At the age of being in school, Sunita* was forced to become a child labourer instead. Sunita is a 13 years old girl from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, India. Sunita's parents have never been to school; they run the household by working as daily wage laborers in the scorching heat of a brick kiln.
Naturally, sending their children to school was a distant dream for Sunita’s parents. In an extreme situation like Sunita’s, survival comes prior to education. Accepting their fate, Sunita and her siblings used to work in the local brick kiln, supporting their family with the very last pennies they earned. Not only Sunita's house, but her entire village sent off their children to work due to increasing poverty and unemployment. Most people work as laborers in shops, fields, and brick kilns to earn the bare minimum livelihood.
Even among the hardships, Sunita was determined to pursue her dream of studying. She completed her studies from the primary school of the village up to the fifth standard by sheer willpower, convincing her parents the same.
It goes without saying that Sunita was the first girl in her family to go to school. However, to much dismay, due to the poor condition of the house, after her fifth grade in 2018, she had to leave her studies and submit to the same fate of joining a brick kiln as a labourer.
During a door-to-door survey in July 2022 conducted by Educate Girls, our Team Balika volunteer tried to locate Sunita. Their efforts failed, as Sunita had gone to work in the brick kiln with her parents. A few days later, when the organisation again went to do a door-to-door survey, the field coordinator could finally meet Sunita's parents. After talking to the family members, Team Balika came to know the heart-rending truth that all the children of that house are child labourers and are deprived of education.
During a conversation with the Field Coordinator, Sunita expressed, “I want to become something by studying, but first I have to do the labour at the brick kiln and take care of household chores.” Her face fell as she lowered her eyes while saying this.After this moment of truth, the Field Coordinator was moved. He went to Sunita's house several times and tried to explain the importance of girl child education to her parents. He explained to them that an educated woman is able to stand up for her rights with full vigour and also makes the coming generations nurtured.
Sunita's parents told Educate Girls, “We are poor. We somehow manage to feed our children by working as labourers. There is no government school after Grade 5 in our village where free education is given. How can we send Sunita?”
Knowing the economic condition of Sunita's family, the Field Coordinator partner mentioned a nearby government school to her parents and told them about the government schemes available in that school.
After much persuasion by the Field Coordinator, Sunita's parents finally agreed to enroll their daughter. In September 2022, Sunita and her father along with the Field Coordinator went to the school and got her admission form filled out by the headmaster there. Then came the issue of getting Sunita's Transfer Certificate and Aadhaar Card made, with which the worker of the organisation helped her.
With all the documents in place, Sunita got admitted to Grade 8. After 4 years away from education, she returned to school again. Her face bloomed with the light of hope. The organisation also enrolled Sunita's younger sister, who despite being 8 years old was still away from studies, in Grade 2 in the primary school of the village.
After their two daughters got admitted to the school, Sunita’s parents tearfully said, “We are very thankful to the Educate Girls. The organisation has opened our eyes by explaining to us the importance of education. Now we will send all our children to school.
Sunita's happiness knows no bounds after getting an opportunity to study again, for which she expresses her gratitude to Educate Girls. Sunita wants to become a teacher when she grows up, so that she can educate all the girls in her village taking our cause forward.Sunita proclaims, “By being educated, daughters can not only run their home but also make the country strong and prosperous.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the minor.
10-year-old Sana*, a specially-abled child, is the youngest member of the family of 11. She lives in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, India. In her village, education is the least important thing; hence, all her siblings are either dropped out or were never enrolled in school. While her sisters were married young, her brothers moved to cities to support the family.
However, Sana was always found her solace in books. She had trouble walking but her motivation to study kept her going. She says, “I want to become a doctor when I grow up. At least that way, I can be completely independent. I could pay for my treatment! I want to be a doctor and open a free hospital for children like me."
Her dream was shattered when she had to drop out of school in Grade 5, because her family couldn’t afford to buy her a wheelchair. Without a wheelchair, she could not go to secondary school taht was far from her house. She felt hopeless but continued to study at home in her free time and helped her mother with the household chores.
During a door-to-door survey, Educate Girls’ team met Sana and her family. They told the team about Sana’s desire to study, but due to the financial crisis, they cannot afford to buy her a wheelchair and educate her.
After understanding the situation, the team informed the family about a government scheme that could help them get a free wheelchair for Sana. “The Educate Girls’ team members informed us about our rights and government schemes that we were not aware of. They took us to the school to obtain the required documents and to the concerned government department, where they helped us file a request for the wheelchair. They kept track of the request until Sana received a wheelchair,” shared Sana’s father.
Now, Sana was re-enrolled in school in Grade 5. She says, “I was able to get a wheelchair because of the organisation and I am able to go to school again! After I dropped out, I never thought that I would be able to go to school. It feels like a dream come true.”
Sana now goes to school regularly with a smile on her face!
With the second largest population in the world, India is home to millions of families living in extreme poverty, making it incredibly tough to priortise education when survival is at stake. Ironically, poverty and illiteracy are also closely linked. And when there are limited employment opportunities in the hinterland, earning a livelihood is not only difficult but the only focus.
In most rural parts of the country that don’t have an industrial set up, cattle rearing, erratic labour work and farming are the only means of sustenance. Those who don’t own agricultural land, work in other people’s fields like Varnmala*’s father in a village in Abu Road, Rajasthan. Farm labour work is seasonal and depends on sowing and harvesting cycles hence, not the most reliable or regular source of income. On other days, along with his wife, they rear cattle - just a few goats that they own. Barely making ends meet, the family of five share a one room kutcha (not built properly) house that also doubles up as cattle shed.
