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The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!

by Lotus Outreach
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The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
The Blossom Bus: Help Rural Girls Get To School!
Afsana is a role model for girls in her village
Afsana is a role model for girls in her village

Since we visited the charismatic Afsana in 2012, she has been busy inspiring other girls in her village to join the Blossom Bus and attend school, and the ripple effect of her efforts is highly evident. There are now six girls from this tiny, middle-of-nowhere village picturesquely sandwiched between ponds filled by underground aquifers and quarry stone for road and wall building.

All of the one- and two-room homes and in this otherwise minimalist setting feature exquisite hues of ochre and mottled green-grey sandstone and slate. I’m sure for the locals these materials are not at all inspiring, as they see their homes as simply an extension of the barren landscape. But for a visitor with an eye for aesthetics and enviro-friendly development, a settlement of single story dwellings blended into the landscape -- with not a single sign board or plastic wrapper in sight -- is the stuff of ecotopias.

We planned to visit some of the girls we had brought back to school through the Blossom Bus and as it turned out, we were delighted to know Afsana was ‘in town’ and we could meet her as well.

Our first stop was to the single room home of year 8 girl Sarita, 16 years-old from Hutchpuri Village where we also met her mother, older brother and his son. Her mother Jumna doesn’t know her age but her oldest son tells us the oldest daughter is 30, so we guess Jumna is around 45. Jumna tells us, “I’ve never been to school, not even for one day. We are poor and became even poorer when we had to sell our buffaloes to marry our daughter and lost the income from selling the milk. We have no land and I now fully understand the importance of education. Girls learn how to speak out and can also get a job and provide a decent income for the family.”

Sarita has three older sisters; one completed grade 5, another grade 6 and the third never went to school at all. Her father does not work and her older brother is married and provides $25 a month so the family has food to eat. Sarita was forced to drop out of school after finishing grade 7 a year ago and tells us, “my family is very poor and they asked me to drop out of school and stay at home. I was very sad and disappointed but could not argue with my parents at the time. During the past year however I’ve been inspired by Afsana. She is now in grade 10, the first from our village, and is very popular and inspiring. She seems very educated to us and speaks well. All the girls look up to her. Afsana lobbied for us to join the Blossom Bus too. I asked my family many times and they finally agreed to meet the driver and they were convinced it was important and that they should let me go back to school. Now I am very happy!”

She further tells us, “the primary school in my village is not good and teachers are not teaching well. I am now attending class 8 at Chaisa village high school some 5 kms away. We leave at 7.30 am and start back at 2.30 pm. It only takes 20 minutes or so for the journey. I really enjoy studying, English and Hindi are my favorite subjects.” When asked about her future dreams she tells us with a faraway look in her eyes, “I want to go to college and study science.”

As we heard Sarita’s report about Afsana being much looked up to and an inspiration to the girls of Hutchpuri, I was delighted that we would be able to meet and catch up with her during our visit.

We gave our regards to an ornery camel as we entered pathways taking us further inside the village to where Afsana was waiting with her mother, her older sister and the sister’s daughter. We all lit up with delight at seeing each other but were surprised they were living in a lean-to and not in their pucca brick dwelling. It turns out the oldest boy has married and now dominates the main house with his wife and growing family while the rest of the ‘girls’ make do under a thatch roof with no walls. It’s kind of shocking to me but Suraj and Shyam Vir, our local staff, feel the location is good and cool during the summer months.

We launched in to our interview with Afsana and asked how she was progressing and what’s been happening with other girls in her community. She tells us she convinced four new girls to join the Blossom Bus and she herself has just completed her year 10 board exams and expects to progress to year 11 in this academic year. The results are not yet out but she tells us, “I expect to get a 1st division pass. I am top scorer of 16 girls and somewhere around the middle if you include the 64 boys at our class level.”

We look around their simple dwelling and note there is a light and ask if that assists Afsana in studying at night to which her mum replies, “ We don’t ask her to do any work, we’re supporting her in her studies and we put up a light and connected electricity to this dwelling so she can read at night.”

