Interview with Madhu Vaishnav, founder of the Girls Education Program in Rajastan
When and why did you start the Girls Education Program?
The Girl’s Education Program began in February 2016 to address the education gap in Bhikamkor, a rural village 65km north of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India, that left an estimated 70 percent of girls without secondary education compared to 40 percent of boys. That being said, the sustainable project to increase female attendance and keep the girls enrolled really took off at the beginning of 2017, after we trained education advocates in the village to help support the program.
Why is there a need for such a project?
IPHD is committed towards sustainable community development, with projects in Bhikamkor including the Saheli Health Clinic, which provides a safe space to discuss and diagnose female health, Saheli Women, a livelihood project that hires women to create ethical fashion, and the Girl’s Education Program. We recognize that the challenges faced within the community, including poverty and health, are interdisciplinary. We believe that women form the backbone of the community and if the women are educated and healthy, the family will be healthy, and, on a larger scale, the community as a whole will be healthy. The Girl’s Education Program is a starting point towards creating a healthier community from the bottom-up, ensuring girls have the capacity to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
One of the biggest ways we convince the girls and their families to send the girls to school is through the two local women we employ as education advocates. They are responsible for going door to door in the village to teach families about the value of educating their daughters, help the willing families navigate the complex process of school enrolment, and conduct follow-ups to monitor the girls’ progress and address any issues that may arise preventing the girls from succeeding at school. We are constantly conducting needs assessments to improve our efforts in the village, from employing more teachers to sponsoring girls, all of which help convince families the education is worth it.
What are the main hindrances for the girls to visit school?
There are a number of issues that hinder the attendance of girls at the school. Culturally, families are afraid to send their girls off because they worry for the safety of their daughters. Last semester, one of the biggest problems was a lack of official documents that the school needed to keep 19 students enrolled. IPHD, with the help of village education advocates, was able to get these documents from the government so the girls could stay in school. The most prevalent issue is a lack of money to support sending their girls to school. This includes the nominal costs of education materials, such as notebooks and uniforms, in addition to transportation for those in the farming community located on the outskirts of the village. Finally, many girls end their schooling upon reaching puberty due to menstruation (both shame and lack of resources play a part), early marriages, and the fact that the secondary school is mixed gender.
What are your plans and wishes for the future of the project?
Currently, we are in the process of updating the school, which includes painting the buildings, adding tables and chairs for the students, and building both bathrooms with sanitary products, in collaboration with another organization, and a drinking water facility. We hope to continue enrolling girls and are considering opening a girl’s only secondary school to help alleviate the concerns of family members. Finally, we want to continue the work of the education advocates in strengthening the views of girls’ education in the village through follow-ups, feedback, and more training.
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