Each one has big ambitions: Saika wants to be a scientist. Resham, the natural leader of this little group, wants to be a journalist. Others want to be teachers, doctors and businesswomen. None of them is interested in getting married yet. This is remarkable. They are all first-generation learners; their mothers are illiterate and probably married in their mid-teens. Tiljala SHED, with the help of all its generous donors, will continue to work for these wonderful inspirational young women, because they are the future for their whole community. Think what a difference those 63 million might have made given the chance.

Your generous donations go towards keeping girls like Saika and Resham in education, protecting them from child marriage, child labour and child abuse and enabling them, in turn, to protect others.  Every penny or cent you donate is used carefully and responsibly.  

Saika.  Wit, Child Club member, future scientist
Saika. Wit, Child Club member, future scientist
Girl Members of the Topsia Child Club
Girl Members of the Topsia Child Club
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Girls from the slum attending college
Girls from the slum attending college

Today I met six girls who want a different future for themselves.

I came across them in August 2016 when I was visiting Tiljala SHED. I was invited to go along to a session with final year school girls at the Anjuman Islamic School for Girls, one of very few government schools exclusively for Urdu speaking girls and in a very deprived area of the city. These girls are from families who generally share a single room, no toilet facilities and live a very traditional life: little freedom, no contact with boys and the expectation of early marriage and a life of poverty, drudgery and probably domestic violence.

Our six girls were part of a class of 185 students. Yes really!

Tiljala SHED had invited Sofia to speak to the girls. Sofia was from the same community as these girls but had defied all expectation and had completed school and university and was now on the civil service fast track - unheard of for a muslim girl from the slum.  She spoke eloquently. She looks like a Bollywood star. You could have heard a pin drop.

After her presentation, Shafkat, who runs Tiljala SHED, invited any girls who aspired to follow Sofia's example to come along to Tiljala SHED for free coaching in the run up to their final school exams. The following Sunday 20 girls turned up. A few fell away over the weeks but these six remained.  They all passed their exams and are now at Bhawanipore University in Central Kolkata. Most of their 185 classmates are now married.

Today we got together and I wanted to know how they were getting on. Are they integrating? Do they enjoy the work? What do they want to do after college?

They love the work.They really feel integrated - which is amazing for slum girls in a very middle class environment.Two of them are playing basketball. And they ALL want to sit the civil service exams.

They really really deserve this break - for themselves but also for all the other girls who will follow.

It will cost about £14 a month per girl provide the coaching they will need for this opportunity. The girls have already defied the odds: they have remained in education; they have passed all their school exams - when most children from this background leave school before aged 14; they are not married; they don't have children (I met a 34 year old grandmother and her 6 year old grand daughter today); and they have persuaded their families to let them attend a co-educational institution.They are smashing it!  

Please consider a donation to empower these girls. They have the grit, the intelligence and the determination to win.

A regular donation of £14 could get one of these girls into her dream job.  Among their parents are a tuktuk driver, a maidservant (earning less than £25 a month), an embroiderer who has lost his sight and can no longer work. They support their daughters' ambitions but cannot possibly pay for it.  Can you?

Sofia addresses the girls in Aug 2016
Sofia addresses the girls in Aug 2016
Shafkat invites  girls to come for coaching
Shafkat invites girls to come for coaching
A classroom at the school
A classroom at the school
A class of 185 attentive girls
A class of 185 attentive girls
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Sabahat and her mother
Sabahat and her mother

Sabahat wants to be a teacher.  And, thanks to her GlobalGiving donors, to Tiljala SHED's dedicated team and to her parents, this is looking entirely possible.  

In India, the school dropout rate amongst adolescent girls is as high as 63.5% and in underprivileged minority communities like Sabahat's the rate is even higher.  Girls from very poor families drop out of school for a number of reasons:

  • The school is just too far away
  • Boys are favoured over girls, so the boys attend school but the girls stay at home
  • Child marriage. 4.4 million girls under 15 are married with at least 2 children
  • Lack of segregated toilets is a major cause of girls dropping out of school

An educated girl avoids early marriage and is empowered to stand up against exploitation.  As they grow children are able to make better choices for themselves and influence the communities they live in.

Sabahat's mother knows this.  She struggles to feed and clothe her family on the £20 a week her husband earns in a chappal (sandal) factory.  The family of five lives in a single 10 sq ft  room in the Darapara slum but Sabahat's mother is a smart, cheerful and optimistic woman who wants much more for her daughter than to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and drudgery so she applied to Tiljala SHED to put her daughter on the sponsorship programme. 

So for the past 2 years, your contributions have helped provide all the necessary expenses to keep her in education: tuition fees, costs of books and stationery, travel expenses, uniform and shoes. She also benefits from health check-ups, group activities and occasional events and excursions.

Sabahat graduated from high school this summer and is now attending Calcutta University.  She is on her way to achieving her dream of becoming a teacher. 

I meet up with Sabahat and her mother whenever I visit Kolkata.  They are such a cheerful and determined pair that I am certain that with your help Sabahat will achieve her dream and become a teacher. 

School Graduation Certificate
School Graduation Certificate
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Organization Information

Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal - India
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @TiljalaSHED
Project Leader:
Jane Manson
Kolkata, India
$65,353 raised of $100,000 goal
849 donations
$34,647 to go
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