Help Educate Girls in India

by Snehalaya 'Home of Love'
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Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Help Educate Girls in India
Educational games on tablets helping girls study
Educational games on tablets helping girls study

I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and safe during this challenging pandemic. As you are no doubt aware, the second wave of COVID is devastating India and we are extremely grateful for your support which will go some way to helping us get through this. Ahmednagar District, where Snehalaya operates is one of the worst hit with no beds, oxygen or medicines available to our largely rural population of nearly 5 million. High unemployment, a severe lack of statutory healthcare, drought, poverty and a large transient population has historically perpetuated many issues for low-income families, most of whom earn their living from agriculture, daily wage or migrant work.

Since March 2021 a flood of positive cases has rendered the current medical facilities throughout the district overburdened and insufficient. There has been a steep rise in the number of Corona positive patients in the district and with lack of vaccinations and testing we are the worst affected district in our stet with over 3,000 new cases still being reported each day. 

With the already overburdened medical facilities throughout the district insufficient, we have established two COVID care centers and are supporting those hardest hit in many ways. You can read more about our COVID relief work at www.snehalaya.org/covid2021.

Your support has never been more vital with more than 700 million girls around the world currently missing school due to lock downs. Here in India all schools and colleges have been closed for most of the last year and school board exams have been cancelled. It is now the summer vacation and the academic year would normally resume on 15 June, however with little improvement in the situation so far this seems unlikely and it is estimated that 10 million Indian girls will never set foot in a classroom again.

We are determined to get all of our children safely back in their classrooms and help them to catch up on their work. In the meantime, we are conducting online classes and educational activities with all of our beneficiaries. By continuing our work with them, we are also able to support their families with food, hygiene, health & financial aid, vastly reducing the impact of the virus in the most vulnerable communities.

We are also reaching out to those in our other local communities where young girls orphaned by COVID are at increased risk from traffickers and we have opened a dedicated shelter for them. Child marriages also continue to rise and to date our Childline team has saved over 100 child brides – nearly 50% of all rescues in our state! With your support, we will ensure that all of these girls receive the support they need to continue their education when safe to do so.

Education can be sweet
Education can be sweet

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Priyanka on a field visit
Priyanka on a field visit

With COVID 19 cases dramatically reduced in India, many aspects of life are returning to normal with most schools and colleges reopening. We are pleased to report that most of our girls have already returned to their classrooms and we continue to work with others to ensure no girl is deprived of her education. Throughout the pandemic we have been checking in with and supporting students with their remote learning and online classes which we hope will hep them as they prepare for their exams scheduled in a few months. The world may have paused but thanks to our teams on the ground, the learning continued.

We would like to introduce to you one of our Balbhavan’s exceptionally brilliant and bright girls who has overcome tremendous adversities and powered through it all. Her success has been an inspiration to other girls. Meet Priyanka - a young girl hailing from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.

Located behind urban housing as you walk along a dirt road you can find Laltaki (slum) hidden from sight. A life of all pleasures is very gratifying. But in a life without houses or education, even imagining this is difficult. When we first visited Laltaki the conditions were woefully deplorable. The community had been residing there for many years, yet they had no access to electricity and not one single toilet or street light. They were living in absolute darkness. Previously they had a limited source of electricity supply,stolen from nearby poles.

However, our biggest question was ‘how are kids expected to study when there is no light?’ Never mind, ‘How can holistic learning and development can be expected to take place?’ 

Snehalaya entered the slum community with a small patch, now well known as the Balbhavan night study center for education and skill development. In the beginning, it was a challenge to convince parents to send their children to our evening school. With gradual surveys and door-to-door discussions, we finally garnered some children from households who now regularly attend classes every day in morning and evening batches. Their curriculum is designed according to their need and follows a holistic approach to learning. As well as teaching and distributing stationery amongst the children, we encourage them to take extracurricular activities such as drawing, colouring, learning to speak about themselves, playing sports, singing and group dancing. We can proudly say that every year we have been successful in enrolling 700 of our children into our Bal Bhavan in an effort to mainstream them into regular schools. 