When asked about the future, Afsana tells us soberly, “I want to study at college but its 25 kms from here. We will just take it one step at a time. First I have to clear year 12.” We can’t help feeling there is a bright future ahead and feel compelled to help this inspiring young woman as much as possible. 

Sarita
Sarita
Afsana's humble dwelling
Afsana's humble dwelling
The author gets a bite from a local camel
The author gets a bite from a local camel

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Manju (first row, far right) and her peers
Manju (first row, far right) and her peers

A special thanks to all of our “girl champs” for your generous efforts during the November 2012 Girl Effect Challenge. Though we were unable to edge into the top six, our supporters mobilized to raise over $10,000 for our Blossom Bus program throughout the month, which will allow us to double the number of Blossom Bus riders to 300 beginning this April.

The story of 17 year-old Manju underscores the power of an intervention as seemingly minor as providing a ride to school. Members of a scheduled caste, Manju’s family of seven is landless and poor, and their survival depends solely on the labor of the father Vijay who paints houses in nearby villages. Though Manju faced teasing from her upper-caste classmates, her father was determined to overcome class barriers and felt strongly that keeping Manju in school would prove a catalyst for this change. The Blossom Bus identified Manju and 13 other lower-caste girls in her village as "high priority" given their vulnerability to dropping out of school, and all 14 girls are now attending grade 10 with daily bus transportation.

Manju will graduate to upper secondary school this year and is determined to finish high school--and continue on to college if possible. Manju will likely be part of the first cohort of a planned extension of the Blossom Bus project, which will begin transporting girls transitioning to high school this year. The Blossom Bus will also be expanding to the border with neighboring Rajasthan, a high-need region to which our LEARN education watchdog program recently expanded.

We offer our heartfelt thanks to you for helping Manju and her peers in their uphill battle to pursue education in a country that was recently reported as the G20’s “worst country to be a woman.” With your help 300 young women will be able to achieve the promise of education, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty for themselves, their families and the countless generations that will follow them.

To read more about this project or pledge additional support, please visit www.blossombus.org.

Manju at her school
Manju at her school
82 Blossom Bus girls attend this school
82 Blossom Bus girls attend this school

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We are the Girl Effect!
We are the Girl Effect!

Lotus Outreach and the Blossom Bus are in the final hours of the second annual Girl Effect Challenge. Victory in this challenge would mean we could double the number of Blossom Bus girls next year to 300, bringing new hope to 150 girls that have been forced to drop out of school and are at-risk of becoming child brides.

The only way we can guarantee victory and continue our invaluable partnership with Girl Effect in 2013 is through your vote.

A donation of just $10 to the project = one vote for the Blossom Bus, and there are two simple ways to cast your vote: 

Donate online at www.blossombus.org

-or-

Text "GIVE 5307" to 80088 to donate $10*

You can track our progress on the Girl Effect Challenge leaderboard here.

So far this year, 150 girls have received rides to and from school each day as a result of the tremendous outpouring of love, support and energy we received from you all in the 2011 challenge. 99% of these girls graduated to a higher grade level this spring, with many making history in their village high schools. We know you can help us cross the finish line again and enable these bright young women to continue blazing trails in their communities.

If you have already donated toward the challenge this month, thank you!!! Please continue to be a voice for these amazing girls by telling your friends, family and colleagues about this challenge via email, Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to ask them to donate $10 to cast their vote too.

The "polls" close on November 30, so be sure to cast your vote today!

Warmly,
Lotus Outreach

*Charges will appear on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your prepaid balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate. Message and Data Rates May Apply. Text STOP to 80088 to STOP. Text HELP to 80088 for HELP. Full Terms:www.mGive.org/T. Privacy Policy: goto.gg/privacy.

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Sangita, with her proud grandmother
Sangita, with her proud grandmother

My name is Sangita and I belong to a lower-caste family in Bhanguri village. After I passed grade eight in 2011 from Aharvan School, my father and grandmother asked me to stop going to school as it was not safe to walk three kilometers through the village of upper-caste people, as they generally do not like girls from lower-caste families going to school because it challenges their supremacy. I had no option as I could not object to my parents' wishes. I felt very bad when I saw girls from upper-caste families going to private schools in buses hired by their parents.

