Summer Issue - 2017

Smile Foundation

smilescapes

IN FOCUS 1

HER" Journey Form the slums of Delhi to the Delhi University

“We are five sisters. For my parents, earning enough to feed all of us is a daily challenge. When they decided to take me out of school after Class 5, I understood. It was not that they were partial to me because of my disability, they loved me just the same, even gave me special care and attention. But they just could not imagine how education would matter for me. Also carrying me to the school, which is quite far from home had become more difficult as I grew up.

All my sisters went to school and I started feeling left out. Sometimes, I felt like I was a useless burden to my family. One day, Rajni didi came and started asking me about school. When she realised that I had been sitting at home for two years, she talked to my parents and convinced them to continue my education. It was arranged that the school van would pick me up daily from my home. I also got a wheelchair. Going back to the classroom, I started working even harder, because I did not want to drop out again. Didi came home regularly with many other girls my age and we would all sit together and share our lessons, didi would talk to us about our health, share information about everything.

In Class 8th, I got a scholarship because of my consistently good performance in school. I was so happy to have made y parents proud of me for the first time in life. I am awaiting my Class 12th results now and hope to score well. Only then I will be able to enter a college and pursue a course of my choice. Yes, I cannot walk, but that does not mean I cannot go ahead in life. ”

As Nidhi from the Shri Ram JJ Camp, a highly congested slum cluster in South Delhi housing a large migrant population, shared her experience, the audience was struck with awe. Her confidence and determination impressed all. The occasion was the Learning Fest, organised under Smile Foundation’s Swabhiman programme. It was an initiative to bring together all the Swabhiman Scholars from Delhi on a common platform where they shared their stories, challenges, dreams, and aspirations with each other. Women achievers from diverse fields including IPS officers, doctors, entrepreneurs and educationists were there to encourage the girls, and felicitate them with their scholarship certificates.

92 exceptionally talented girls were awarded the merit-based Swabhiman scholarship last year to complete their schooling and higher studies. These girls are all first generation learners, with their parents engaged as domestic help, drivers, street vendors and daily wagers.

Along with difficult financial conditions at home, these champions also had to overcome the prevailing gender bias in their families and community, and the vicious trap of child marriage, to even go to school.

Parul’s father was completely against the idea of sending her daughter to school. While her brother went to school, she was advised to stay at home and take lessons in household chores. However, Parul’s mother realised the importance of education for her daughter and started saving whatever little she could from her meagre wages as a construction labourer to enroll Parul in school.

From the very beginning, Parul made her mother proud as she excelled in school. When she secured 84% in her Class 12th exams, even her father could not hide his happiness. At present, she is studying Hindi Literature at Delhi University and wants to become a professor. “My mother has never taken a vacation. When I get a job, the first thing

I am going to do is take her on a holiday”, says Parul, from the Shashi Garden slum area of East Delhi.

When girls are educated and empowered, the whole society benefits. The Swabhiman scholars have not only brought happiness to their families, but have also become beacons of hope for their whole communities.

“Suhani Didi” is today an inspiration for her peers, the young and the old alike in the dilapidated slum cluster where she lives. Besides pursuing her post graduation from South Campus, Delhi University, she has taken an initiative to teach the out-of-school children from her community. But her journey till here has not been easy.

proud of, and that her only dream is to ensure that “every girl in my community is educated”.

Nidhi, Parul and Suhani were successful in escaping the vicious trap of illiteracy, child marriage and much worse things that young girls in our country have to face every day. A third of the world’s child brides are in India, with as many as 47% girls getting married before they turn 18. Commenting on the dismal educational status of girl children in India, Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA, has said “Around 14 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years are illiterate, and 73 per cent never get to complete more than 10 years of school. Facts like these make investing in the education, health and empowerment of girls especially relevant and important for India.”

wabhiman scholars rejoice after getting their scholarship completion certificates at the Learning Fest held in New Delhi

After the death of Suhani’s father when she was just four, the responsibility of the family
fell on her mother and elder brother, who was a child himself, studying in Class 8th at the time. Her mother took up the job of a sweeper, while her brother dropped out of school and started doing odd jobs to manage the bare survival of the family. Her elder sister, who was in Class 7th, was taken out of school and

married off in the village. A similar fate awaited Suhani, but she firmly took a stand and decided to continue her education. When she was awarded the Swabhiman scholarship in Class 8th, Suhani started taking tuitions and since then has been making a significant contribution to the family income.

While her mother declares that her daughter is the only girl to complete graduation in her entire family and even the whole neighbourhood, Suhani feels this is nothing to be

A girl child comes into this world with just as many expectations, dreams and aspiration as a boy, but soon finds out that her way towards achieving them is much more challenging. Starting from something as basic as her right to be born, she has to fight a battle all her life and struggle for the most fundamental needs – for freedom, for equal opportunity, for making her voice heard.

The Swabhiman scholars have proved that with determination, hard work, courage and a little support, it is possible to defeat the circumstances and emerge as winners. Each one of them is an inspiration for thousands of other girls struggling to survive. As a society now, the question lies with us – girls are ready to take on the world, are we?

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