An initiative that started with eight girls now has 80 girls and women getting educated and empowered.
'Last night I had a dream, I was flying in the sky. Ever since a little girl, I wanted to fly. I had many beautiful dreams for myself. Today I feel that all my dreams are turning into reality.'
These are the few lines written in the notebook of Pushpa, a 40-year-old woman who is realising her dream of getting an education with the help of 'Teach Girls with Us'. As a child, she couldn’t go to school, but now she is fine missing a meal but not a day at the school. Today she can read, write and also teaches her classmates.
29-years-old Uplabdhi Misha Chandola, founder of Teach Girls, met a girl who was 13 and unwilling to get married. “She asked me to talk to her mother and convince her not to marry her. She instead wanted to go to school and study. I tried really hard to persuade her mother, but all in vain. My efforts did not succeed this time. In certain communities, girls are married at a very early age fearing that they might fall in love or elope with someone and bring shame on and disgrace to the family. Going to school or getting an education is not an option at all for these girls,” she explains.
These are the reasons why the darkness of illiteracy is still haunting us and why women in several communities are still oppressed, abused and have no voice of their own.
The government has several schemes to educate girls, but it fails to understanding the socio-fabric of our Indian society. Many girls in remote parts of India don’t get an opportunity to go to school as the distance between their home and school is miles apart. Patriarchy, economic conditions and outdated ideologies that prefer educating a male child over a female are a few of the barriers to a girl getting educated.
With this thought in mind Uplabdhi, along with her her husband Tyler Scott, started Teach Girls With Us, an evening school for girls in a small locality of Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand. This is not your run-of-the-mill school, but one where a girl of five years studies alongside a woman of fifty. When it comes to teaching there is no barrier. Sometimes the students become the teachers and the teacher becomes a student. A well-laid curriculum is complemented by life skill training, regular medical checkups, and skills that will empower them to earn a living.
Uplabdhi lived in Tehri in Garhwal district as a child, where her mother was involved in the cause of educating underprivileged children. She got a Bachelor's degree in Education from ICFAI University, Hyderabad and a Master’s degree in English from HNB University. She then started working as a teacher. “I was not satisfied as the children I was teaching had all the means to get a good education. The inner desire to make a difference led me to work for an American organisation, where I was teaching underprivileged girls. I realised a woman cannot be empowered from within and have a voice of her own if she is not educated. When I came back to India in my own place I found a huge gap that needed to be bridged. It led to the birth of Teach Girls,” she says.
In the year 2015, project Mangal Basti was started in a slum that composed of 80 percent Muslim population and a large number of women and girls who couldn’t go to school. Initially, there was resistance. After six months of persistence, Uplabdhi could convince the members of the community to set up a school here. But she had no place to start a school. Shahna, a lady from the community, allowed her to teach girls in the verandah of her house. There was no distinction made based on age, and girls and women were encouraged to participate based on their zest to learn and their intellectual competencies.
It takes around Rs 9,000 per annum in the Mangal Basti to take care of a girl’s education. Teach Girls is raising funds through crowdfunding to support their initiative.
“Today, the women at Mangal Basti can read and write and enjoy learning. Their families have been transforming, and so have their lives. Working with them I have been deeply impacted and realised how beautiful life is when it is meaningfully lived,” says Uplabdhi.
Gulisthan was a Class-VIII dropout and was reluctant to go to school. Following Uplabdhi's persuasion, she reluctantly joined the school, sneaking in from the back. Today she is pursuing her graduation from open school, loves to dance and is happy with her life.
Many women are coming forward to study at the school though initially, retaining them was a challenge. An initiative that started with eight girls now has 80 girls and women getting educated and empowered. Their lives have changed for the better and they have the courage to dream and take control of their lives.