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How A Young Girl Is Transforming Her Community Through Education

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

From Saradhi, Bangalwa village in Munger district of Bihar, where most girls are forced to stay at home and are valued in terms of their ability to do the household chores, a young girl Taniya Parveen is breaking the norms of the society by stepping out to follow her dreams.

Taniya, a 16-year-old lives with her mother and four younger siblings. Her father has travelled outside the village to earn for the family. Inquisitive by birth, she started learning Urdu at the age of two and had surprisingly read the whole Quran by the time she was seven. Her primary education was in a private school called Saraswati School, Sahibganj, in Jharkhand, further continuing in Kramik Middle School till the beginning of her 6th standard. There she showed tremendous potential in academics due to which her father got her admitted directly in the 8th grade in Middle School Saradhi. She now teaches there.

The Discovery Of Aspiration

Taniya, along with getting primary education, was also a part of a Madarsa. She started learning Arbi as a child and was doing quite well. Seeing her growth, the Maulana started assigning her to conduct revision classes for her juniors. Who knew that this would lead her to discover her aspirations? She soon fell in love with teaching; being effective enough to build an understanding among children, she continued tutoring quite a few of them in her vicinity.

Connect With i-Saksham

At 15, Taniya was introduced to i-Saksham’s certification course on Basic Community Tutorship and she thought of taking a step ahead. Most of her friends quibbled on her idea of joining the program thinking that nothing can change in three months. Despite being uncertain about the impact, she took a chance to explore and used the time well to meet her learning requirements. As the organization was then initiating its first fellowship program, Taniya was selected for it since it would be a great chance for her to learn further about teaching and develop her skills for the next two years.

Luckily, Taniya’s father was always in favour of the teaching profession. He feels that every other occupation is a result of teaching, and hence, he didn’t need any convicing for her to go ahead with it. Stepping out from the village to learn puts Taniya in a spot where she became a topic of conversation for everyone. When I asked about her views on this, she said, “The society needs to change and understand the potential girls have, so that I and other girls can freely come and go wherever we want.’’

She has played the role of both a teacher and a learner until now in her life and hopes to continue in both capacities throughout. The more she spends time with children to make their lives better, the more she is learning from them and believes that there is nothing better than an environment where one is surrounded by curiosity and pro-activeness. Taniya considers teaching as the best profession for herself as no outside force acts on her when she teaches. It allows her to be herself in front of children, thereby making the most of each and every session.

Taniya (second from left) leading an activity in her group during training
Taniya (second from left) leading an activity in her group during training

The New Environment

As Taniya had never stepped out of her village, she found it a bit challenging to commute alone in the beginning and cope with the training. Managing a class of 60 students was also new. She felt like giving up but the thought of doing that and sitting at home was too much for her. It was also too soon to quit. Things started to get better, and with her hard work and the team’s effort, she was now able to understand everything. “Agar hum koshish hi nahi karenge to humein pata kaise chalega ki hum kya kar sakte hain! (If we won’t try, how will we know what we can do.)”, she says.

Courage And Recognition

Taniya had faith in the values of the i-Saksham fellowship program. She says that she has lived some of the best moments of her life during this time. When a few students from YALE University visited i-Saksham for a week-long research, she got a chance to meet foreigners for the first time in her life. She felt proud to be able to communicate with them in basic English and stressed on how English as a language plays an important role. During our annual event, Taniya addressed the whole gathering on gender equity and importance of education for girls. Her eyes filled with pride when she saw her picture in the newspaper, the next day.

She had the courage to do what’s not considered safe. The school where she teaches is in a naxal prone area, adjoining a police camp, to ensure security. She reaches there every day on time and teaches kids for four hours.

On asking what she feels about her students, she says “Bas main or mere bachhe ek class mein ho, aur mujhe kuch nahi chahiye” (I just want me and my children in the class and nothing else). Apart from teaching, Taniya is also continuously involved in introducing her students to several other things. She makes sure that they maintain proper hygiene, laugh often and do not suffer from any behavior complexities in the classroom.

Taniya in a rally with her students, to spread awareness on health and hygiene in her community.

The Impact On Children

There have been remarkable positive behavioral changes in students who come from backward areas and knew nothing about the world outside. They have immensely grown and have come to love studies using various TLMs (Teaching Learning Material) and technology. A part of the problem still exists as parents hardly care about education. They are glad if a child recites a poem in English thinking that he/she is learning but are barely concerned about sending him/her to school every day.

Taniya talks to them about the importance of education and wishes to make more people aware in the village who can stand up for their dreams and improve the circumstances. She dreams a life for them where they can independently move towards their aspirations.

How A Life Changed

Through the course of this fellowship, Taniya has seen several changes in herself. She is now more patient, conscious of her preconceived notions, and understands different perspectives. Her responsibility, being a 16-year-old, has increased a lot as she is solely responsible for the growth of so many children in her community. She barely gets any time for household chores and is quite okay with that as she gets to spend most of her time with children. Her family has also started to understand her better and is a support system in her journey towards improving the status of education in their village.

Even though Taniya aspires to be a teacher, she dreams of meeting famous personalities and discussing education as well as teaching with them. She wants to be recognized for her efforts in a way that people get a message that a girl from rural Bihar is not behind anyone. She wants to open her own school.

Role As A Community Leader And Thoughts On Empowering Youth

Taniya is extremely concerned about the condition of youth in her village, over the next few years. She is trying her best and has created an informal group of youngsters who gather on specific days and talk about what they want to do in their lives. She visualizes her village as a place where all young people can showcase their talent. It’s just a matter of the opportunities available to them. While most of the girls around her drop out of schools or don’t go to college either to sit at home or to get married, Taniya focuses on seeing the bright side where some of them are graduating in agriculture and library science while a few are preparing for competitive exams. She feels that these girls should be motivating others. She herself accepts some of the norms but doesn’t resist finding ways to improve her own life and inspire others to do so.

The country, especially in its rural parts, needs more committed youth like Taniya who do not get hindered by the obstacles but want to turn them into constructive actions. In spite of all the challenges, she has chosen not to give up on her dreams and can be seen as an inspiration for all those who curse their circumstances for not doing well.

About The Author: Divya Sharma is an India Fellow working in rural Bihar on education and youth empowerment with a non profit called iSaksham.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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