Girls from tribal villages gaining access to higher education
By Seema Kurup
20 November 2005 - Dublipod, a tiny cotton growing hamlet of about fifty families in the Yavatmal district of the state of Maharashtra, first came into notice when Chinnabai Bhimrao Hasaram, president of the local Self Help Group (SHG), became the first woman from Dublipod to travel to the district headquarters at Yavatmal to confront the District Collector with a pending land rights case. Chinnabai refused to relent till justice was done.
Schools in tribal hamlets normally offer education up to Grade IV. For those aspiring to study beyond Grade IV, the journey is generally an arduous trek across fields, hillocks and wading through water holes to reach the bus stand about seven kms away. Seven rupees for a one way bus ticket later, the child finally reaches school. Most children, not surprisingly, drop out of school or enroll in the nearest boarding school.
The Convergent Community Action (CCA) in the district addressed this issue. Introduced by UNICEF and facilitated by Paryavaran, a local NGO working on gender and empowerment issues, the process saw SHGs put education for their children as the topmost priority on the community’s agenda. Women are seen leading community development initiatives.
One such initiative has been to address the increasing number of unwed, adolescent mothers. Lured by traders with gifts and promises of an adventurous life, young girls easily fall prey, ending up with unwanted pregnancies, infections and trauma.
In the adolescent girls groups, formed with the initiative of the SHGs, the girls receive inputs on life skills, building better negotiation skills, awareness about the body, information about health, hygiene and increased confidence.
Exemplifying this change is 16 year old Gaura from the “Saraswati” adolescent girls group in Dublipod. With her mother’s support, Gaura eventually managed to convince her father about staying in a boarding school to complete her schooling. Says Gaura, “It is not easy being away from home. I feel homesick. But I have decided. I will complete my studies at any cost.”
Gaura and friends Savita and Laxmi take a weekly trek back home to meet their parents and help them with their work in the fields and attend group meetings. It is here that the girls are seen entering into leadership roles – becoming increasingly articulate, confident, aware and sharing information with the group.
Having participated in the camp, Gaura says, “I met other girls like me who were struggling to study further. I was glad to know that so many girls have stepped out of their villages to learn more. Like me, many of them had come to Yavatmal for the first time. We learnt a lot from the training. I no longer feel frightened of speaking to a crowd.”
And as Gaura gets up to speak to the gathering, the community hushes into a silence.
Dublipod is ready to hear its generation next speak.