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
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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Just over a year ago I reported this about Nafisha...

Nafisha is 15 years old and studying in class IX at an Urdu medium school. She lives with her parents and 3 siblings in a rented room 8’ X 10’. Her father takes home just £50 a month of which £10 is paid in rent. She says ”I really want to continue my education to masters level. I want to stand on my own feet”

Today I am delighted to report that Nafisha has passed her crucial Class X board exams and is looking forward to continuing in school and on to university.  This is an extraordinary achievemnt for a girl from a desperately poor slum family.  Nafisha is well on the way to being empowered through financial independence.   As an educated woman she will be able to determine whether, when and whom she marries. She will be able to support her own family and gain the respect of the community.  And it is thanks to you, as well as her own determination, that Nafisha has such a bright future. 

This Wednesday 12th July a donation towards a girl like Nafisha is worth 40% extra as it is a GlobalGiving bonus day.  If you set up a monthly recurring donation your first month's donation will be doubled.  

So please get online  at 2 pm (BST) or 9 am (EDT and help make a difference

Thank you very much

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Prizes for our top regular library users.
Prizes for our top regular library users.

It is very hot indeed in Kolkata this week.  The Monsoon rains are just a few days away and everyone is sweltering in 37 deg C as I write.  Imagine how difficult it must be to sleep at night in a tiny airless room shared with your extended family.

It is also Ramadan – a time of fasting and prayer.  Families share Iftar (or breakfast) after the sun sets at around 6.20 pm having had no food or water since before 5 am.  Some of our girls will be fasting for the first time this year: they may fast just a few days this time and build up to the full month as they grow older.  All of them will be looking forward to celebrating Eid when Ramadan is over.

For school children and students all over India it is results time.  Exams were in March and the results are now coming through.  I am delighted to tell you that all except one of our girls has passed her exams and all of them are starting the new academic year in the next grade.  The other girl hopes to be promoted to the next class anyway and we will work especially hard to help her catch up.  She is only 6 years old and studying in an English medium school so we expect her to do well in the long run.  She is very fortunate to have your support so that she does not get left behind. 

With the new school session beginning, we are busy sorting out any fees that need to be paid (school session fees, private tutors), making sure all the girls have uniforms and well fitting shoes.  With the monsoon rains just days away we ensure every girl has an umbrella a well as a school bag and a lunch box. Each girl will also receive all the books and stationery she needs for the beginning of the academic year. And importantly we ensure that every girl has proper nutrition by arranging small payments direct to the guardians.  

These are all the practical ways in which you are supporting the girls.  They are from such impoverished families that none of this would be possible without your help.  But of course, the girls receive so much more than this: they have access to the Gyan Azhar library, use of the books and computers; they attend extra curricular music and art sessions; we take them on excursions; and they have opportunities to volunteer with other organisations.  And being a member of this group of 17 sponsored girls is a source of great pride and motivation.  

Our special congratulations go to Nafisha who has passed her class X (public exams at aged 16, GCSE equivalent) and is applying to other schools for her class XI – XII studies.  We must also congratulate Sabahat who has passed class XII and is applying to go to college.  Without your help neither of these girls could have dreamed of gaining such qualifications. You have enabled them to reach for the future their mothers wish for them – economic independence, choice, dignity and freedom from poverty.

I am still looking for donors to come forward to take on individual girls.  For instance, we support Nafisha from the general fund, but I think she would benefit enormously from knowing she has a sponsor encouraging her.  Apart from a monthly donation via Global Giving, you’d be able to send & receive notes, and have detailed feedback on her progress.  You would also be very welcome to come to Kolkata and meet her.

Please contact me directly if you’d like to be a personal sponsor

Motivational meeting for all girls
Motivational meeting for all girls
Nafisha - thrilled with Class X pass
Nafisha - thrilled with Class X pass
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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
$58,700 raised of $100,000 goal
759 donations
$41,300 to go
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