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End Child Marriage Through Education

by Shadhika Project Inc
End Child Marriage Through Education
End Child Marriage Through Education
End Child Marriage Through Education
End Child Marriage Through Education
End Child Marriage Through Education
End Child Marriage Through Education

The world is fighting with COVID-19 and the situation is getting worst day by day. In India, COVID-19 positive infected patients crossed more than a lakh. Due to this situation, India has started to be under a lockdown from 24th March and this lockdown is still going on today.  It may extend for a long period of time, the future of this is uncertain. To prevent people from contracting this virus, a lockdown is one of the best ways for the 1.3 billion population of India. Through this lockdown only necessary things are open like grocery, medical, hospital, bank/ATM.

In India, from March to May is the months of exams in school, junior college, and degree college. Due to this pandemic most of the schools have announced that they will pass all the students and after this they will re-open school.  In degree college, those who are in their final year, they must give their final exam after lockdown.

COVID-19 is affecting finance, poverty, health, and the education system. All the schools and colleges are closed, but teachers and professors are trying to teach via online classes. The Education system in India wants that, however students must learn from online classes in this lockdown.

If we are seeing these virtual classes from the student’s side, do they have proper internet connection? Especially all the young women Shadhika works with, are they getting time for their virtual classes? They are at home, so they must do lot of household chores in addition to their schoolwork. I am personally seeing in my neighbors and when we talk to our Shadhika scholars that they are facing more inequality, they don’t get  time to use their mobile phone and because of lockdown, family members are getting hungry in every hour so young women have to work in the kitchen and become busy with household chores like cooking, washing utensil, dusting etc. If they get the chance for online classes, they will get disturbed with family members, because the lockdown is going on and everyone is at home, so it is difficult to attend any call or classes at home.

Shadhika scholars are participating in so many virtual classes because they do have internet, laptop and mobile. Yes, they are facing some challenges because their home is not big, but they have made schedule and trying to use time in a good way. We are appreciating all the scholars who are doing and managing all the assignment, classes, courses in this difficult time. One of our scholar Parvati from our grantee site Vacha, is attending so many virtual classes about financial quiz, mock Interview session, knowledge of COVID-19 and many more topics. Parvati got 28-30 E-Certificates. We are proud of her and the rest of the scholars who are managing time, utilizing on their skills, and learning and trying to make the best of this situation.

We do have eight scholars who are in their final year, their exams are postponed but they are learning and revising their subjects via virtual classes. Some of the scholar’s portion haven’t completed due to this lockdown so they are completing syllabus with teachers and focusing on what they are learning. It is so difficult to focus because now our daily time routine is different. Our sleep time, mealtime, and study time. When I talked to the scholars, they said they are facing some issues with feeling stressed about thoughts in their minds about the pandemic, future, money, and the responsibility. They say because it’s their final year they were thinking after their graduation they will be doing job and taking responsibility towards family, but everything has changed due to COVID-19 virus. Even they don’t know when it will finish, when they will give exam, when they will get a job. It is a very serious topic, but we feel so proud that they are giving their best in this time to learn more skills and preparing their self for future.

We are trying to connect more with our scholars, and we have planned for their virtual activities so they can learn with us and still feel connected to each other during this time.

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After joining Shadhika as a staff, I was able to visit three NGO partner sites in November to follow up with our scholars on their progress with their community leadership projects. I visited Vacha in Mumbai, Baale Mane in Bangalore and Jabala in Kolkata, Murshidabad and Birbhum. This is my journey from Shadhika scholar to Shadhika staff, every mile is beautiful for me and I have experienced a lot of learning from each visit.

When we met with the scholars, we could easily see their excitement related with their project. Shadhika implemented the community leadership project component of the scholarship program in June, 2019. All scholars were trained at the Leaders for Change Summit. All scholars selected topics as per their community needs; Girls Rights, Right to Education, Right to Mobility, Child Marriage, Health and Sanitation and Voting Rights. Yes, it seems very big topic for them, but they have decided to work on their issue and to make changes for themselves and for their community. At the summit, they prepared their plan, activity and their goals related with their topic.

During our site visits I have noticed one thing, that every scholar has started their project with a survey, which means they spent time finding out what the community knows and needs to know regarding their chosen topic. Every girl took survey in their respective community, and tabulated their results. Their second step was to do an activity and action plan in their community. A few scholars were doing their activity already and a few were ready to implement their action plan.

I see their sparkle, hard work and their passion related with their project. They said, “Yes, we are grateful that now we are completing our graduation and along with that, we are doing something for our community. Hopefully our little step towards awareness in community, school and college will make change in each person.” From this project, they have started conversation with girls and women, from that day and that time, they all are empowering each other.

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"After I have received scholarship from Shadhika, my parents changed their thinking and they postpone my marriage, if I didn't get scholarship, I would have gotten married.  Now they want me to study more and complete my dream." These words are from our newest staff member and Shadhika graduate, Sabah. 

Sabah had been going to Vacha, an NGO in Mumbai, for many years where she was introduced to Shadhika and became one of our first scholarship recipients.  After completing the scholarship program and graduating from college, Sabah became one of Shadhika's first interns and eventually received a full-time position with Shadhika.  