When we started working in Laltaki, Priyanka would often come to the centre exhausted from all the household chores that she has to perform being as the eldest girl in her family. Instead of going to school she stayed at home helping  take care of her younger siblings and performing household chores while her father and mother worked as daily wagers. Despite her responsibilities, she started coming to Balbhavan to pursue her education.  She had the potential as an avid learner who is always enthusiastic, energetic and open to new challenges and ideas. She also did an excellent job as a team member at our Childline project working for child rights.

Following her lead, Priyanka’s mother also joined Balbhavan’s night school as a peer worker embracing the opportunities, exposure and growth we offer to community women to be the change they wish to see. Today she is one of our smartest workers and has a second job making school meals. 

We are very proud that Priyanka has now completed her Masters in Social Work (MSW) and is using her skills working as a field officer in a reputed organisation, working with migrant workers in Pune.  

Priyanka highlights and aptly sums it up: “We are really lucky to have such a supportive and encouraging team at Lalaki Balbhavan who have helped me and my mother reach these milestones. People in and around Balbhavan school recognize me and respect me. I also have an identity, which gives me indescribable happiness and satisfaction. Belonging to the slums, it’s really a matter of pride for me.”

Thank you for your support in empowering women like Priyanka to access their equal rights to an education and become the changemakers that pay it forward by helping others.

Supporting migrant workers
Supporting migrant workers

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100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls
100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls

As lock down continues here in India with school remaining closed, unfortunately despite our precautions we had a small outbreak of COVID 19 in our Rehab Center where half of our 200+ children are HIV+. Fortunately, this was predominantly among staff and older children who were immediately isolated and all of whom have recovered. It was a great reminder to continue to keep our guards raised to prevent a more serious outbreak. We hope you are also weathering the pandemic and continue to stay safe and strong.

It is at times like these that your support means so much. You are helping some incredible girls, half of whose mothers are sex workers and half who are HIV+. Despite the hardships they endured before they came to our shelter home they are confident and ambitious and take their studies very seriously. We are incredibly proud of their resilience and dreams to live the successful lives you are helping create through your belief in them.

We want to share the story of one of these amazing girls. Harshal is a 16 year old orphan who came to live at Snehalaya when she was five years old. With your support she completed her 10 Std at our Snehalaya English Medium School earlier this year. She is also an incredibly talented dancer who loves performing on stage at our annual events and festival celebrations.

In January this year she started complaining of a pain in her leg. We took her to hospital for examination by a doctor who misdiagnosed her condition. Sensing there was more to it we took a second opinion and it was recommended she have a biopsy to rule out cancer. As she is HIV+ it was difficult to find a doctor willing to do this and when we finally did the biopsy came back clear. The pain continued for Harshal and we realized that maybe the first biopsy had not gone deep enough and insisted that another one be done by another doctor. This one confirmed our worst fears, she had cancer in the bone of her leg and the best option was to amputate to prevent the spread to other parts of her body.

We had to share this news with Harshal just as Corona virus was beginning to take hold in India and also just before her 10 Std exams. She bravely accepted that her leg would have to be removed and said: “I would rather live without a leg than die”.

As we continued to search for doctors willing to treat her, she bravely fought the pain to sit her exams. Soon she was unable to walk, and was relying on a wheelchair to get around. Fearing COVID 19, we also took the decision to isolate her in our on-site hospital to prevent infections. With the country going into total lock down and limited medical expertise in our city to treat Harshal we started looking to Mumbai and Pune for help. The sad fact is that not many doctors are willing to take the ‘risk’ of operating on someone with HIV. When we did find a doctor in Mumbai, travel restrictions meant we were unable to reach the hospital.

