By Keiko Maeda
Tuilokinathpura village, Chaksu block, Jaipur district, Rajasthan: Vaijanti (14) and Sugna (15) clearly remember the great excitement they felt when they first heard of the Pehchan Shala (an alternative learning centre managed by the NGO CULP and supported by UNICEF Rajasthan).
After nearly four years, they can still recall every single lyric of the songs they used to sing at the Pehchan Shala. The flashback to those days brings beaming smiles on their faces.
“It was so much fun when Didi (the girls call the Pehchan Shala teacher as ‘sister’) taught us a song and we danced together” they remember wistfully.
While the girls were experiencing one of the most joyful times of their lives, their parents paid no heed to the staff of the NGO CULP, talking about the importance of girls’ education.
They had no intention of sending their girls to any kind of school. They did not see any use for grown-up girls to study. “Education for girls? For what?” they asked.
Although the girls knew that their parents were not in favour of their schooling, they went to attend the first day of Pehchan Shala out of sheer curiosity. “To tell the truth…,” says Vaijanti, “I went there because they said they will give us free notebooks and pencils. I didn’t know what we would do at Pehchan Shala.”
During the lessons at the Pehchan Shala, the girls learnt about the outside world. Vaijyanti remembers the day when she visited Chaksu, a capital town of the block, and met with gram panchayat (a local government body at village level) members.
The girls describe the atmosphere of the room on that first day. “We were too shy to talk to Didi. We did not know what she is like. We could chat in a small voice with the friends but no one could say a word to Didi. Didi took out four pieces of small stones and placed them in front of us. She grouped two pieces each. Then she moved one piece from the right hand side to the other. Then she asked us ‘Now how many stones are there on the left side?’ We didn’t know what she was talking about. Actually I felt a bit disappointed because I thought we would sing and dance at Pehchan Shala.”
As a leader of Balika Manches (Adolescent Girls Forum), she shared what they learnt at Pehchan Shala. “I was nervous to talk in front of the adults at the beginning. But I felt good when one of the members said to me. ‘Keep studying hard. We will support you.’”
In less than two years, the girls covered the curriculum up to Class V.
Those are just happy memories for the girls now. Today they are dressed in light blue kurta with white dupatta which instantly shows that they are students going to a formal government school.
They have completed the course at the Pehchan Shala alternate learning centre and have been mainstreamed to the formal government school. How did they manage to continue their studies?
The major factor was the strong motivation and efforts of the girls themselves. Initially, the parents did not see any significance of the girls going to school at all. In order to appeal to their parents, the girls worked very hard.
They tried to finish their housework duties before going to school and continued with them after coming back from the school.
They even found time to study at home. By observing the daughters working so hard, the parents relented and stopped trying to pull them out from school.
The girl’s strong motivation and willingness to continue studying moved the parents.
There were some days especially during the harvesting season that they could not go to the school because they had to help their families with the agriculture tasks.
But they tried to return to school as quickly as possible so that they did not miss the school lessons.
The girls, who were earlier not allowed to travel out of the village, now cross the village border to commute to the secondary school. They do not need to struggle to complete their housework before going to school. Now the parents have undertaken all the domestic tasks and let the girls concentrate on their schooling.
One day, the teacher at the Pehchan Shala suggested that they sit for the board examination for class VIII. “There were eight girls who completed the primary level study at Pechan Shala and were ready for being mainstreamed to the government formal school in that year. But we advised Vainjanti and Sugna to sit directly for class VIII examination rather than spend another three years in the classroom. They were already 14 years old and would be older than the other students at the government school if they were mainstreamed in class VI. Also we found these two girls were learning fast and they are capable of catching up on the upper primary study with some support from us.” The teacher and CULP staff continued supporting their academic efforts for another year.
Then after a year, the girls sat for the Board examination. While the girls were confident in passing the exam, the parents were not so optimistic and were telling the girls to stay at home after the examinations. However the girls not only passed the exam but with good marks!
Vaijyanti and Sugna became the first girls who completed secondary level education from their community.
They charted a path for the others. This year, six other girls are going to appear for the board examinations.
The two girls with innocent looks are excited about the future waiting for them. Vaijanti dreams of becoming a teacher, and Sugna has passion to help people in their village where the nearest health facility is 10 km away by becoming a doctor.