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Bihar's Girl Stars are Shining Lights for Others

© UNICEF/India/2006
Kiran's junk business

By Anupam Srivastava

These girls were born in families that found it hard to make the ends meet. Girls of their background did not go to school, leave alone have a career. But they did, and with astounding success. They have been chosen as "girl stars" under a UNICEF-supported project run by ‘Going to School’ an NGO, that sought examples of courage and success among girls and women in India.

Meet Kiran Devi, Tehseen Bano, and Anita Khushwaha of Bihar. Each one has a different story -- a story in which they are winners. Today, they are role models for other girls.

Scene one: A junkyard in Patna filled with old tyres, broken television sets, stacks of newspapers, bottles and phased out items. Enter: a woman who surveys her surroundings, evaluates the value of her goods, gives instructions and money to a number of men. They return in the evening with the "catch" – all that is discarded by people but wanted by Kiran. "For me nothing is junk," she says. "Nothing is wasted. I can sell everything, even broken bottles. I see value in everything," she says.

In spite of a difficult childhood she managed to study and, like most girls, was married off early. Her husband ran a tea stall and she felt they were "always on the footpath". Her father-in-law's brush with junk dealing made her think they had a future in it. She persuaded everyone in the family to change its trade, close the tea stall and run a junk shop. The family did. After facing difficulty for a year, Nidan, an NGO, gave her a loan of Rs. 8,000. She used the money to expand her business. The investment paid off and the family not just survived but did well. She also added a small fleet of rickshaws for renting out.

Kiran's business associates feel proud of the fact that they work for herShe has the reputation of being a fair businessperson and even gives out rickshaws free of cost on Sundays.

© UNICEF/India/2006
Anita Khushwaha, a beekeeper

Scene two: A litchi orchard littered with wooden boxes in Muzaffarpur's Bochaha block and a few men sitting around. Enter: A girl on a cycle. She parks the cycle under a tree, looks inside the boxes and has a conversation with a few men nearby. Satisfied, she cycles off. Meet Anita Khushwaha, a beekeeper.

Born in a very poor family in Bochaha, Anita learnt early in life that education would help her survive. Anita went to school, taught other children and made a small amount of money. "My parents were not supportive but they listened to me eventually," she says. She once saw boxes and learnt about beekeeping. "I came to know that the queen bee is at the centre of beekeeping. I wanted to buy oneWith some persuading, she bought two queen bees. Today, she has 125 queen bees, as many boxes. Anita never discontinued her studies, and even now cycles 14 kilometres everyday to college. She is on her way to becoming a graduate.

Scene 3: A residential girls' school in Gaya district. Enter: A hostel warden who is not many years older than the inmates. Meet Tehseen Bano, who loves her job as the hostel warden at the Kasturba Gandhi Girls School (Balika Vidyalaya). She looks after all the aspects of the girls' lives –their meals, lesson plans and daily lives. Tehseen tells the story of her life. "In our family and the Muslim community, it is rare for girls to get an education." Her circumstances added to her difficulty. Tahseen’s father died when she was a baby, and her mother left her brother and Tahseen with her sister so that she could work.

It became clear to Tehseen that only education could help her and the family to break out of the poverty trap. "I wanted to go to school but the family did not support me since none of the other girls went to school," she says. She however insisted, went to school, and started teaching other children in her community to be able to support her own education. Tehseen was the first girl in her community to finish school and to go on to college. Many other girls have followed suit and now study. "It is a struggle for Muslim girls to be able to leave the house to go to school, but we must. That is how we can take care of ourselves."

 The girl stars will be part of UNICEF's efforts to inspire parents and girls in the state to let their children go to school, have a career so that they can realise their full potential. "These role models have already inspired many others. Many more will learn from their example as their stories get known," says Mr. Rajbhandari. The girl stars are set to become shining lights for others.




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