Post Written by: Meena Bhati, Field Communications Manager, Educate Girls
My name is Meena Bhati.
I am recognized as Educate Girls’ oldest employee.
I was born into a Rajput family living in the Chanud Village of Pali district in Rajasthan, India. The Rajput community does not believe in educating a girl child. Many families there do not even wish to bring a girl into this world because she is seen as a liability. I was lucky that my parents sent me to school, but only until class 10. I pleaded to be allowed to continue my education but I was told to pay attention to household chores and prepare myself for marriage instead.
I stayed home looking after the house and my siblings, and eventually I was married.
Luckily, life had another chance waiting for me in the form of my husband. He was a teacher himself, and therefore understood the importance of education. He stood by my side much against the will of our parents and re-enrolled me in school. Today, I have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Education and post-graduate courses in Hindi & Rural Development.
I realized that in a society like mine, for a girl to be able to pursue her dreams, it is very important for her to have a strong support system. I was fortunate to have my husband and I wanted to help improve the lives of other girls like me.
I never aspired to be a leader or an activist.
I would have been satisfied to help five or ten girls. However, God had bigger plans for me. I was led to Educate Girls and thus destined to make a bigger difference.
I was inspired by Educate Girls’ ideology and methodology. It is an effective and organized model which helps improve the state of girl’s education in Rajasthan. The model focuses on ‘Enrollment’, ‘Retention’ & ‘Improved Learning Levels’ through community mobilization. The core element of this model are teams or community youth leaders who facilitate this cause in their villages. My first thought was, “Where would I find such individuals?” The Team Balika members must be educated, have the willingness to volunteer their time, and have permission from their families.
I stepped out on the mission with tremendous hope and found that many people wanted to join Educate Girls but feared disapproval from their parents and community members.
Some of my colleagues and I went door-to-door trying to convince parents of those who wanted to join us. We went to each house to identify girls who had never been enrolled in school, those who had dropped out of school, as well as child brides, so their families could be persuaded to prioritize their education. I remember doors being slammed in our faces on numerous occasions.
Eventually, parents began allowing their girls to come to school. Team Balika grew and I found myself training hundreds of members and school teachers in Creative Learning and Teaching techniques. I conducted Bal Sabhas (Girl’s Councils) and Life Skills Training programmes. Our team mobilized communities to form School Management Committees, giving community members a platform to influence the local education system.
As Educate Girls expanded, my role and responsibilities also grew. I started as a Field Coordinator and now operate as a Field Communications Manager. I initially wanted to help 5-10 girls and now I am doing my part to help countless children and empower thousands of Team Balika.
I am not alone.
There are thousands of others in Rajasthan who have shown tremendous courage, fought traditional norms and stepped out to be a part of the movement. My work with Educate Girls has given me confidence and an identity. I owe my success, personal development, and this meaningful journey to my husband and to Educate Girls.
Through the efforts of Team Balika, Educate Girls has enrolled over 59,000 girls in school since its inception in 2007. The creative teaching techniques used to improve learning levels have benefited about 600,000 children. Our goal is to improve access and quality of education for about 4 million children living in under-served communities in India by 2018 and work towards reducing gender inequality in education.