By Sreenath Cheruvari
As the tastefully decorated pink colored 'Girls Star' truck winds its way along the narrow lanes of Kandwa village raising a trail of dust, scores of children , their eyes wide open in amazement run behind it. The blaring mikes fitted to the truck exhorts the villagers to assemble at the local ground " UNICEF would like to share with you the success stories of some outstanding girls from your village and the difference education can bring to your lives" it announces. Soon the place is swarming with women and children and within a matter of minutes, a makeshift tent is in place. After a brief introduction, a large screen television, showcasing the success stories of three girl stars from Bihar starts playing. As the images become vivid, a hushed silence falls on the crowd.
The first video is that of Anitha Kushwaha, a seventeen year old girl from Muzaffarpur district who had overcome all odds to pursue her education. To fund her studies, she took up beekeeping business and has emerged as a successful entrepreneur with over 100 boxes of bees. Today not only she is earning a good amount but is also pursuing English Honors from a college in Muzaffarpur! The 250 strong crowd comprising of children, women and a fair sprinkling of men are impressed, there is a huge round of applause followed by a fruitful interactive sessions ..... questions, problems and suggestions follow.
The impact is immediate !Seventeen year old Swetha Kumari who is pursuing her intermediate is hopeful that she will be able to pursue her studies and become a doctor "My parents are against me studying further, but I will find a way to support myself, Anita didi's story is so inspiring" Anil Kumar a farmer by profession and a father of six children including two girls says that the success stories is creating the much needed awareness " ladkiyan aaajkal bahuth tharaki kar rahe hai, wo bhi is samaj me kuch kar sakta hai" ( girls are doing very well for themselves and have a role to play in contributing for the welfare of the society) He reaffirms his commitment towards educating his girl children
The truck which is making a huge impact in the villages of Bihar is a part of Girl Stars project, a multi media campaign launched by UNICEF in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar to encourage girls to go to school and motivate the communities they live in to support them. The Bihar leg of 'Girls Star Truck' which was officially flagged off from Patna on the 16th of May will cover sixty villages in the districts of Patna, Muzzafarpur and Gaya and will stress the need for educating girl children and the positive impact it can have in transforming the society.
The truck during its journey in the villages is showcasing the success stories of three girls Anitha Kushwaha, a beekeeper from Muzaffarpur district, Tehseen Bano, girls hostel warden from Gaya district and Kiran Devi, a Junkyard dealer from Patna district in the form of eight minute films. The films highlight how these young girls have overcome social and economic constraints to carve out a future for themselves and pursue their education. Mr. Bijaya Rajbhandari, State Representative of UNICEF Patna points out the importance of the need to create awareness on such issues. " These films will be used as a tool at different levels to enhance girls education by motivating parents to send their children to schools, encouraging girls to attend schools and to generate a demand within the community for quality education", he says.
Bihar's literacy rate is among the lowest in the country. The total school attendence rate of children in the 6 to 10 age group is 64%. However when compared with boys (71.6%) the attendance rate of girls is quite low at 58.3%. The positive fact is that there has been a marginal increase in female literacy rate from 22 to 34 percent in the last decade. But the situation is worse among the marginalised communities where only one out of every six girl is literate in the state.
Mr. Rajesh Kumar who is coordinating the project at the village level explained the whole process. As soon as the truck enters the village, the coordinator will visit the Mukya or the village headman and will request his cooperation for showing these success stories. He along with the mukya would ten contact the school teachers and anganwadi workers to mobilise the crowd before the start of the show. Each screening of the film is followed by question answer sessions wherein the teachers and anganwadi workers are asked to reply to encourage ownership and participation. "The impact so far has been tremendous" he points out.
UNICEF is supporting various state government education programmes in Bihar to reach out to a large number of children especially girls. UNICEF is supporting an initiative called 'Sankalp' which strives to put 2.3 million out of school children in the age group of 6-14 years back to school. UNICEF is also providing support for mobilisationand training of Mahila Samakya women's self help groups and village committees for the promotion of girls schooling.