New Dream Class for Girls
Last week, Rakhi (my amazing co-teacher) and I quietly began what will be my final program at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh. By the end of April, I will be moving out of the community after nearly 2.5 years of service there.
This program, called "Dream Class," is a continuation of the afterschool program for girls we facilitated late last year, but is focused on the older group of eight, pictured above, who have continued onto Standards 11 and 12 (equivalent of same grades in high school in the US) with a dream of going to college soon.
It's a bold move considering most girls in India, especially those coming from poorer families like ours do, don't proceed past Standard 10. Instead, they usually get married and become housewives.
Doing Things Differently
Times are changing.
More and more women growing up in India don't want to follow this traditional cultural paradigm of early marriage and service to household. They want to pursue their education first and even find employment, so as not to be financially dependent on their husbands.
Exactly these were the reasons shared when I asked the new group why they're pursuing their education with such passion.
Given that none of the girls' parents have gone to college, their financial situation, and the lack of understanding (objections, in some cases) from parents and community elders, some support is needed to help their dream of going to college come true, which is where I come in and why we started the Dream Class.
We will be meeting twice/week for the next eight weeks to give extra energy to the already excellent work the girls are doing on their own.
Here are three main challenges we're facing:
1. Securing permission from family members (fathers, especially) to go to college.
This is, perhaps, our greatest challenge because we are up against entrenched, cultural values about what girls are supposed to do with their lives. Values, as these, in India are taken extremely seriously and are not lightly broken. Plus, it doesn't matter if you are a boy or girl, you have to have your family's blessing to do just about anything.
Recently, Rakhi and I went door-to-door meeting with all the parents, discussing the nature of our class, and asked permission for their daughters to take it.
All the parents gave their permission, with very little hesitation or concern. This was a good a sign. We are not yet at the stage where we ask permission for the girls to apply for college — that will be a harder conversation — but this was a positive, encouraging first step.
2. Ensuring the girls stay committed.
They all come from a slum area, as well as a traditional and conservative village environment. Though they live in a modern, developing city, they live far away from the city center and have not been exposed to much that the city offers.
"Diversion" is a common issue for students enrolled in college coming from this kind of background. They get to college, find new freedoms and friends, then get distracted with the city and its attractions, and lose their focus.
This issue is something we're going to directly address in our bi-weekly sits, as I hope to build up a spirit in the class where it would feel inconsistent with our values if they did something like this. Ultimately though, it is a risk beyond our control to fully address.
All the girls come from poor families that won't be able to afford the college tuition fees. Each will require support if and when the time comes to go to college.
This, to me, is going to be the easiest part. I've already met a few interested parties who said they would help with this sponsorship.
As I already mentioned, Rakhi and I will meet with the group twice per week for the next eight weeks.
We will incorporate some of the values and bhaav-based activities of previous programs but will be zoomed in on this one particular goal of going to college, which will entail research, visits to actual colleges, and all the other administrative matters.
More than other programs, this one will be much more practical in nature but not without its fair share of emphasis on the values needed to see this dream through to completion.
Continue to next update about the Dream Class.