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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

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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We’re all starting to think this was a bad idea. Our guide has set up a bicycle tour of old Bangalore and there are fourteen of us all on bikes waiting to cross the street. With no stop lights or stop signs, the traffic is full chaos and crossing the street is a skill in and of itself.

 

We’ve been joined by five of the nine Shadhika Scholarship girls from Baale Mane, the others had to stay back because they do not yet know how to ride a bike. Even those who are now with us are visibly struggling. Just thirty minutes in, we call the ride off, after three girls were unable to continue. They are heartbroken. We promise that we will try again next year – but this time do the ride in the countryside by the Baale Mane home, where the roads are not as treacherous. “And next year,” I suggest, “you can all lead the tour.”

 

“Yes,” they say, giving me a look of cautious determination.

 

After regrouping, the girls take us to their college and dormitory. Because the girls at Baale are orphans or have been legally separated from their families, these young women must begin their journey of living on their own in the city by the time they are 18. Shadhika’s support helps them with this transition and supports them through college or vocational school until they get their first job.

 

On the ride over to their college, Pallavi* takes her seat next to me. She is graduating from college in May. “I am feeling very anxious about my future,” she confesses. A journalism major, she wants to get a job at a news station. However, like anywhere, she knows that such an opportunity will only come through personal referrals.

 

For many of the girls we support, this is the challenge. As the first in their community to go to college, their social networks are limited, so finding out about job openings or having someone personally vouch for them is rare.  Because of this, developing strong job placement networks in India is now a priority for Shadhika.  

 

Pallavi and I talk through her anxiety and brainstorm how she might try to find a job opening in her field. She’s talking with students who have already graduated to see if they can help and mentions there is a news station nearby that offers classes. We consider that this might be a good way to make herself known to them.

 

Still, I can see how the weight of this next step in her life troubles her. Switching the topic, I ask her about the bike ride earlier in the day. She was one of the two girls who mastered the ride. Was it hard? I ask. “Yes,” she confesses, “but I said to myself, ‘You can do this. You’re almost a college graduate!’”

 

I’m often asked about Shadhika’s ultimate goal. Is it education, job placement, girls’ rights? But those are just products of our goal. In the end, when all is said and done, our real legacy will be to ensure that girls like Pallavi have the tools and information they need to make their own decisions in their lives. So that they can navigate path with confidence and skill, regardless of any traffic they may encounter.

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Organization Information

Shadhika Project Inc

Location: Denver, CO - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Kim Burnett
Denver, CO United States
$78,888 raised of $90,000 goal
 
1,111 donations
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