Convincing families in rural India to educate girls can be a difficult task, even when families are educated and wealthy. For families in underprivileged areas, such as those where RDF operates, this task is even more difficult as parents often can only spare enough money to educate one child and the son takes precedence. However, from its very inception RDF has emphasized the importance of equal access to education amongst boys and girls.
If the class strength for girls does not reach 50%, RDF teachers travel to surrounding villages, visiting families and explaining to them the importance of educating their daughters as well as their sons. Convincing families to educate their daughters was one of the biggest challenges when RDF opened our first school in 1996. These days girls occupy about 42-50 percent of the class benches.
For the first 15 years, RDF gave extra fee concessions to girl students to encourage families to send them to school. In special cases, incentives were also to continue their education, especially as they move from primary to secondary schools.
To empower girls, RDF has volunteers and mentorship teams to give them the necessary skills to cope with the transition into teenage years.
Girls, alongside their boy counterparts, are encouraged to attend personality development and communication skills training in the summer school conducted by Synchrony Financial. They have been working with RDF for several years and each year, the participation of the number of girls increases significantly.
Our girls also participated in the Lead India 2020 program which aims at building self-awareness in rural children in order to groom them as future leaders of India. The students learnt about their responsibilities towards their communities and society at large and how to manage personal challenges. It was an opportunity that the girls learnt a lot from and our hope is that it has empowered them to become socially conscious citizens who are the change-makers of tomorrow.
Youth Exchange and Study Programme: Impact Story
It was called ‘YES’ (Youth Exchange and Study Programme) and was sponsored by the US Government, along with long term RDF supporter, Synchrony Financial, being the official Indian partner. The girls have had an enriching experience studying in local schools there and participating in many community activities.
Sumathi says, “I had an amazing experience during my exchange year with the host family, friends, at school and in the community in Minnesota. I learnt a lot through participating in different activities, learning about their traditions and volunteering at the community service centers.
My goal is to become a high school teacher in Kalleda School because I want to develop my school and students, so that they get the same opportunities that I did. My advice is to use all opportunities that come our way and to be confident.
Divya shares, “I was hosted in California and I participated in every activity organized by my host family. Together, we learnt about each other’s culture. We celebrated all American and Indian festivals.
I played volleyball and badminton in school and received an award for my game. I volunteered in the Police community for 6 months. This has inspired me to become a Police officer. I am putting in my best effort to prepare physically and mentally for the Civil Service exams. My advice is to keep going till you succeed. Take every opportunity as it makes you a good human being.”
Their year away has equipped them with many life skills, to make a difference in rural communities.
The girls identified that children in ‘thandas’ (tribal villages) were not attending online classes when schools remained closed due to the pandemic, including disinterest from parents.
They created an awareness and outreach programme, along with the school management. They met each family individually and in groups to understand their challenges and provide solutions for continued education.
This has made a positive change in their minds, with many children returning to classes.
Give India Partnership: Mission Educate Girls
The pandemic has been excruciatingly hard on rural families, with loss of employment and income. Long time RDF partner, Give India, an NGO platform that connects donors with beneficiaries, provided much needed funds to mitigate hardship caused by the pandemic.
Funds are provided in 3 categories – the Midday Meal programme, educating underprivileged children and providing teaching-learning materials. A fourth category was specially created for the pandemic – ‘Mission Educate Girls’, to encourage rural parents to keep their daughters in school and attend online classes, instead of stopping their education and sending them to work.