When Educate Girls Field Coordinator, Karmaram met the 7 year-old Varnmala, she had never been to school - her father had never considered it as an option. “For the family, having more earning members in the family was a better solution than educating all his children. Even though all his children are quite young, it still didn’t make economic sense for him to invest in their education because he’d rather have Varnamala, the oldest child, take care of the house and her siblings so that his wife and him can step out to earn,” shares Karmaram.
Since Karmaram had visited thor place, he was painfully aware of their dire condition so he knew it would be an uphill task to get Varnmala and her brothers and sisters enrolled in school. He knew that the only way around this is to make both the parents understand that ultimately it's education that has the potential to put an end to their cycle of poverty. That’s exactly what he did consistently for the next few months. “I started visiting the family regularly. I took help from the school teacher and the village Sarpanch. I took them to their house with me and told the family about the benefits of educating girls. I told them about the midday meal program and even made them aware of Government schemes they could apply for and avail if they have educated members in the family,” says Karmaram.
Karmaram’s efforts paid off in 2021 when Varnamala along with her younger sister and brother started attending regular school. Their school is a km’s walk from home and the narrow pothole ridden road doesn’t make the walk any easier, especially during the monsoon but the siblings rarely miss school because of this inconvenience.
Varnmala and her sister, Raina, are currently in Grade 2 and they are learning to identify and write simple words and numbers. When a teacher is running late or steps out of the classroom for some work, you can find Varnmala taking her place and making her classmates revise the lesson of the day.
Varnmala’s brother is the youngest so she takes complete responsibility of getting him ready for school, dropping him off to class and safely returning home with him. Both the sisters also help out at home with chores and grazing the cattle on their off days but on school days, their father doesn’t let them take up other work and asks them to study instead. He is visibly happy and proud of his kids, and hopeful for the future.
13-year-old Anjali* of a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, India had to drop out of school to help her family in farming when she was just 8 years old. She loved reading and writing, but her family considered education a waste of time and money. They believed that instead of going to school, she should work on the farm with other family members to save labour cost. Her dream of continuing her education came to an unexpected halt.
Anjali spent most of her time in the farm fields and doing household chores. Seeing her working, other people of the village also got their girls out of school. During the absence of regular classes during Covid, most of the parents felt that girls should not go to school again but work on farms.
Educate Girls’ Field Coordinator Dinesh Rawat got to know about the situation of the village from the school teacher.
"When I reached there with our Team Balika (community volunteer), we were shocked to see young girls working on the farms. We immediately made a plan to speak with the parents of the children," shared Dinesh. "We went to all the farms to speak with the parents of the children. However, some asked us to talk later, and some ignored us. We decided to speak with the Sarpanch (head) of the village and urged him to help us speak with the parents," he added.
The village sarpanch decided to call a meeting, where he invited the school teachers and all the parents. In the meeting, Dinesh told everyone about the importance of girls' education, how educated girls can support their families, and government education support schemes and benefits. While most families agreed, Anjali's father refused saying she has been out of school for many years and she can't study now.
After hearing this, Dinesh informed everyone about Camp Vidya (Camp of Knowledge), a community-based learning initiative by Educate Girls, where children learn in a fun and interactive way in their safe environment. He urged everyone to send their children to the camp for 2 hours daily and explained that the team is following all the guidelines and safety measures.
Finally after multiple meetings, the parents got convinced to send Anjali and the other girls of the village to the camp daily. Anjali studies for 2 hours a day, and after that, she helps her family. "I am going to Camp Vidya daily, I love studying maths. I couldn't even write a word when I first went to the camp, but now I can write an entire sentence and even count numbers. I even help my father with calculations. I am excited to go to school again after 5 years!" shared Anjali.
Learning about Anjali's progress, her family decided to enrol her back in school and support her education. Anjali is now enrolled in Grade 5.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the minor.
Lack of awareness and guidance has led to the loss of many opportunities, especially for the people living in the remotest part of India. Armed with the bare minimum education and resources, they are often unaware of the benefits they can avail through various welfare and education schemes run by the Government.
11-year old Deepali* who lives in a small village in the Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh also missed the opportunity to start her education at an early age due to such lack of information and guidance.
When the Covid-19 lockdown eased in several states of India, Educate Girls began Camp Vidya, a community-based learning initiative to bridge the gap in education. Educate Girls team went door-to-door to spread the word and enroll children in Camp Vidya. This is when Educate Girls’ Field Coordinator Jayaram came across Deepali. He got to know that she had never been to school when he spoke to her parents.
“Deepali’s parents are labourers and often struggle to get two square meals a day. Covid had made their living situation worse but they somehow got through. When I went to their home to encourage them to send Deepali to Camp Vidya I got to know that she had never been enrolled in school!
Upon further discussion, I found out that they had tried to enrol her a few years ago but due to the lack of certain documents and proper guidance, they couldn’t go ahead with the process. They went back home and did not feel the need to send her to school anymore. They were happy to get another helping hand at home. By now, even Deepali had accepted her fate to stay at home and also felt that if she goes to school now, she would be older than her classmates and they would all make fun of her.
This was common mindset across the village - a majority of the population focused on getting more income and girls were not sent to school as they would get married anyway” says Jayaram.
He urged them to send Deepali to Camp Vidya, but they didn’t feel the need as she was already 11 years old. However, Jayaram requested them, making several home visits and informing them about the benefits of education and also about the various government schemes they could avail. Finally, after many conversations, they agreed to send Deepali to Camp Vidya.
When Deepali first stepped into Camp Vidya, everything was new and strange to her. She had never even held a pencil in her hand! She was hesitant to speak. Initially, she sat away from everyone, not speaking even when approached. But slowly she observer others in the class and with the help of Team Balika (community volunteers), she started engaging in class. In a matter of weeks, she has now made friends, takes help from them and has started learning with enthusiasm! Her parents are also glad to see the change in her happy demeanour and personality.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the minor.
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