Encouraging Girls to Take on the World through Education Centres in India

Offering girls basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power – of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead.

This is not a luxury. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women establish it as a basic human right. So why is it that despite proving to be a blessing to society the girl child is – in the worst case scenario – killed in the womb, or otherwise allowed to breathe but only the air of negligence, discrimination and deprivation?

Today, we’re not only proud of great women of science like Sunita Williams, or women who’ve acted as agents of change like Sarojini Naidu, or  women who’ve taught us what it means to be human like Mother Teresa, but we also encourage such people to come forward and reform our world. Why is it that even though we claim to be the biggest democracy in the world we simply cannot destroy the deep-rooted stereotypes against women, and particularly women’s education?

Azad India Foundation was formed by an idea and the will to make lives of underprivileged girls better. We have set up our organisation in one of the least literate districts in Bihar -with a literacy rate of only 46% – to provide the people of this area with equal opportunities as the rest of the country. Through our work we’ve tried to touch the lives of as many girls as we can and to enable them to take on the world by themselves. We want them to be independent, able to break the constraints of society, and be themselves.

Through Azad India Foundation we spread a message of love, equality and empowerment. We realise that even today, little girls are denied an education, potential members of the female workforce are denied a job and employed women are denied recognition.

Photo Credit: Azad India Foundation 

We seek to bring about change through our Girl Child Learning Centres. This program was started in 2010 with the support of IIMPACT Gurgaon under the guidance of Mrs Yuman Hussain. The focus of the program is to bring back non-schoolgoing girls and dropouts aged between 6-14 from the most remote villages in the district to the folds of education and it’s aim is to act as a bridge between nonformal educaton and government schooling.

We are currently working in over 35 villages in Kishanganj district with about 1050 girls. We provide primary education and health and hygiene classes to these girls and then we mainstream them to the formal schools. Our teaching is done through play-way methods and teachers use visual aids and teaching learning materials including bamboo sticks, small pebbles, cards, chart papers and pictures. The students also contribute to making the teaching learning materials and other crafts in the classroom.

We conduct regular competency level tests at our Learning Centers where the knowledge levels of the students are assessed through written and oral tests. This helps in assessing the weak students and giving them remedial classes.

The teachers are women from the same communities as the girls themselves. We decided to hire these women because only they can understand the hardships many of the girls they teach are going through. The teachers are given regular training sessions and are made to attend workshops at regular intervals for their own development. We now have a team of excellent teachers who are determined to provide quality education to these girls. After seeing the determination of the girls to learn we decided to open around 20 libraries with age appropriate books to provide them with more reading material. We want nothing to hold them back and have done everything in our capacity to bring a smile to their faces.

The force which drives us to make efforts to improve the lives of these girls? It is the happiness we see on their faces. Their success make us feel proud of being associated with them.

Women Inspire: Self Reliance through Education

Written by Melody Mociulski, Founder, Educational Empowerment

Having just returned from 3+ weeks in Myanmar, I am struck by the numerous instances I witnessed of girls and women empowered by education – all resulting in their increased independence, self-confidence, and self-reliance.

In today’s world of injustices, human rights abuses, and violence, it was uplifting to learn of positive outcomes and the power of the human spirit.  During my visits with Educational Empowerment’s (EE) partners, I interviewed numerous women and girls to learn of their life struggles, dreams, and thoughts on education. It was saddening to hear their stories of trauma created by poverty, sexual assault, natural disasters, and violence.  Yet, it was extremely inspiring to see how education has helped them to overcome these tragedies and to prevail.

Naw Cynthia, one of EE’s partners, told me of the physical and sexual abuse she endured during her childhood.  She always knew that education would be her liberator.  Cynthia is now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar.  She shares her story with adolescent girls to give them a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.

Cho Cho, a Burmese friend, told me about the impacts of poverty on her childhood and how she escaped from it.  She was taught by her parents that education was the most important way to escape poverty. Every June when school started in Myanmar, her family skipped meals. They only ate broken rice which is cheaper than regular rice or boiled water grass leaves if they couldn’t afford the broken rice. This was their way to save money for school fees for seven children. Cho Cho and her sister only had one pair of shoes between them.  Her sister (in the seventh standard and now a doctor) would wear the shoes to school in the evening. Cho Cho (in the fourth standard and now a finance supervisor) would wear the shoes to school in the afternoon.   Now, all are seven siblings are successful professionals who work full-time jobs and dedicate their remaining time and income to supporting education for less fortunate Burmese. Like their parents said, they escaped poverty through education. Cho Cho values education because it enabled her to change her whole life.  She wishes that all people, especially youth, learn the value of education.

Daw Khin Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment
Daw Khin
Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment

Daw Khin Nwe Oo, a tall, statuesque mom of six, sells sticky rice snacks in her village.  As part of our microfinance project, she receives financial and business management training.  Quick to smile and laugh, her business does extremely well, enabling her two youngest daughters to remain in school.  Education is important to Daw Khin.  Because of health problems when she was a child, she wasn’t able to finish primary school.  She wants her children to have good jobs, success, and respect.  Daw Khin emanates pride in her business accomplishments and enthusiasm to become even more successful.

Girls attending high school in the remote Yay Kyaw Toe village in the southern Delta all survived the devastating destruction of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.  They board at the high school and dedicate long days and nights to achieving high scores on their annual exams, learning critical thinking, mastering the English language, and actively practicing their Buddhism.  They know that their future dreams and lives outside the Delta depend on education.

