By Lalatendu Acharya
“Shefaali”, the local name of a flower in the state of Orissa, makes its fragrance felt long before it is seen. A recent television programme, “Our Daughter Shefaali”, named after the flower, celebrated the education and empowerment of girls from disadvantaged groups. The programme brought together seven such girls to felicitate their commitment to education against heavy odds. Adi Sisa, Minati Saraka, Jyotsna Kido, Sasmita Das, Suchitra Swain, Rosalyn Pramanik, and Lipika Mishra shared the limelight and were watched live by a million viewers on the programme, which was a joint initiative between the Department of School and Mass Education, Doordarshan (The National Television) and UNICEF. Its aim was to build positive advocacy for girls’ education and encourage parents and community to enroll more girls in school.
India has approximately 23 million out-of-school children aged 6 - 14 years, of which about 60 percent are girls.
India has approximately 23 million out-of-school children aged 6 - 14 years, of which about 60 percent are girls. In Orissa, there are 320,000 out-of-school children, of which almost 200,000 are girls. There is a huge gap between the educational achievement of boys and girls. Twenty out of the state’s thirty districts have female literacy rates lower than the national average. Only 44 percent of the children enrolled are girls and tribal girls make up only 18 per cent of the total girls enrolled. Social and economic factors, low quality of education available for the children in poor and marginalized communities are major reasons for this discrepancy.
Minati Saraka: "I understand the environment around me better.”
Adi Sisa is a Bonda girl, one of the last surviving 6000 odd Bonda tribe people living in the inaccessible hills of southern Orissa. Her father is a farmer, practising shifting cultivation and supports a family of five. Adi is a student at the Kanyashram (a residential school for girls), in Mudulipada in the remote Malkangiri district and stays in the school hostel. A first generation learner, Adi says “Education makes a person big in life. I want to be a teacher when I grow up and I want to teach all the little children in my village who are not getting education”. Adi, apart from being a good student, is also good at extracurricular activities. Like her, Minati Saraka is another tribal girl, a student of Bridge course Girl’s camp at Badalubadi in Rayagada district. She says, “I used to collect leaves and sell them for a living in the local market. I would run away earlier when I saw anyone wearing trousers and shirt as these were foreign to me. Now I have courage as I have got education. I understand the environment around me better.”
The importance of educating girls was stressed in the statements of the Director, Doordarshan, Director School & Mass Education and Mr. Tom Olsen, the State Representative of UNICEF office for Orissa who also emphasized the second Millennium Development Goal and efforts needed to achieve the same.
“I used to collect leaves and sell them for a living in the local market. I would run away earlier when I saw anyone wearing trousers and shirt as these were foreign to me. Now I have courage as I have got education. I understand the environment around me better.”
The seven girls lit a lamp at the live event and symbolized its combined objectives of encouraging girl child education and learning, felicitating the achievers, celebrating the education and empowerment of the girls and creating of a forum for showcasing their educational achievements.