In the heart of Meerut, lies the little Village of Chandora with a population of about 14,000. Thanks to the efforts of a bright-spirited 19-year-old, almost all the girls of this Village are now educated and can choose their own destinies.
A former child labourer, Zainab Khan, like all the other girls in her village used to stitch footballs to earn keep for her family. For a child of an impressionable age of ten, this didn’t give her much avenue to break social stigmas and become something bigger and better than follow the path laid out for her.
But Zainab always knew that there was more to her life than laboriously giving up her finest growing years for an activity she shouldn’t have to do in the first place.
“My peers had started when they were as young as four or five years old. There would hardly be any boys doing this; only girls because they were not sent to school and had to lend a helping hand in earning for the family,” – Zainab Khan.
The monumental turning point in her life took place in the year 2006, with the advent of the ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’, a famous Child’s right movement that made its way to her village in Meerut. According to this movement, there was a need to create a ‘Bal Panchayat’ through which the children of the village can protect themselves from exploitation, shun child labour and talk about pertinent issues that were affecting them every day.
This Panchayat was to democratically elect a few representatives from among the children of the village and this was where Zainab first experienced a spark of independence at a mere five years of age, when she was elected the ‘Bal Pradhan’.
Zainab was the first girl in her Village to travel everyday to the main City to complete her twelfth standard education. Like most villages in India, hers lacked the basic infrastructure to build a High School in the premises, its absence leading to incomplete learning processes for all the other children. However, tides were soon to turn in their favour when Zainab met the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, at a function in Lucknow and told him about how the children in Chandora weren’t able to complete their education for lack of infrastructure and resources.
“The dreams of hundreds of girls in my village will be fulfilled after the construction of this school is complete, but what about those girls who still struggle to study due to unavailability of school near their homes? I request Akhilesh sir to meet two girls each from a district and know about the ground reality of education” – Zainab Khan.
Following her conversation, the Chief Minister instructed the DIOS to set about the establishment of a Higher Secondary School in Chandora.
“Right from the start my objective was straightforward – tell the children to stop stitching footballs and attend school. Over the years, I have kept up my engagement with the community, persuading parents to send children to school. At present, 120 children are enrolled in my village school and not a single child in Chandora is illiterate,” – Zainab Khan.
For Zainab, the success of her childhood dream of having a Higher Secondary School in Chandora for all the children in the village means more than any kind of personal achievement or development she may have carried out. To helping slow down if not halting child labour altogether, to bringing about the establishment of a stable education centre and for giving hope to the children of an obscure village in Uttar Pradesh, this 19-year-old’s journey is an inspiration to us all.
Currently, the Chief Minister has received an appeal from Zainab, requesting him to meet two girls from every district on Children’s Day so that he will be informed about education-related problems of these districts and of more, across the State.