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India: Education offers a second chance

© UNICEF India/2005/McBride
Guriya in her village of Karamdih. Immediately behind her stand her mother and some of her siblings. Girls from her village very rarely receive formal education, and her success in getting into school has made her something of a local celebrity.

By Rob McBride

The State of the World's Children 2006 will be launched on 14 December. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the report we will feature a series of stories focusing on children who are excluded and invisible as a result of armed conflict, poverty, HIV/AIDS, discrimination and inequalities. Their stories are the stories of millions of other children whose rights go unfulfilled every day.

GAYA, India, December 2005 – Instructing from the front of the karate class, Guriya Khatun’s performance is commanding. She strikes a posture, then with a shout goes through a series of punches and kicks which her students follow. Her authority, combined with her deadly serious demeanour, make it easy to forget that Guriya is only 14 years old.

Teaching karate is an apt pursuit for someone who has had to fight for most things her whole life. And teaching the martial art is what she eventually wants to do.
“When we do karate,” she explained, “we have a strong sense of empowerment and we can feel good about ourselves.” In this part of Bihar state learning a martial art also has a practical application. “Sometimes when you walk through a market,” Guriya continued, “you get harassed by the boys, but karate gives us the confidence to handle anything.”

© UNICEF India/2005/McBride
Guriya taking a karate lesson at the school she now attends. As well as studying at the school, she teaches her classmates the martial art, and wants to become a karate instructor after her schooling.

The eldest of six children from the remote village of Karamdih in rural Bihar, Guriya’s biggest battle in life has been to get an education. With girls in her impoverished Muslim community excluded from a formal education and with her father not earning, she has had to overcome many obstacles in her quest for learning. A few visits to an informal learning centre supported by UNICEF changed her life.

“It was so interesting,” she said. “I knew then I had to have education to understand the world beyond my village.” Her first hurdle was convincing her mother. With her father away, trying to make a living in Mumbai, she was not only expected to work to earn money, but also to help her mother with the everyday chores. But Guriya knew that if they were ever to improve their situation, she had to do more than fetch water and work in the fields.

Her mother, Rehana Khatun, tearfully recalled the squabbles they had. “She told me ‘I know we are poor, but let me study and then I can have a chance to bring us out of
poverty’. She was convinced she could help.”

Against the odds Guriya is determined to be as good as her word. Despite an eight kilometre walk each day, she now attends school. That she does so is thanks in part to her enrolment at a local education centre, the Mahila Shiksha Kendra. Run jointly by the government and UNICEF, it takes adolescent girls who have been denied an education and gives them intensive instruction for up to nine months to get them into the school system.  For the girls who attend the rigorous lessons, the course offers not so much a second chance, but the chance they never had to begin with. And stories like Guriya’s provide inspiration to help them through. Hazara, aged 16, explained, “I am so pleased for Guriya in all the success she has had,” she said. “And I am going to make sure all my brothers and sisters also study well.” 

It is a sentiment echoed by Guriya herself. “I want other girls to know that you have to face all your challenges in life, but most of all get an education. Because without it, you can’t change your life – or your world.”




December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on one girl in India who is fighting to get an education.

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