|A proud mother holds her five-year-old daughter, Kirti, during a school enrolment drive in Gujarat.|
By Radha Vadaria
GUJARAT, India, 25 July 2007 − Drums were beating, village women donned their finest saris and the streets were decorated with flowers. It was a big day in the life of Kirti Utana − the five-year old daughter of illiterate parents in the tribal village of Siddumbar. Kirti was going to school.
From 15-17 June, all across 18,000 villages in Gujarat, people were celebrating education with an extensive school enrolment drive. The drive was launched five years ago, and is aimed at ensuring that all children, especially girls above five years of age are enrolled in school.
Parents like Minaxi Vinod, who cannot read and has never been to school herself, made it a point to enrol her daughter in school.
“Illiteracy is a curse,” said Ms. Vinod. “I have lived under that curse, struggling to make ends meet, doing back-breaking work as a farm-labourer. I want a better future for my daughter, I want her to become a teacher.”
Getting everyone involved
From the Sarpanch (village head) to teachers and parents, everyone in the community has rallied to encourage all parents to enrol their children in school. UNICEF volunteers like Rama Dalvi in Avdha village went directly to people’s homes to convince parents to bring their children to the school to get enrolled.
|A group of newly enrolled children with school bags.|
The festive primary school enrolment drive has met with sizeable success over the past five years. During the three-day drive, a total of 568,318 children have been enrolled in the schools, of which 48 per cent are girls.
“Earlier, there were just 200 students in the school. In the past couple of years, the number has swelled to 700,” said the Principal of Sidumbar School Hirabhai Patel. “Significantly, the number of girls studying in the school has jumped from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.”
Community initiatives and incentives
To assist children in their education, many corporations and communities have donated school bags, uniforms, stationery and other necessities.
Savita Gadia beamed with pride as her daughter was handed a school bag and prepared to embrace a future that promises to be radically different from her mother’s.
“I am illiterate and know how people cheat us for their benefit. I want my daughter to be able to stand for her rights,” Ms. Gadia said.
State Representative of UNICEF Gujarat Dr. Yogendra Mathur says he appreciates the efforts of the State Government in promoting girls’ education over the last five years. Now, the hope is that all girls not only complete their primary education but are able to receive higher education as well.