By Akanksha Nigam:
I first met Shabnam Jahan three years ago when I visited Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) in Balrampur district’s Pachpedva Block, in Uttar Pradesh. The school is one of the KGBVs where CARE India is providing support through Join My Village Girls’ Education Program.
Shabnam had battled odds and her family’s resistance to emerge as one of the most promising students at the school. Six months later, I spoke to her again to see if the fire in her belly to study was still there. Just back from her winter break, Shabnam told me that her parents were once again reluctant to send her back. But she was more interested in sharing her academic success with me. “In December, we had an inter-school Science and Maths competition in which I came first. I won three pens and a diary as prize,” she said proudly.
“Science is my favourite subject, along with English and Hindi. I can spend the entire day with my books without getting bored,” she added.
Such is her love for education that during the festival of Eid last August, Shabnam refused to go home.
“She wanted to stay in school and study. Her parents and I had to cajole her to celebrate the festival with her family. She was back as soon as the holidays were over,” said the school’s KGBV warden Indramati.
Moreover, Shabnam has put her education and time at home to good use. She has taught her mother Momina, who is illiterate, to write her name. “I always tell all my girls to teach their parents, but Shabnam is the only one who did this. In the very first year, she taught her mother to write her name. When she had come for Shabnam’s admission, she put her thumb impression as her signature. After six months, when she visited again, Momina wrote her name,” says Indramati.
“I have taught my mother alphabets, numbers and tables in last three years. I teach her something every time I go back. This time, I taught her a few words of English. Now, I have started teaching my sister-in-law Noor Jahan who has never been to school. She even came to my school twice,” said Shabnam, who wants to become a teacher when she grows up.
“I am in school for four more months and after that, I will probably stay at home till I am married off. I want to study more but my family is very poor and cannot finance my education,” she added. But there is a glimmer of hope. Indramati told me that Momina called her up and agreed to let Shabnam study further, provided there was some sort of financial help. “I have told her mother that if she cannot educate Shabnam, then I will do it on my own. Shabnam will stay with me and continue her education. It will be a waste of talent if this girl has to give up studies,” said Indramati.
Despite her family’s strong reservations, Shabnam has always been focused on getting educated. Currently, she is preparing for her Class 12 exams. She is passionate about ensuring that other girls do not drop out of school and speaking up against the evils of child marriage and other age-old beliefs. She also works with her community to ensure women are treated equally, and everyone has access to proper sanitation.
For her outstanding courage and determination, Shabnam was also chosen as one of the ‘Women of the Year’ by Glamour Magazine in 2015, for which she was invited to New York to attend the felicitation ceremony.
Shabnam is a role model for education in her village. But lakhs of children in India are yet to enter a school.
Help us create more Shabnams to brighten the future of India.