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Female mountaineer inspires girls to greater heights at 'Meena Radio' event

© UNICEF India/2010/Walker
School children present Meena stories using human puppets at the launch of Meena Radio in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

By Angela Walker

LUCKNOW, India, 1 April 2010 – Santosh Yadav twice accomplished her dream of climbing Mount Everest, so it is fitting that she was chosen to address the crowd at a launch event for Meena Radio, a radio programme that aims to inspire young girls to stay in school and achieve their own dreams.

The event was held to kick off Meena Radio’s first ever Hindi broadcast in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state with some 191 million residents. Ms. Yadav, a native of Uttar Pradesh, spoke to a packed auditorium filled with hundreds of young people, parents and teachers.

“I was just like you – from a small village with a lot of difficulties. I just wanted to study,” she said. “I come from a very traditional background, a traditional family. It was more difficult for me to cross those cultural taboos than it was for me to climb Everest.”

Ms. Yadav attended a small village school in Haryana where the dirt floors turned to mud during the monsoons. At 14 there was pressure for her to marry, but her mother argued that she was too young and prevented it. She was thus able to continue school, earning honours in economics before continuing her studies at mountaineering school.

A role model

“All girls should have equal access to education,” she told the crowd. “We have to lead a good life, not just exist.”

© UNICEF India/2010/Walker
Mountaineer Santosh Yadav, who has climbed Mount Everest twice, with children at the inauguration of Meena Radio.

Like Ms. Yadav, Meena − the popular cartoon character that is the star of Meena Radio − is a role model for young girls. Meena has long been a popular character throughout the region, and is widely recognized in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. She lives in a biased world where boys are sent to school and given a larger share of food, while girls are made to stay home, tend to cattle, fetch water and perform other household chores.

But Meena wins over her village community and changes her family’s opinion about sending her to school.

“This nine-year-old spirited girl has been the voice of the voiceless for more than a decade now,” said Adele Khudr, Chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh Office. “She wants to study. She asks questions to a society that has not been fair to the girl child. She is a role model and solves problems in a positive and participatory manner. Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to see every girl child in India emulate Meena and grow up healthy, confident and empowered.”

Encouraging children to think

Each 15-minute Meena Radio programme has a story, a song and a game designed to entertain school children while encouraging them to think. Student discussions after the broadcast reinforce its messages on education, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, health, child marriage and child labour.

Funded through the generous support of the IKEA Social Initiative, Meena Radio was developed by UNICEF, the UP Government and All India Radio to promote child rights, gender equity and child-friendly schools. One hundred and sixty radio episodes are in production.

Students can tune in Monday through Saturday to the afternoon broadcasts on Government-provided radios. The Government has also trained teachers to use Meena Radio as a teaching aid, and has issued a directive to schools to encourage students to listen to the programme.

The pilot programme was launched on 8 March, International Women’s Day, in the districts of Lucknow and Lalitpur. It will be expanded to seven additional districts in July.    

A popular role model

The radio programme targets young people between the ages of 11 and 14, an age where they are prone to drop out of school. In Uttar Pradesh, the dropout rate in primary school is 25 per cent, but rises to 55 per cent in upper primary school, with more girls dropping out of school than boys.

“For the past 20 years, UP has adopted Meena like our own baby. Girls in school, parents, and teachers are taking up Meena,” said Deputy Director of the Uttar Pradesh Department of Education Lalita Pradeep. “Talking in Hindi will ensure they reach and attract the community and parents, and the message [is understood] properly and clearly.”

Discussing Meena’s ability to be a positive and popular role model, Ms. Pradeep added, “All girls identify with Meena…They want to be like Meena, to behave like Meena.”



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