Time was passing and the threat of the cancer growing and spreading was becoming very real. At last we found a doctor who recommended she undertake chemotherapy. Harshal endured this, losing her hair in the process but also the pain subsided. Unfortunately, the cancer was stubborn and the pain returned. Another doctor recommended another round of chemo which again Harshal took in her stride. Again this didn’t work. Finally, last week Harshal’s leg was amputated. She is now recovering in hospital and it is a testament to her fighting spirit that just over a week after her surgery, yesterday she managed to stand on own.

What is even more incredible is despite the pain and trauma she was going through during her exam period, is that she was not only one of our 10th Standard class that secured a 100% pass rate, she was also the top scoring girl achieving 72%.

We are so incredibly proud of her fighting spirit and determination, she has been smiling through the pain since her initial diagnosis and has been so patient over the eight months it has taken since diagnosis to finally get the treatment she so desperately needed. She is an inspiration to our other girls and last Saturday, in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child, her best friend Anuja requested to speak with this year’s 10 standard class to inspire them to study as hard as Harshal.

We know that children all over the world are struggling to continue their education during lockdown and although everyone is facing different challenges, we hope that Harshal’s story is an inspiration to them to do their best to persevere with their current situations. We also hope you take comfort that the support you offer is paying off with girls like Harshal focused on their futures despite the hardships they face. Thank you so much for giving your support to all our girls, it really does mean the world to them.

Harshal's incredible smile
Harshal's incredible smile

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Home schooling
Home schooling

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. As a valued supporter of our projects we want to reassure you that work on our existing projects continues, despite the challenges the current pandemic and lock down is presenting on a daily basis.

Maharashtra, where we are based, currently has registered the largest number of confirmed cases in India and as a result we have been on lock down since 24 March. Before the national and state governments intervened, we had already taken action by stopping visitors to our 23 projects, reducing our field work and providing our staff and beneficiaries with health and sanitation support. As a direct result of our early interventions, we are happy to report that so far we have no suspected cases of the virus.

Our Rehab Centre (childcare institution) and women's shelter have been closed to visitors since March. Our skeleton staff includes our caregivers who are working hard to keep our women and children busy with educational and recreational activities. We are doing our best to have fun to quell their concerns and have been using technology to continue online classes, while also enjoying treasure hunts, fashion shows, Zumba classes, art exhibitions, Lego building sessions, dance competitions, film making and much, much more.

People living in slums have been hit extra hard as many rely on daily wages to feed their families, as the lock down forced most businesses to close, people who live from day to day have seen their meager incomes and food supplies rapidly disappear. Living in cramped and basic quarters they are also at a higher risk from COVID 19 and our teams have been responding by providing food and hygiene kits and emergency financial relief to help them fight off both the virus and starvation.

Usually we would be reporting on the start of the school year on 15 June but the Indian government has suggested that schools will not reopen until at least October. With India’s extreme lock down closing our own school and after school classes and limited technology available to our pupils, it has been a challenge to continue to support our children’s educations. Our staff, children and their parents have been amazing in rising to the challenge. When strict lock down measures prevented anyone from being outside our slum teachers used Whatsapp to contact students via their parents’ mobile phones. They set tasks and assignments and asked those who could to send photos and videos of their progress. Now lockdown has eased a little our teachers are now able to hold small classes in their own homes and conduct home visits to our 700 pupils, one child at a time, to check in on their work and set more homework.

As our Snehalaya English Medium School for the 200+ children living in our shelter home was also forced to close, our shelter home caregiving staff, some of whom have teaching degrees, have been conducting classes for 1-8 standard, while our older children have been attending daily online classes with volunteer teachers. Not only are our children continuing their education but the routine of school hours is helping them cope with the stress of lock down.

