Stepping out from the shadows of the past
The people of Guradia Dewara village in the Jalawar district of Rajasthan are very traditional minded and follow many old customs. Women habitually cover their faces with a long veil and are not allowed to sit together with males at meeting places. Neither are they encouraged to go to school.
The male members in the community mention two major reasons as to why they did not send their daughters to school earlier. First, because there was only a male teacher at school; and second, because they did not understand the advantage of sending girls to school.
Now they list several advantages of educating their girls.
If the girls become literate, they would help check the bills for the parents so that they are not cheated. They can also help the family to read letters. Educated women can communicate and treat visitors in a proper manner.
More important, they will be able to teach their children and relatives in their husband’s house in the future.
The lady teacher at Prabhat Shala (a non-formal learning centre for adolescent girls) and the female staff of Prayatn (implementing NGO of Prabhat Shala Project, supported by UNICEF Rajasthan) are the ones who acted as change agents in promoting girls’ education in the village.
The strong commitment of the Prabhat Shala teacher helped the community to take the education of girls seriously. “She came regularly to school and paid attention to individual girls,” said one of the fathers.
“I saw that the teacher and Prayatn staff were from outside the village and yet worked very hard for our children. They too were young girls. I thought, if they could do it, why not my daughter?” said one of the fathers, expressing how he began to think that it was not necessary to keep adolescent girls confined to the house.
On the other hand, the community was not happy with the teacher at the nearby government school, who was often absent. The community found the Prabhat Shala teacher to be more effective and committed.
Frequent monitoring by Prayatn also convinced the community that the Prabhat Shala initiative was not a flash in the pan but well under control and the girls seemed to be progressing.
The community went to talk to the teacher at the government school. They told him that they were not happy with his performance and wanted a replacement. In response, the teacher sought a transfer and left the school. This incident happened at the time when the Prabhat Shala project was about to be completed and the girls were ready to be mainstreamed into the formal government school.
After some time, a new teacher, again male, was appointed at the school. Still, the parents decided to send their girls to the school because the Prabhat Shala teacher would also be there for the first few months to help the girls’ transition to the new school system.
The Prabhat Shala teacher remained till she had completed her duty. Now there are 17 girls from Prabhat Shala who are continuing their education at the government school.
Several fathers say that they regularly visit the school and check whether the teacher is present and the children are learning.
One of the fathers shares how he is contributing to his daughter’s education. “I am illiterate, so I don’t know what she learns at school. But every day, I check the time my watch and tell my daughter, “It’s 10:30; now you have to go to school!’”
Eighty Prabhat Shalas were opened in the Jalawar district, one of the backward districts in Rajasthan, with UNICEF support. The project brought about changes not only in girls but also in parents and communities.