I had to stay home for a whole academic year until one day, my friend from school told me that one NGO is providing transport to the girls from Muslim families attending Aharvan School. I had no idea how to approach that NGO and I am not Muslim too. My friends at school helped me and one day I met the representative of Lotus Outreach, who was providing transport. I was very happy to know that the NGO was going to add more girls to the bus and I requested them to add me to the list.

Lotus Outreach was going door-to-door to identify girls who were supposed to drop out after grade five, as our village has only one primary school and so the girls must drop out once they reach grade six because parents won’t let 11 and 12 year-old girls walk alone to a distant school. Lotus Outreach found 40 girls in our village who either dropped out last year or were scheduled to drop out this year after passing grade five.

I was lucky to get a seat on the Blossom Bus and was enrolled again and returned to school. My grandmother initially felt uncomfortable, but when she was informed that over 150 girls are travelling on the Blossom Bus which has been running for three years, she not only agreed but also handed out sweets to the girls on the bus! My grandmother was even happier than I was, as her sons could never study much because of non-availability of resources, but now her granddaughter can study and become a model for the lower-caste families living in the village.

I am happy to be in school, enjoy the bus ride and enjoy my studies. I hope that I can one day graduate high school and get a good job. I want to study not only for my own development, but I want to help motivate parents of all girls from lower-caste families to go to school too.

Thank you Blossom Bus!!!

Three of 46 girls to recently return to school
Three of 46 girls to recently return to school

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"I'll graduate before I'll marry"
"I'll graduate before I'll marry"

Afsana recently received the wonderful news that she passed grade 9. But her achievement isn’t only a personal milestone; her entire community is marking the occasion. That’s because Afsana will be the very first female in Mehluka village to reach grade 10.

Finishing grade 9 at 16 years old, Afsana is a tad behind by western standards. But in the remote, rural district of northern India where she is from, an unwed, childless girl of her age is a rarity. Afsana’s own mother was 14 when she married, and neither of her parents even attended school.

A striking contrast also lies between Afsana and her two older sisters, only one of whom reached as far as grade 5. (The other never went to school.) While Afsana amiably leads our field staff on a tour of her home, her sisters remain in their rooms; on the way out, our officers are discouraged from acknowledging their veiled forms at the door. As married women, they must keep their heads covered, and certainly not address men other than their husbands.

“It’s like seeing the past and the present in one place at the same time,” remarked our director of field operations, Glenn Fawcett.

This surreal juxtaposition almost didn’t come to pass. Despite her visible passion for education, in the year after grade 8 Afsana remained at home, helping to look after her nieces, nephews and the housekeeping. With her secondary school too far away to safely walk to alone, Afsana’s parents pulled her out of school. She resigned herself to the idea of an early marriage.

That’s when news of Lotus Outreach’s Blossom Bus, a school transportation program designed specifically to reach Mewat’s secondary school-aged young women, blew through Mehluka village.

“When I heard about the chance to return to school, my heart almost burst,” says Afsana. 

Not only did she sign herself up for the Bus, she rallied four of her friends who had also dropped out to re-enroll with her. Now first in her class of 16 girls, a confident Afsana declares, “I want to finish grade 12 before even thinking about marriage.”

Today the Blossom Bus provides the vital link to continued education for 150 girls across Afsana’s home district of Mewat, many of whom are blazing trails for their younger sisters, just like Afsana. We could never do it without your support! Thank you so much for keeping these girls in school. 

Afsana at home with her younger siblings
Afsana at home with her younger siblings
Studying 2-3 hours every night
Studying 2-3 hours every night
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Organization Information

Lotus Outreach

Location: Ojai, California - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @lotusoutreach
Project Leader:
Alexandra Land
Ojai, CA United States
$160,227 raised of $200,000 goal
 
2,833 donations
$39,773 to go
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