We are relieved that our strong foundations and networks meant we were able to keep our children learning, however UNESCO estimates that there are 700 million girls worldwide affected by school closures. With women and girls making up the majority of caregivers, healthcare providers, and essential workers, we are concerned that many girls will never return to the classroom. With so many families facing extreme poverty and loss of livelihoods, they may feel more pressure to force their daughters into early marriage or child or domestic labour. Our projects such as our slum centers, IT center, vocational training centers, hospital, Childline and other outreach services will continue to promote the importance of education and offer support to enable every girl in our district the opportunity to complete 12 full years of schooling.

Now more than ever, your support is vital. We only exist because of wonderful people like you. While we completely understand your own situation may prevent you from donating, you can still help by spreading the word about our work and raise awareness of the situation for vulnerable women and children in India.

Never before has it been so important to know that we are all in this together. Please take good care to stay safe and healthy.

Keeping girls learning
Keeping girls learning

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Anjun is our own Malala
Anjun is our own Malala

As the chill of winter dissipates and the temperatures start their annual hike towards the high 40’s in degrees Celsius, our students’ determination is also on the rise as we enter exam season. This Tuesday saw many of our beneficiaries face their first 12th standard exam and while it may be getting hot outside they are doing a good job of playing it cool and taking the final challenge of their school days in their stride. So too, our 10th standard students are busy revising for their exams which start on 3 March.

While we may remember our own exams with a shudder, these young people truly appreciate the value of education and obtaining the good qualifications that will sustain them through their futures. They are busy soaking up every opportunity to revise and review their learning, from personal study and after school classes to online Skype classes with volunteers in other Indian cities and the USA. We hope you join us in wishing them luck!

They are hoping for the same success as some of their seniors, like Saba and Anjun.

You may remember Saba as one of the girls who joined us on our Malala Fund-supported education campaign trails where she shared her own fight in securing her right to education. Living in a predominantly Muslim slum with her widowed mother and four siblings, her dead father’s family started applying pressure on her to get married when she was just 15. She approached our team who counselled and helped her convince her family to allow her to pursue her dream of studying engineering. We are delighted to report that she has recently graduated from her University of Pune engineering degree with top marks.

Another success story is Anjun whose parents’ poverty forced them to arrange her marriage. Just three days after the wedding, having been abused by her husband, Anjun managed to escape and travelled the 120 km back to her family who were distraught to have put her in such a bad situation.

The day after her return, she was one of the many to watch ‘He Named me Malala’ at one of our roadshow screenings. After the screening, she thought, “If a 12-year-old can do all of this for her education, I can fight for mine too.' The very next day, Anjun came to Snehalaya asking for our help and with the support of Malala Fund and donors like you we were able to enrol her in a local nursing course. We also offered to support her younger sister to help avoid a similar situation for her. 

Anjun is now a fully qualified nurse, has remarried and has a baby daughter. She says: “Snehalaya allowed me to achieve a brighter future and I want to support other girls who are in difficult situations to do the same.” 

It’s thanks to you and girls like Anjun and Saba that we are able to inspire and support more girls to remain in education and achieve their dreams. We are also grateful to GlobalGiving for selecting us to compete for a place in the Global Girl Fund which supports highly effective projects providing education, legal protection, health care, and access to training and job skills so that girls can thrive - making a difference in their lives and their communities.

We have one week from Monday 6 March to Friday, March 13 (with bonus funding available during the first 24-hours of the campaign) to gain as many unique donations as possible. Eight organizations with the highest number of donors  will  win a year-long spot in the 2020 Girl Fund which could help us raise up to an extra $15,000 to support our girls. If you would like to boost your support, save the date and we will send you a reminder nearer the time.

Our school's 10th standard are a little anxious
Our school's 10th standard are a little anxious

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Organization Information

Snehalaya 'Home of Love'

Location: Ahmednagar, Maharashtra - India
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Snehalaya
Project Leader:
Joyce Connolly
Epsom,, Surrey United Kingdom
$63,489 raised of $95,000 goal
 
792 donations
$31,511 to go
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