All of these girls and women touched my heart.  They impressed me with their positive, hopeful attitudes, their resilience in the face of adversity, their confidence, and their self-reliance.  They embody the belief that teaching a girl can change the world.

Stay tuned for more news of Naw Cynthia, Cho Cho, Daw Khin, and other amazing Burmese girls and women in my upcoming series in Women Inspire.

Join me in the campaign to ensure all girls receive quality education and develop self-reliance.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.


Why Should We Invest in Girls’ Education?

Originally published on The Huffington Post

In developing communities, there are three structural issues that prevent a girl from fulfilling her right to education: Her gender, her zip code, and her economic condition. Deep-rooted stigmas against women’s education, conjoined with region-specific interventions and the heavy burden of tuition costs, form what is commonly perceived as an unbreakable barrier to girls’ education. As a result, child marriage, sex trafficking and forced prostitution become horrific alternatives to education, so-called substitutes to schooling that leave a country ensnared in a labyrinthine web of gender-based violence, economic paralysis, and ill health.

For so many girls in the world, going to school remains a distant dream, an unattainable ecstasy that hovers beyond reach. But as champions for social change, we must understand just what women’s education holds for the lives of the female students we read about – and what it offers for our world as we know it. Exactly what is girls’ education, and where does its significance and relevance lie? Without further ado, girls’ education is a worthy investment as it is…

1. A fundamental right that warrants universal access. Education is more often perceived as a privilege granted to people living in the lap of luxury, rather than a critical necessity that everyone should share (Human Rights Declaration, Article 26). Girls should be able to pursue knowledge in their chosen fields, to have enriching learning experiences and complete their primary, secondary and tertiary education programs, regardless of their gender.

2. A catalyst for gender equality. Gender inequality is manifested in myriad forms, including, but not limited to income disparities, wage discrimination, gender roles assigned in the domestic sphere, female infanticide, and sexual subjugation. By investing in a girl’s education, girls will be given the chance to realize their full human rights and contribute to the very fabric of our society, reaping the benefits of economic, social and political development (US Agency for International Development). They will be able to form the next generation of women leaders, and make groundbreaking strides toward bridging the gender gap.

3. The key to poverty alleviation within less economically developed countries (LEDCs). Educating girls has always been at the forefront of poverty reduction in LEDCs. Schooling not only imbues a girl with the confidence needed for her to stand up for herself and make a blow against social injustice, it also helps foster economic growth and is crucial to lifting households out of poverty (World Bank).

4. Instrumental in bringing about economic growth. Girls’ education eradicates poverty and fosters economic growth. The statistics? Girls who have one extra year of schooling than the national average can earn 10% to 20% more on average, with an 18% return in future wages if they have completed a secondary education. This is significantly higher than the 14% return in future wages for boys in developing regions (Center of Global Development). Furthermore, each extra year of schooling provided to the whole population (females included) can increase average annual GDP growth by 0.37% (Global Campaign for Education).

5. Essential for reducing the number of child marriages. There is a positive multiplier effect to educating girls and women. In Tanzania, women who received a secondary school education are 92% less likely to be coerced into child and adolescent marriage, compared to women who only received a primary school education (UNICEF). Child marriage is a human rights violation, entailing grave consequences for girls, including an increased risk of HIV/AIDS coupled with higher levels of domestic violence and abuse (International Center for Research on Women).

6. A successful formula for individual empowerment. Women who receive formal education become more aware of their rights and are able to defend themselves when their basic human rights are compromised or violated. For women in developing communities, many of these violations take the forms of sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and gender-based violence. The Half the Sky Movement attributes female violence to two mindsets firmly ingrained in many societies all over the world: misogyny and sexism. But education plays an integral role in triggering a change in cultural norms, by shedding light on the detriments that arise from these discriminatory attitudes.

7. A proven cause of lowered maternal and infant mortality rates. There exists a consistent negative causal relationship between maternal education and child mortality; as the amount of educated women in a society increases, the amount of infant deaths decreases. Women with formal education will have learned about the importance of prenatal care, hygienic child care practices, vaccinations and high-level nutrition for themselves and their children. In addition, an education will provide these women with ideas of where to turn to for health care advice and medical treatment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a projected 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had a secondary education (UNESCO).

8. Critical to a decline in fertility rates. Educating a girl will not only increase her employment opportunities by dramatic proportions, it will also provide her with knowledge about family planning, employment, schooling and health opportunities for her future generations. Adam Isen and Betsey Stevenson from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania have written that greater “access to education and higher potential wages, combined with improved control over fertility, has altered the incentives that women face”. The stark decline in fertility rates gives rise to more sustainable family units, and this lesser amount of children in a society allowed for more resources to be allocated to each individual child.

9. A steppingstone to improved women’s health. The facts and figures to back this up? Girls with at least six years of school education are more likely to be able to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other diseases (UNICEF). An additional four years of education will reduce the risk of heart disease by 2.16%, and the risk of diabetes by 1.3%, for either gender (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

10. A pivotal force for change in societies and communities. This African proverb encapsulates this idea completely: “If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.” In addition to eradicating the deep-seated cultural prejudices against women, educating girls will also engender a culture of education that will transcend generations. Women who have had the opportunities of formal schooling are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school, as compared with women with no formal education (UNICEF).

Join the global movement to educate and empower girls! Start taking concrete action with nonprofit organizations to provide girls with a better tomorrow today!

Featured image courtesy of Starfish One by One.