The youth comprises over one-third of the Indian population which in turn constitutes a major part of the labour force of the country. The number of underprivileged youth in India who lacks education and proper guidance is so huge that according to the reports of the Financial Express only 15% of the young graduates passing out of colleges are employable; the rest are branded unemployable.
Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP) is such an initiative of Smile Foundation that aims at creating a pool of young and independent people, from a section of underprivileged youth, through skill enhancement in tandem with market requirements. It is an effort towards bridging the gap between demand and supply of skilled manpower in the fast emerging services and retail sectors of modern India.
Here are some inspiring stories of young girls from across India who have been skilled, trained and empowered under the STeP programme to earn an independent and dignified livelihood:
“It is not easy for girls to have dreams. I was one of the only few girls in our slum who went to school. My parents were never able to buy new clothes for us. Every year I prayed to God to not grow since I had to wear the same cloth all the time. I knew my father’s income wasn’t enough to feed the six members of our family. My father struggled every day to ensure that I go to school. Because of lack of money I could not study beyond class 12. I stayed indoors to avoid talking to people. Neighbours and relatives started blaming my father for pinning their hopes on a daughter. He had suffered the same taunts when he had decided to send me to school, when the family was almost starving. When I got my first job, my father was the happiest man. He always says – If you have a heartbeat, there’s still time for your dreams.”
“Orphaned in childhood, harassed by in-laws over dowry, beaten by husband, two miscarriages – life has shown me everything that can give shivers to any woman. After losing both my parents in childhood, emptiness killed me every day. I craved for a family, for belongingness. At the age of 21, my aunt got me engaged. There were fears, but somewhere I hoped to get a soul mate and new parents too. But destiny betrayed me again. My in-laws from whom I sought parental love started torturing me for dowry. What devastated me further was my husband’s attitude towards me. Despite taking marital vows of always supporting me, he started beating me mercilessly for demanding a car from my aunt. I got pregnant twice, but they never took me to doctor for routine check-ups. Due to poor health and mental trauma, both time, I suffered miscarriages – and the mother within me died one day.
Having lost hope and faith in life, I came back to my aunt’s house. Days passed but I could not move on. Being unproductive and sitting idle at home made me feel worthless and a burden on my aunt. Once I was a daughter, a wife and a mother… and suddenly one day, I became alone in a lost world where there was nothing but darkness. It was easy for me to remain in that darkness, but I decided to stop crying behind closed doors. I began fighting a battle nobody knew about – to earn food and dignity. My aunt says it’s my rebirth now and she wants me to celebrate it every day.
– Mamta (Name changed to protect identity)
“Being a girl always represented a lot of ‘NO’s. I wanted to study, the answer was ‘no.’ I wanted to join singing classes, the answer was ‘no.’ I wanted to travel, the answer was ‘no.’ All my life, I felt like there was a barrier separating me from life. I grew up in a densely populated slum in Mumbai… in a one-room house where everything is limited – limited space, limited clothes and limited food. After lots of debates and fights at home, I got the chance to go to school. However, I could not study beyond class 10 because my father could no more afford my school fees. The only thing my family wanted for me was to get married. I lost almost four years of my life sitting at home and unable to do anything. Eventually I reached a moment where I knew that my only chance was to make a major change. I chose to stand against all ‘NO’s for the first time. I enrolled myself for an employability training and was fortunate to get a job upon completion. I am the first girl in my family to have got an employment. This has changed many things – people’s opinions about me, my family’s faith on me, and of course – me as a person. ‘NO’ is not always the answer.”
– Sana (Name changed)
“Respect is the most important thing in a human’s life. My father did all kind of small jobs in his life to survive with his family. Sometimes he worked as a labour on construction sites, sometimes he worked on small shops as a helper, and sometimes he did loading and unloading of goods in factories. He was bound to respect everyone – those who were older than him and also those who were very younger than him. On the other hand people insulted him for being uneducated and poor. Despite the hard struggles, my father ensured that I and all my sisters get an education. He says society respects educated people, and I always wanted to earn that respect for him. Today, I work as a teacher and nothing brings more happiness to my heart when people talk to my father with admiration and honour.”
To know more about our STeP Programme please visit us at http://www.smilefoundationindia.org/e_learning.html