This farm labourer’s daughter made it to AIIMS, and now wants to improve healthcare in her village
While many of us may take our education for granted, not all of us are born into families where getting an education is considered important. This is especially true for girls – one-third of whom are not even enrolled in schools in India, according to a 2017 India Human Development Survey, due to the binding gender roles. As many as 47 percent of girls in impoverished villages don’t get to complete their studies and are married off before they turn 18.
But Charul Honariya, the first girl from her village to get admission at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), considers herself lucky that her father understood the importance of having a proper education.
More than that, she is acutely aware of the poor health infrastructure in and around her village.
“As I was growing up, I could see a lot of people struggling with medical issues. And because there’s no hospital nearby, people would have to travel many kilometres to get the treatment. This is especially the case with pregnancy and in case of emergencies, as there are no good hospitals in the tehsil,” she tells SocialStory.
This is why she wants to open quality rural healthcare centres in and around her village.
“Many students, when they pursue an education in medicine, dream of opening clinics when they become doctors. For me, I want to open them near villages to provide quality primary healthcare,” she adds.
Hailing from Kiratpur village, around 35 kilometres away from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, Charul was quite aware of the financial troubles faced by her family. Though her father is a graduate, he works as a farm labourer with a meagre salary, just enough to feed his five children. But his dream was to facilitate better education for his children than what he had received, and not let his children get into farming.
“When I was studying in the primary school of my village, I realised there were better and more expensive schools where I could get quality education. But because my parents could not afford, I didn’t ask them to send me to a good school,” she recalls.
As a child, she could see that the teachers couldn’t teach the students in the primary school properly, and most students were not serious about their studies either.
“Till then, my fate had been decided that I would study till Class V in the primary school near the village. If I completed my higher education, I would have had to find a job in the tehsil only. My family wasn’t financially strong, so all the desires for a better life were suppressed,” she adds.
But Charul’s life soon took a turn.
Because she had been a good and a diligent student, Charul’s teachers told her parents about VidyaGyan Leadership Academy in Bulandshahr – a residential co-ed school that offers free education to rural and underprivileged meritorious students from families with an annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh. It was established in 2009 by the Shiv Nadar Foundation to bridge the urban-rural divide by nurturing students from economically disadvantaged families living in rural areas.
Charul’s father, Shoukeen Singh, helped her prepare and take admission into the school. When she started studying at VidyaGyan, she then realised that life was actually about fulfilling your dreams.
“The teachers there were good and if your concepts were clear, you did not struggle with the studies. They would also provide books for those who did not have the means to afford it and took care of your studies. I was lucky to have the opportunity, guidance, and support to pursue my education,” Charul says.
But transitioning from Class V to Class VI wasn’t easy for Charul as she had to face the language barrier. But she soon found her ways, and since Class IX, has remained the topper of her class.
She even went on to score 93 percent in her Class XII board exams – a score she still jokingly considers low as she was expecting higher marks.
Charul took a year off and started preparing for National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) with Dakshana Foundation in Pune, a philanthropic initiative aimed at nurturing rural scholars. That was one of the most testing years of her life as she devoted nearly 11-12 hours each day to prepare for the exam.
She had to return home when the nationwide lockdown was announced to curb the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country. As she had been a hosteller since Class VI, she says it was initially difficult to adjust to studying at home as she had always considered home as a getaway.
And then there was the problem of poor internet connectivity, something she told her father about. Despite not having the financial resources, her father bought her a phone so that she could continue with her preparations – something she is deeply grateful about.
“I had always been a hosteller so I never had the habit of studying at home. So, I used to study at night when things were quite at home and my siblings weren’t running around, and would often doze off at the study table. My mother would then take my glasses off, waking me up from my slumber, and I would resume studying,” she says.
All that hard work has now paid off. Charul bagged an all-India rank of 681 and category rank (SC) of 10, enabling her to get an opportunity to study at AIIMS, Delhi. But she fondly recalls the night she realised her life was about to change.
“According to the mock tests, I was expecting a maximum score of 630. But I realised the exam had went well and even before reaching home, I was expecting a score of 650+. But I was unable to sleep so till 2:30 am that night, I checked my answers, and it turned out I was on track to score 680. I couldn’t sleep all night at all! When I told everyone in the morning, my family was quite ecstatic.”
Now that her classes at AIIMS have begun, she plans to start a YouTube channel to inform other disadvantaged students about the strategies they can adopt to pursue their studies. She also underlines that parents and students should be aware of the opportunities that they have before them for a better future.
But more than anything else, she is just excited to go to Delhi when the pandemic tides over and start a new chapter in her life.
Edited by Megha Reddy