7 Heroes overcoming the Challenges of getting Girls back to School
Today we celebrate International Women's Day! This year the theme is #choosetochallenge. Educate Girls, a HundrED 2021 innovation, does just this every day by challenging societal norms and providing quality education for girls in India. Their scalable approach has been widely successful and they continue to have a great impact on girls in India and globally.
Educating girls can solve some of the world’s most pressing problems and help achieve 9 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Educate Girls, since its inception in 2007, has been mobilizing communities towards girls’ education in the most rural areas of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh and has brought 750,000+ girls back to school!
Critical to Educate Girls’ process is the mobilization of an ‘army’ of gender champions our Team Balika – young men and women from the villages in which we work, who tirelessly go door to door to engage with families, influence a shift in mindsets and persuade parents to send their girls to school. They have also been critical in supporting the education of children during the pandemic, through a community-based education programme Camp Vidya, delivered in a socially-distanced way in over 7,000 villages.
Meet 7 on-ground heroes, Educate Girls’ Team Balika volunteers who have made our journey possible and continue to do so even during the pandemic:
Gayatri Bunkar, a young lady from a small village in rural Rajasthan aspires to be a teacher so that one day all the girls in her village are educated. Since the time she became a Team Balika volunteer in 2017, she has been sparing no effort to promote education in her village. Soon after the announcement of lockdown to prevent the outspread of COVID, she gathered all the information about the virus, and disseminated it to her community. Even during the pandemic, she convinced the parents of 8 children to send them to school, once it reopens and taught the children at the recently set up Camp Vidya.
In another remote village of Rajasthan, Educate Girls’ Team Balika volunteer Laxman Singh continues to leaves no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring girls are educated in his village. Last year, when schools were shut down due to COVID, he enrolled 13 children into Camp Vidya, and to make sure that learning doesn’t stop in his village, he conducted 16 inspiring sessions. He not only volunteers in his village but extends his support to neighbouring villages too, not only focused on education, but also by distributing masks and conducting awareness campaigns on the coronavirus.
Team Balika volunteer, Phoola Devi from Uttar Pradesh showed incredible dedication and has emerged as a COVID warrior, ensuring government relief schemes, COVID awareness measures, and the government’s digital learning applications are understood at the village level. When COVID hit, she immediately responded with a prevention awareness drive with WhatsApp posters to 50+ families. She used the Prerna application (Uttar Pradesh government’s digital learning app) to teach Hindi and Mathematics to over 25 children. In such a tough year she has been instrumental in enrolling 40 children into school, ready for the reopening. And on top of all this, she is also teaching 20 children at her home, with all social distancing and prevention measures in place.
Hatari Choungad, a Team Balika volunteer from a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, didn’t let COVID-19 challenges stop her from promoting girls’ education in her village. She organised community meetings with COVID protocols to convince parents to send their children to school after it re-opens and as a result, 29 children were enrolled in school. To ensure uninterrupted learning, she conducted 16 sessions in a community-based learning camp, Camp Vidya, and also life skills activities to empower adolescent girls in her village.
26-year-old Renuka Solanki from rural Madhya Pradesh became an Educate Girls’ Team Balika volunteer in 2016. She has been recognized with the Best Volunteer Award for two years running. Even when presented with the complexity of the COVID pandemic, when people are afraid to send their children to school, she was prepared to spend additional time, explaining the realities, busting the myths, and convincing parents to let their children study. Once the COVID restrictions were lifted, she conducted a door-to-door survey of 78 households to identify out-of-school girls and ensure they get back to the classroom.
Three years ago in Rajasthan, Kali Bai Gameti, became a Team Balika volunteer and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting girls’ education. This year, amid all the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, she did her best to support people in her village. She surveyed the households in the pandemic to check if any immediate assistance is required by them, distributed rations among 60 needy families. To ensure children have access to learning, she taught 14 children using the government’s SMILE app in community-based learning camps. So far, she had enrolled 31 children in school and organised life skills activities for 15 girls.
Team Balika volunteer Kavita Alawa from Madhya Pradesh extended all her support to her community in this crucial time. She painted on the village walls and made posters to raise awareness of the virus, distributed masks, provided support to 56+ families, and supported the local health authorities. Kavita ensured that no child is deprived of education in the absence of regular classes. She also extended her support to Team Balika volunteers in neighbouring villages in completing the door-to-door survey to identify out-of-school girls this year. She has been recognized and celebrated by the local government authorities for her efforts and support.
There is no cookie cutter approach to overcoming challenges faced by girls when trying to access their right to an education. Each family has a different story, each village has different barriers that stand in the way of girls getting to school. Patriarchy, poverty, health, safety, peer pressure – every barrier has to have an individual approach and that is why the door-to-door strategy of our Team Balika is so crucial. Educate Girls is spearheaded by 13,000+ such Team Balika volunteers who are ensuring every girl in their village is in school, thereby breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. “My village, my problem and I am the solution!” is the rallying call from all our heroes as our Team Balika now expands to enroll 1.5 million girls into school in the next 5 years!