By Angela Walker
MALL, India, 03 May 2010 – When Mantasha was thirteen-years-old, her mother brought her to the home of a rich family to work. She told her daughter that if she worked hard they would put her through school and eventually help her to marry.
But the reality of working life was very different. Mantasha was paid nothing in return for the family’s leftover food.
“They used to beat me with the rolling pin used to make roti (bread),” says Mantasha, her white long-sleeved blouse swimming on her slender frame. “I was not allowed to sleep until 1 a.m., because I had so much work.”
Mantasha now has a very different life. Five months ago, a teacher at the local Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) residential school who knew her family enrolled her at the school.
“My parents brought me here to study,” says Mantasha, who hopes one day to become a doctor. “They say if I study I will have a good life.”
The Government of India launched the KGBV residential school programme in 2004 for girls from scheduled caste, schedule tribe and other minority groups. The programme targets rural blocks where female literacy is below the national average of 46 per cent and large numbers of girls are out-of-school.
“The tradition is that a girl is not supposed to study. That’s the mindset,” says Principal Juhi Kishore. “Education is something given only for boys. In their families, they think, ‘Why should a girl be educated?’ She is like a machine, working in the fields, preparing the food and doing the wash.”
“Our school gives them an opportunity to get out of that cycle of poverty,” she says. “School gives them confidence. They feel that this gives them a platform where they can move up in life.”
Mantasha’s 13-year-old classmate, Anamika, is from Masidha Hameer, a village 4-5 kilometers from the school. Her father died leaving her six sisters and one brother to fend for themselves.
“There is no way I would have ever come to school if I couldn’t come here. I’d never been to school before,” she says a shy smile tugging at her mouth, her feet barely touching the floor. “They way they teach here, it’s full of fun.”
Lighting up the lives
Animika loves to study English and she, too, wants one day to become a doctor.
“The lights will be very useful so I can study more,” says Anamika, her big doe eyes shining beneath her chin length hair caught back with a wide headband. “There are lots of problems with electricity here. Recently there was no power for two or three days. If we have lamps we can work at night. I will have more time to study.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has a total of 454 KGBVs out of which 376 are run by the Government and 78 by various NGOs. More than 37,000 girls were enrolled in the programme in 2009.
“Gender disparities still persist in rural areas, particularly among disadvantaged communities,” says Adele Khudr, chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh office. “Looking at enrolment trends, there remain significant gaps in the enrolment of girls at the elementary level as compared to boys, especially at the upper primary levels. These schools level the playing field for these girls, allowing them to go to school and complete their studies in a child-friendly environment.”
One hundred solar-powered SUNNAN lamps, donated by IKEA Social Initiative, arrived at the school last month, enough for each of the girls to receive one. The students eagerly accepted the lamps in bright primary colors, unwrapping and assembling them, giggling gleefully.
“Usually at night the girls just while away the time. Now everyone will get a separate lamp so they can manage the study time as they like,” Kishore says. “This is a total rural area and electricity is not available for two to four days. These lights are very beneficial for our girls. … These girls are very curious, and they want to study well in the night time just as well as they do in the daytime. They come to our school, and they grow so much as children.”
For every SUNNAN solar-powered lamp sold in IKEA stores worldwide, another lamp will be given to UNICEF to light up the lives of children who may not have access to electricity. IKEA has made an especially sturdy SUNNAN for the developing world. The lamps are designed to resist the wear and tear of difficult living situations, including a battery capable of withstanding high temperatures.
A total of 66,740 SUNNAN lamps are being distributed to 6,494 schools and women’s literacy groups in UP. Another 24,720 lamps are also being distributed in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
“When there is light, it’s bright, and I like it,” says Mantasha happily. “When there is no light, we go to bed very early after dinner and get up early. Now at night I can study.”
IKEA Social Initiative is partnering with UNICEF to promote the rights of every child to a healthy, secure childhood with access to quality education. What once started as IKEA’s fight against child labour in the supply chain has developed into a broad commitment “to create a better everyday life for the many children.”
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