She is an asset to the organization and a leader for young women across India.  She stands up for her rights and for rights of girls around her.  She knows the importance of being educated and says this about her experience; "Being an educated girl in India is about handling situations and understanding others.  Being educated spreads knowledge and awareness.  Educated girls stand by themselves and make pillars of others." 

She believes, "Being educated means to understand that things happen around us and not to believe in much rumors.  We believe in our own thoughts and try to think in a critical way.  Focus on situations and then react."

Sabah is proof that being educated opens a world of possibilities and gives young women the chance to stand on their own two feet, to make decisions for themselves and their future.

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Attendees at 2019 Leaders for Change Summit
Attendees at 2019 Leaders for Change Summit

There’s a low hum in the room. At first I look around, slightly annoyed, thinking someone is having a side conversation during the speaker’s presentation. Then I realize the sound is coming from a facilitator who is simultaneously translating the current lecture from Hindi to Bengali for two of the participants. When you are hosting a conference for young women from across India who speak multiple languages, this is standard operating procedures and critical to making sure everyone is included.

This is Day 2 of Shadhika’s inaugural “Leaders for Change Summit” in Mumbai. Over the course of three and a half days, these young women will learn skills to design and develop projects to advance girls’ rights in their communities. In a country like India, which last year was named the most dangerous place to be born a girl, such efforts are essential and courageous. These young women have pledged to carry out projects in the coming year on a range of issues from child marriage, to sexual harassment and safety, to the right to education, to voting rights.

Even with the simultaneous translation, you can hear a pin drop. Everyone is completely taken in by our guest lecturer, Sharad Sharma, from World Comics Network, who is teaching us how to tell our stories through comics. “Everyone has a story. Everyone can draw. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be true.” Powerful messages for these young women who have been told for years that their opinions do not matter and who often feel their very lives only belong to their future husbands.

As the opening lecture finishes, the girls are unleashed to draw their own comics. Their focus is unwavering and the emotional release of being able to tell their story in graphic form is palpable. Language barriers fall away as their images come to life of parents, teachers, and men in their community who repeatedly serve to limit their dreams.

I stop at Shehnaz’s* table and ask her to tell me about her comic. Pointing to the first panel, she haltingly translates her story for me from Hindi to English. “The daughter says to her mom, ‘Mom, I’m first in my studies, I want to continue.’ The mother says she has to ask her father. He tells her, ‘It is enough for her. She does not need to study.’”

We move on to the third panel in her strip, showing our protagonist’s life after marriage. “Her husband is complaining to her mother-in-law that he doesn’t have enough money to support the family. ‘If your wife had studied,’ the mother-in-law accuses, ‘she could have helped us.’” Shehnaz falls silent, looking grimly at what she has drawn, the weight of her predicament laid bare on the page.

Shehnaz’s project is to work on a girl’s right to an education. Her issue is urgent in a country where 70% of girls between 6-16 are forced to dropout of school. Over the next year she will hold one on one discussions with parents in her community about the importance and benefits of educating their daughters and will actively intervene to re-enroll girls in school. Her goal is to re-enroll at least 10 girls in the coming year.

When the lecturer started this workshop, he cautioned us that there would be no drawing of superheroes in this session. When I turn to Shehnaz, I know this is not true. As she looks at me with a knowing smile, I can see the cape in her eyes. 

*name changed for safety

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Pooja* was born into a world where she expected at a young age to follow in her mothers footsteps, taking care of a home, children, and a husband at a young age. As a child she became aware of the many expectations that a proper Indian girl would adhere to, and watched her mother memorizing her every move. Her childhood was a mixture of play, school, and various household chores. 

As she approached age 10 she was already being primed for marriage, and learning the essential skills of running a household. She was reminded constantly of the expectations and fully aware of the life set out for her, and did not question it. Her only respite was school, where she learned and could be her age for just a few hours a day. 

As she grew, her love for education grew as well, and many times what she was learning was on her mind more frequently that the prospect of marriage and a role she had long since assumed she would fill. Instead she found herself lost in her studies, her inquisition and desire to learn more growing everyday. 

Her love of knowledge and natural apptitude motivated her to apply for a Shadhika Scholarship. She was now at a point in her life where she had two choices to go after this scholarship, or begin meeting the various prospective husbands her parents were ready to show her to. It was now or never, and so she took the confidence she had and applied, asking for her parents support.

Pooja was granted a scholarship and after a year of study, her parents began to see significant changes in their daughter. She held her head higher, was invested in her studies in a way no one in the community had witnessed before. She had a knowledge that not only was benefiting their daughter, but the entire community. Her mother and father, who had committed to not finding a husband until her studies completed, were now shifting towards allowing their daughter make that decision herself. When asked their thoughts her mother responded, "We will find a husband for Pooja one day, but for now let her study" this simple statement inspiring other young women in the community to ask their parents to let them study as well. 

Pooja continues to study today, focused and excited that not only she is getting an education, but others in her community see the value and the opportunities it provides. She hopes to get a job when she graduates and help support her family. 

*Names have been changed for privacy. 

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Organization Information

Shadhika Project Inc

Location: Denver, CO - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Kendra Nicolai
Denver, CO United States

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