Monsoon Issue - 2017

Smile Foundation



Afreen's first “STEP” on the journey of empowerment

I come from a family, where it wasn’t easy for me to have dreams. No one in my family had received education, and the same was applicable for me as well. Despite her inclination towards studies, my mother was not allowed to go to school. But she had a dream for me that I get educated and become an independent woman when I grow up. She bravely told her wish to my father, who opposed and threatened her with dire consequences. He said we don’t have money to fund my education and moreover, there is no point providing education to girls. They just have to sit at home and perform household chores. What good would education do? But my mother stood by her decision, fought against all odds and managed to send me to a government school. She promised to my father that she will take care of my education expenses and would never ask him for money.” Afreen hails from a family where neither her mother, grandmother, nor her aunts had received education. None of the women in the family had been to a school.

Though Afreen started school, it wasn’t easy for her and her mother. She tells that her father used to fight a lot with her mother and would always point out her education to be the cause of shortage of food, clothes and day-to-day expenses. “There were times I used to hold my books and cry silently as my mother continued to brave the harsh words hurled at her.” Her father was not the only one who had problems with her education; there were relatives who would say things that made it more difficult for Afreen to continue with her studies. “While some of my relatives would come to my home and advise my father to get me out of school as it was leaving a bad impression on their children, others had stopped talking to my family”. Amidst all these struggles, Afreen managed to study till class 10th.

Afreen had the enthusiasm to study and become an independent woman. She managed to go to school but her education was not enough to make her capable of earning a livelihood. She needed to learn skills that would make her employable. Smile Foundation gave her proper guidance to achieve her dream through its national livelihood programme STeP (Smile Twin E-learning Programme). “With the skill development programme, I regained my confidence and once again started nurturing my dream to become an independent woman”, says a happy Afreen who now works at a reputed Law Firm in Mumbai. Afreen, like many other youth in her village, has been trained for six months in English Proficiency, Basic Computer Education and Soft Skills that are essential skills that organizations look for when hiring an employee.

Afreen has two younger sisters, who should have by now started their schooling. But due to the conditions at home and witnessing the struggles their elder sister had to face, they don’t even think of going to school. Afreen plans to save every penny of her earnings to educate her sisters, for she believes that only education can light up their lives. Afreen’s story has not only inspired her relatives, some of whom have also started sending their daughters to school, but she has also set up an example for the entire community in her village. She says her father has now started believing in education and hopes that he would not oppose when her sisters start schooling.

Like Afreen, the over 100 youth currently enrolled at the centre have faced extremely difficult circumstances to even go to school. Some had to drop out after completing Class 10th, while others were able to finish school, but could not pursue higher education. Consequently, they could not get good jobs and were unable to support their families financially. After completing the STeP course and getting a hands-on workplace experience through its specially designed value-addition sessions such as career counseling, employer engagement and industry exposure visits, the youth are now assured, confident and score high on the employability scale. They are all set to become the first generation white collar workers in their families, a matter of great pride to their parents.

More than 32,000 youth have been trained under STeP so far, and of these, over 19,000 youth have been placed in around 150 reputed brands across India. With more young boys and girls like Afreen enrolling for the programme, Smile Foundation has been able to help them take the first step in the journey of turning their dreams into reality.

Now employed in a law firm, Afreen’s dream is to educate her young sisters. Her biggest victory has been to change the outlook of her father, who has finally started believing in the power of education.

Afreen with the other students of her batch at the STeP centre. Many of them are now employed like her and are earning a dignified livelihood

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