I strongly feel that this is a big honour to hundreds of millions of the children who have been deprived of their childhood and freedom and education.” – Mr. Kailash Satyarthi on winning the Nobel Peace Prize 2014.
The father of modern education-John Amos Comenius proposed – “all persons should be educated, so we could have peace in the world”. Visionaries of the world understood that peace meant guaranteeing every person certain rights that are conditional for humanity-education being one of the most important.
The addition of the right to education in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was the beginning of a remarkable expansion of educational opportunities around the world. In transforming this ‘right’ to real opportunities, it took dedicated efforts of ordinary people who established schools, took teaching as a profession and supported those who did.
2014 Nobel Peace Prize awardees-Ms. Malala Yousafzai and Mr. Kailash Satyarthi have reminded us all of the need to keep on advancing in providing opportunities that has an important effect on all children. The opportunities are meant to be meaningful enough to allow them to learn and gain the mindsets and skills that would empower them to be free, develop themselves, their communities and the world.
Just a day after Malala’s Nobel Award was announced, the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child-a distinguished date established by the United Nations to highlight the hurdles that avert many girls from the opportunity to be empowered. Those hurdles are indignities to the basic human rights of girls. These hurdles are also an affront to those of us who are bystanders of the unpleasant violation of basic standards of equality. That those hurdles still subsist under our watch, defying international laws, rules, and regulations, should bound us to take them personally, as Ms. Malala Yousafzai and Mr. Kailash Satyarthi have.
Mr. Kailash Satyarthi’s struggle to liberate children from child labour had cost him many life threats, including bullet wounds by those who exploit young boys and girls for economic gain. Wearing flak jackets, and armed with strong determination, he and his team raided many illegal factories and mines to rescue the children who are sold into servitude. It has been 30 years now since he started his movement. A movement that has one clear purpose-no child shall be a slave.
On the other hand, when one thinks of Ms. Malala Yousafzai, the first thing that pops in one’s mind is education. The second is – education for girls. In 2009, when she was just 11, she wrote to BBC about the norm of banning female education under the Taliban regime in the Swat Valley (her hometown). Her article gained tremendous momentum worldwide. She started her fight for the education of girls at that small age and began to speak publicly and to the press, which caused her and her family receive constant death threats.
A firm representation of courage, Malala bravely kept campaigning for the rights of children’s education. When the Talib aimed the gun at her from a very close distance, she knew what was coming next. After surviving the attack, she went back to school with thundering scars on her head, symbolising her powerful determination. And beyond the determination, it was the message that the future of the world depends on our children. The youngest Nobel Laureate in history, Ms. Malala Yousafzai has spread massive awareness of global female education demanding a change for the better across the world.
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” – Ms. Malala Yousafzai.
With her very simple elegance, Malala has presented her message as a request – let the children be educated. She did not have to work for decades to make schools. Neither she was physically present in a community to convince parents to send their children to school. Refusing to those who wanted to take her rights away from her, she simply went to school herself. She survived the attack to go to school again
This has become an inspiration for many who want to build schools, who want to educate their children, and who want to support those who work for promoting education.
Smile Foundation’s Mission Education programme, which offers education to marginalized children in poor rural and urban communities in 25 states of the country, exemplifies Malala’s global struggle for universal education. The programme has succeeded in bringing more than 200,000 children to school since its start in the year 2002.
Children from poorer backgrounds lag at all stages of education. When earning a livelihood and taking care of the members of the family becomes a primary matter of concern in one’s life, education stands a little or, very often, no chance of pursuance. For the poverty-stricken people, education is a high-priced luxury, and this negative outlook continues on with every new generation. Poverty damages childhood with significant effects on a child’s physical and mental health, as well as educational achievement. It limits the expectations of the child’s ability to perform well in school, constantly reminding him/her of the miniscule chance he/she has to overcome adversity and poverty.
Smile Foundation has raised those expectations among the hardest-to-reach children. Recent mark-sheets of the students in all ME centres has shown Smile Foundation primary school students outperforming their peers, with a very high passing rate. Last year, 51% of the total beneficiaries in
Mission Education centres across India were girls. Also, 87% of the total eligible students have been successfully mainstreamed in private and government schools.
Smile Foundation’s Co-Founder and Managing Trustee, Mr. Santanu Mishra shaped both his personal perspective and organizational philosophy on the ideas of Peter Senge-the founder of Society for Organisational Learning. Senge’s concept, which says ‘sustainability, social equality and the environment are now business problems; and corporate leaders can’t depend on governments to solve them’, has been the key for Smile Foundation and its partners.
Understanding the mental, physical and rational complexities of poverty and suppression, in addition to adopting radically low-cost solutions, has allowed Smile Foundation to master an education model with proven impact. Scholarship support to girls, providing training to teachers, establishing and stocking libraries, and providing the educational centres with computers are some of the concrete aspects of Mission Education.
As we participate in the delight of the highly-deserving recognition to the noble work of two social activists, of two ordinary citizens who raised their voice for a cause, we reflect on the capacities that are the reasons they can do this. It confirms that we don’t have to be a humanitarian aid worker to help someone in need; we just need to be committed to make a difference.
Every day, hundreds of ordinary people work persistently to give the unfortunate a chance to survive and to bring a remarkable change in other people’s lives by motivating them to be resilient and triumph over life’s challenges. The faces and stories of these ordinary people remain unseen and untold. Such people – with their valuable contribution in encouraging and providing basic education and healthcare, alleviating poverty, and raising awareness against gender-based violence, are no less than heroes.
Smile Foundation’s development interventions are made possible through the efforts of these heroes. They are our frontline project co-ordinators, community health workers and health promoters, our pre-primary and primary school teachers, our volunteers and the members of our grass roots partners.