Written by Sanskriti Bimal Saturday, 27 September 2014 00:00
Educating The Underprivileged Girl
As I tried to make my way through the unforgiving monsoon season, rain pouring as far as the eye could see, dodging puddles I rushed inside the school building. The guard yelled in the background for the children to come in quickly before they dragged in even more mud inside. Trying hard not to slip on the wet dirty floor, I pondered to myself what
exactly I was doing here. The words of Mahatma Gandhi resonated inside my head, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Here I was at a school in Mumbai India, 7800 miles from my home in Mineola, volunteering with “Aseema,” a non-governmental organization whose mission is to empower and educate the under privileged children. Children living on the streets or in slums and in inhuman conditions.
Side stepping children that couldn’t be more than 5 years old, as they looked up at me with curious expressions and warm smiles, I climbed up the stairs to the third floor where I would be teaching for the first time. As I made my way down the hallway, towards the classroom, I saw a frail girl pushing a table closer to the wall and when she was done with that daunting task, she picked up two plastic chairs and placed them on either side of the table. “Good morning teacher”, she said once she spotted me. “I’m ready to learn. I want to do a hundred sums first!” “ Isn’t that a bit too much?” I asked sitting down in the place she had assigned for me. “No teacher”, she responded back with an innocent but determined look on her face. “ I need to study a lot because I want to become a doctor!” I looked at her mud soaked shoes, her slightly torn dress and the couple strands of hair that were slowly making their way out of the braids her mother made. There was no limits for this child, and that’s when I knew what I was here to do. “Let’s begin”.
The children at Pali Chimbai Municipal School run by Aseema Charitable Trust are no different than other children in the world—they’re bright, enthusiastic, and inquisitive to no end. However, they are exceedingly vulnerable and at risk due to their surrounding environment.
They are slum children and street children. Their homes lack sanitation and basic services – many of them dilapidated, cramped, poorly ventilated, detrimental to health and made of tin or plastic sheets. They are likely to end up following the footsteps of their parents.
I learned their fathers, mothers and adults in the house earn their main source of livelihood as daily wagers, rag-pickers, street vendors, auto-rickshaw drivers, sweepers, housemaids and watchmen to name a few. Mumbai, the city of dreams is also a city of contrast.
Home to India’s leading financial and industrial houses, some of the world’s most opulent hotels and the Bollywood (India’s Hollywood) film industry, is also referred to as the slum capital of the world. About 8.5 million people, approximately the same population as New York City, stay in slums here. Over 90 percent of the slum population live way below the poverty line in abject conditions. This insecurity created by such an environment affects children the most.
This is where the NGO Aseema steps in. An endeavor of three friends, Dilbur Parakh, a human rights lawyer, Neel Kapadia, a documentary filmmaker, and Snehal Paranjape an advocate in the High Court, to provide under privileged children with a nurturing and stimulating educational environment that helps them recognize their limitless potential.
Started in 1995, it has since grown over the years and now reaches out to over 1500 children through projects in Mumbai and villages of Igatpuri.
The school acts like a safe haven in which kids can learn, have fun, and broaden their horizons.
“I learn a lot at school”, says fifth grader Shabina Muksal. “ I’m happy that I am able to come here even if I have to walk two miles every day.”
Kushi Rajna, another student, adds, “I really enjoy school. I study, I play, and I meet my friends. I would be really sad if I couldn’t come and only had to stay at home.”
For many girls however, staying home is their only option. Girls make up 55 percent of the total of children who are not getting a primary school education.
Education is very important or every child whether boy or girl. However, gender based discrimination against female children is widely prevalent across the world. The most obvious and most deadly in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Arab states. They are subjected to physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, and exploitation.
The prejudice assumes immense proportion when it comes to educating girls. In developing nations like India, girl’s educations are still regarded as secondary to vital domestic tasks they must complete at home.
They are often considered “temporary property” as once they get married they will move into their husband’s house, so many families don’t see it being economically secure to invest into their future. Society considers girls as a liability, role confined to childbearing and taking care of household chores. What many people don’t take into consideration is the fact that education for girls is an urgent priority as they can play an essential part in the development of the economy and also because they foster the future of the world in their wombs.
The two weeks that I’ve spent volunteering with Aseema, has reaffirmed my belief that education is the only lasting solution. Educating the girl child would be a step in rooting out social and gender malice towards women. It would help bring about reduction to the inequalities in society too. And, it has also made me realize that kids are the same all over the world.
They all have curious minds that are ever ready to soak in new information, they all are intelligent in their own ways, and they all have an inherent ability to grumble when homework is assigned.
Every child, irrespective of boundaries and demographics, should have the right to a meaningful childhood and to quality education. They are deserving of everything the world has to offer and education will help them achieve it. All their dreams are valid and with every notebook they fill, page they turn, and registration they sign for the next school year—they’re one step closer to reaching them.
— Sanskriti Bimal is a Mineola High School student who volunteered in Mumbai over the summer of 2014