|© UNICEF India/2010/Walker|
|Students at a classroom in India's Uttar Pradesh state assemble a SUNNAN solar-powered lamp. Over 90,000 lamps are being donated across several Indian states by the IKEA Social Initiave.|
By Angela Walker
UTTAR PRADESH, India, 20 May 2010 – When Mantasha was 13, her mother brought her to the home of a rich family to work. She told her daughter that if she worked hard, the family would put her through school and eventually help her to marry.
But the reality of working life was very different. Mantasha was paid nothing in return for the family’s left-over food. She was beaten with a rolling pin and made to work long hours, often past midnight.
Thanks to several new programmes taking root across rural India, however, Mantasha now leads a very different life. She is enrolled at a local residential school for girls. And with the help of a new project led by UNICEF and the IKEA Social Initiative – the corporate philanthropy arm of the international home-furnishings retailer – Mantasha now spends her evenings studying and laughing by lamplight.
School breaks the cycle
Mantasha’s life changed five months ago, when a teacher and family friend enrolled her at the local ‘Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya’ (KGBV) residential school.
“My parents brought me here to study,” says Mantasha, who hopes one day to become a doctor. “They say if I study I will have a good life.”
The Government of India launched the KGBV programme in 2004 for girls from 'scheduled' (that is, officially recognized) castes and tribes, and other marginalized minority groups. The programme targets rural areas where female literacy is below the national average and large numbers of girls are out-of-school. More than 37,000 girls were enrolled in the programme in 2009.
“The tradition is that a girl is not supposed to study. That’s the mindset,” said Juhi Kishore, the principal at Mantasha’s school. “Education is something given only for boys. In their families, they think, ‘Why should a girl be educated?’ She is like a machine, working in the fields, preparing the food and doing the wash.
“Our school gives them an opportunity to get out of that cycle of poverty,” added Ms. Kishore. “School gives them confidence. They feel that this gives them a platform where they can move up in life.”
|© UNICEF India/2010/Walker|
|In her classroom in Uttar Pradesh state, India, Anamika, 13, displays her new SUNNAN solar lamp.|
New light for students
In many parts of India, girls drop out of school – or are not enrolled in the first place – at a significantly higher frequency than boys.
“Gender disparities still persist in rural areas, particularly among disadvantaged communities,” said Adele Khudr, Chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh office. “These [KGBV] schools level the playing field for these girls, allowing them to go to school and complete their studies in a child-friendly environment.”
To further encourage girls to excel, UNICEF is partnering with the IKEA Social Initiative to provide solar-powered SUNNAN lamps to students. For every lamp sold in IKEA stores worldwide, another will be given to UNICEF and delivered to rural schools, where children often have limited access to electricity.
Last month, 100 SUNNAN lamps – one for each student – arrived at Mantasha’s school. The students eagerly unwrapped the packages of brightly coloured lamps.
“Usually at night, the girls just while away the time,” said Ms. Kinshore. “Now everyone will get a separate lamp so they can manage the study time as they like.”
Lighting the way for girls
A key UNICEF partner in India, the IKEA Social Initiative works to promote the rights of every child to a healthy, secure childhood with access to quality education. The initiative was launched in 2005 to support IKEA’s fight against child labour in the supply chain; it has since evolved into a broad commitment to create a better daily life for children.
A total of 66,740 SUNNAN lamps are being distributed to more than 6,400 schools and women’s literacy groups in Uttar Pradesh state. Another 24,720 lamps are also being distributed in the Indian states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
For the children now studying by their glow, the solar-charged lamps add many hours to the day. “When there is no light, we go to bed very early after dinner and get up early. Now at night I can study,” said Mantasha.
“These girls are very curious, and they want to study well in the nighttime just as well as they do in the daytime,” added Ms. Kinshore. “They come to our school, and they grow so much.”