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A Rescue ‘Bridge’ for ‘Out of School’ Girls

Happy faces at ALPANA, the residential bridge school at Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh, India

Shabbo rediscovered herself at Residential Bridge Course (RBC), a course that has helped many girls in Uttar Pradesh carry forward their lives

By Kulsum Mustafa

LUCKNOW, India, 21 August 2009 – For twelve year old Shabbo life has been sheer drudgery. Eldest of five sisters, she had to be pulled out of school, barely two months after joining it. Her father Baitullah, working as a labourer earning just Rs 50- 60 per day could not afford the school fee.

With a heavy heart Shabbo had to join the other village girls and take up work at a nearby zardozi (traditional embroidery done with gold, silver threads) centre.

Dreams shattered even before they could take a shape

Arduous labor of seven to eight hours fetched her Rs 20 to 30 per day, enough to ensure a square meal a day for the family. The fact that the work affected her vision and the fine needles punctured her fingers hardly seemed to matter anyone.

Not even to Shabbo, who worked day and night without any break, without any rest weaving dreams in threads for others while her own dreams had not even taken shape.

The only luxury that she allowed herself occasionally was to ‘steal” a few rupees from her daily earning and treat herself to goalgappas and an ice lolly. Hum to zindigi bhar bus kaam hi kartey reh gaey’ (I have only been doing work all my life) is how she explained her emotions when she first heard of RBC. The pathos in her tender voice can pierce any sensitive heartOf course for this she had to be prepared for the ‘spanking’ that would follow if her father found out. Most of the time he did not.

It was a hard life for a teenager but frankly Shaboo did not really mind it. After all she knew no other life. 

Life was going on at its own pace, without any excitement and colour. Not that Shabbo expected anything else. But then one day something happened that changed her whole world. It made her look at things with a different perspective, vision.

A ray of hope in the dark clouds of despair

A field worker came looking for ‘out of school’ girls to be enrolled in Residential Bridge Course (RBC), a UP government, UNICEF initiative. Shabbo who had faint, but happy memories of her school days showed her eagerness to join.

Hum to zindigi bhar bus kaam hi kartey reh gaey’ (I have only been doing work all my life) is how she explained her emotions when she first heard of RBC. The pathos in her tender voice can pierce any sensitive heart.

Life was gifting her chance to reshape her life and Shabbo found herself welcoming this change with open arms. But it took a lot of counseling of her parents, especially of Baitullah to be convinced that the course will do his daughter good. Reluctantly they gave in.

Shabbo joined the first batch of RBC set up at Sarvodaya Ashram, Hardoi on 1st March 2008. There were 200 other girls selected from two blocks of Hardoi namely Hariyanva and Pihani.

Specially devised innovative educational concept was used to teach ‘out of school girls’ between the ages of 11-14 years at special residential schools in eleven months the curriculum uptill class five. Transition from one class to the other requires a minimum of one week,  where evaluation, sharing, training and planning for the next session is conducted.

Whenever needed, another week is added for clarifications and improvements in specific topics. The girls went home twice in the entire session for one week. 

Now two more centers have opened in the state at Gonda and in Mall, the latter in the periphery of Lucknow.

At these Centers everything is done according to a set time table. Food, studies, games everything on time. Through intensive but interesting methods they were taught Hindi, English, Science, Maths and Life-skills.

Education has given her life a new meaning, a new direction
 
Shabbo rediscovered herself at RBC. She knows that life would never be the same again outside the portals of the centre. Soni, Ruby, Aruna have all similar tales to tell. Aruna in fact gathered courage to tell her parents that she will not marry before she completes her intermediate.

Shabbo rediscovered herself at RBC. She knows that life would never be the same again outside the portals of the centre. Soni, Ruby, Aruna have all similar tales to tell. Aruna in fact gathered courage to tell her parents that she will not marry before she completes her intermediate.Soni’s father Jaichand turns emotional when he came to meet her at the centre. “ Cannot believe this smart young girl is my own timid Soni, I am happy she took this step,” says her father. He says that he had pulled her out of the village school because they were wasting time and not teaching anything. 

UNICEF education specialist and the moving spirit behind the project, Vinoba Gautam believes that the USP of these RBC is the curriculum and the play methods used to teach the girls.

“They are taught Hindi, mathematics and science and life skills. English is added in class fourth curriculum. Poems are taught through group recitation, math through pebbles, stones and sticks. They  are encouraged to develop leadership besides life-skills, ” he said.

Mr Gautam told WFS about the five day model summer camp recently organized in Luck now from June 1 to 5 for school drop out girls. The success of the camp made the authorities decide to conduct similar camps in nine more districts which have lowest female literacy rates.

These camps at Rampur, Badaun, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharthnagar, Maharajganj, Sonbhadra and Lalitpur are attended by nearly 1000 girls.

“These girls are fast learners but we have to ensure that they we sustain their interest,” Neera Trivedi, district co-ordinator of the Lucknow camp said.

The percentage of girl dropout is very high in Uttar Pradesh which has nearly a quarter of million children out of school. UNICEF has been equal partner’s in Uttar Pradesh government’s endeavor to bring girls back to school.

Dwelling on the reasons for drop out a UNICEF report cites extreme poverty, school at a far away distance from village, women (mother, sister) in the family being uneducated, girls entrusted with household responsibilities, looking after younger siblings while parents go to work, concern about safety of the girl, poor education imparted at schools and many of the government schools, many of them have just a single teacher.

Many teachers behave roughly with the students and make them do a lot of work not connected with studies.

 

 

 

 

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