Since1985, the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women has empowered more than 7,800 young poor girls and women from rural and tribal areas though education. Through a systematic and structured residential training program, the institute increases gender awareness and equality by helping the young women build the knowledge and skills they need to overcome systemic obstacles they face in achieving education, employment, and staying healthy. The word ‘Barli’ is a Bhilali word (the local dialect of Alirajpur district, from where the majority of the trainees come) that means the central pillar of a rural household. When the girls return to their villages, they become pillars of their society.
Villages served: Today, Barli Institute operates an immersive program for girls from 60-70 villages in Madhya Pradesh. For six months, the girls live at the institute in Indore and study eight subjects: organic farming, environmental conservation, medicinal plants for holistic health, solar cooking and food processing, literacy, stitching and tailoring, healthcare, and development of self and community.
When Mona Foundation began supporting Barli Institute in June 2012, 80 trainees attended each six-month program (160-170 trainees per year). With Mona’s help, Barli expanded its intake in November 2015 to 125 trainees (about 250 trainees per year). Barli depends 100 percent on Mona Foundation for its funding. Mona covers all operational expenses such as electricity, food, and lodging, plus books, raw materials for stitching, and other supplies.
“Mona is our oxygen,” says Tahera Jadhav, executive director of Barli who runs the institute in partnership with her husband, Yogesh Jadhav. “We owe everything to Mona.” The couple joined Barli Institute five years ago. Prior, Tahera taught computer science at an engineering college in Bhopal. Yogesh has masters of science and masters of business administration degrees. He spent his first 12 years in research, on faculty at a business school in Bhopal, and in project management in sustainable development, forestry and environmental management.
Leadership: The training programs at Barli focus on enabling the young women to chart the course of their own lives in their society. All learning is centered around teamwork, attitude of service, and building sustainable communities. Girls arrive with other girls from their villages on the 20th of May and November each year. In the first week, Barli divides the girls into groups so that they live, study, and interact with girls from other tribes and villages. This breaks down social barriers and promotes self-initiative and interpersonal skills as the girls form new friendships and learn how to work as a team.
Peer-tutorig: Through experience, Barli discovered that the students learn best by teaching others. It uses a novel peer-tutoring method that it developed over 30 years in which students learn and teach simultaneously. In each batch of new students, Barli identifies 15-20 girls who can read and write and possess some degree of comprehension skills. The institute places at least one of these girls in each group and appoints them as assistants, teaching the girls Hindi using their tribal dialect, Bhilali. The assistants become more helpful when they realize that they learn faster when they help other students.
“It takes three months to teach the girls to read and write,” said Tahera. “Peer-tutoring is the key to them becoming literate and self-empowered so quickly. Most have low self-esteem when they arrive. Back home, they’ve been told they can’t read or write like their brothers. At Barli, we motivate and encourage them. It was a turning point in our lives when my husband and I saw illiterate girls start reading. It’s so satisfying to see how education changes their lives and builds their confidence.”
Women's health: Pre-natal and post-natal care classes are vital for the health of women and their children, especially since over 90 percent of all birth deliveries take place in the home in these tribal areas. The girls are accustomed to seeing a local healer in their villages whenever they become sick or need medical attention. Most have never been to a doctor or used a toilet, since most of their villages lack sanitation facilities. Barli Institute toilet-trains the girls and gives them a book on healthcare (in addition to books on literacy, stitching and tailoring, and community development). They teach them about herbal and naturopathic remedies for self-healing and they address superstitions. The girls also learn how to manage a small business and start a small enterprise in their villages.
Attitude shift among parents: Until 15 years ago, parents were very reluctant to let their girls leave their households for six months to study at Barli. They felt that marriage was the most important thing in a girl’s life, and since their daughters would soon be married, why waste resources on educating them? In the tribal areas, there is also a perception that women will not add to the family income, so educating them is not a priority. In rural areas, girls work in the fields for three to four years before being married off, usually when they are 15 years old.
Three months into the program, the parents are invited for a three-day parent’s meeting at Barli. During their stay, each girl speaks in front of the class with her parents and shares her experiences. The parents watch as their girls read and write in front of the 300 people. Just three months earlier, the girls were illiterate and lacked the confidence to look someone in the eye or say their own name.
“When the parents witness this transformation, their attitudes shift about educating their daughters,” said Tahera. “The experience also creates a new confidence between each daughter and her parents. Earlier, it had been very hard to persuade parents to educate the girls beyond six months. They felt that girls are meant for working in the fields, marriage, and taking care of children. But when they see their daughter’s new skills and self-confidence, many want them to pursue further education. Today, parents are the strongest ambassadors for Barli, sharing their daughters’ success with other village families.
With their new-found self-confidence, the girls also become self-advocates. In 2012, Rekha came to Barli at age 14. She fell in love with education. After her six-month course, her dad wanted to marry her off. Her fiancé tried to make her choose between him and getting her education. Rekha told him she wanted both and would not choose between the two. She convinced her in-laws to wait two to three years while she pursued her high school diploma. Seeing her transformation, her father became the biggest advocate for Rekha continuing her education. After she was married, her father begged her in-laws to let her continue her studies. Rekha is now in her second year of her bachelor studies and teaches literacy full-time at Barli, where she also interned.
Building sustainable communities: Barli Institute teaches the girls that if you take care of the environment, it will take care of you. Organic gardening and horticulture classes teach women methods in composting, making herbal insect repellants, and using locally available herbs to enrich the soil. Girls learn sustainable agricultural practices through hands-on work, such as planting and watering trees on the institute’s plantations, and how to cook using solar cook stoves. Girls who take home a solar cook stove save two to three hours each day that they would have spent gathering firewood. Switching to solar power has also increased their personal safety, because they no longer risk being assaulted when walking in the forests to gather wood.
Serving the community: Barli Institute instills an attitude of service in the girls, who play an important role as change agents in their villages. The institute holds demo classes in which the students create skits to role play what they will teach when they return to their villages. “Every trainee convinces her parents and relatives to adopt sustainable agroforestry practices and organic practices on household farms,” said Tahera. Field visits and sample surveys reveal that almost all trainees use their literacy and knowledge of healthcare and teach family and community members sanitation practices, organic farming, and solar cooking, spurring attitudinal changes in their society.
The girls insist that their village heads and other men adopt consultative techniques they learned at Barli to resolve social and ethnic conflicts. The trainees challenge the harmful behaviors and social practices that are so prevalent in tribal areas, like dowry, casteism, and alcoholism. Many trainees have worked with their community to establish literacy programs, women health centers, parental trainings, cleanliness drives, tree plantations, and other community programs that stimulate harmony and community building in their villages. Each woman has touched hundreds of other lives.
In 2014-2015, almost 90 percent of the girls contributed to their family’s income immediately upon returning home; the remaining 10 percent contributed income within three months. Contributions range from Rs3000 (roughly $45 USD) per month during the first year to as high as Rs10000 (roughly $150 USD) per month during peak festive seasons six or seven years after their training at Barli.
From illiteracy to university education: In 2013, Barli began offering the opportunity to senior girls to pursue university education at DAVV, the local university in Indore. Barli Institute can now take girls from illiteracy through university for those who want a higher education and have the support of their parents. Mona recently increased its support for Barli’s high school and university education programs. Twenty girls are currently preparing for their high school studies (to be pursued under the aegis of National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), New Delhi), while still living and studying at Barli, and three girls are working toward their bachelor of arts degree from a local university in Indore. The girls attend classes at the university two or three days per week, and Barli augments the trainings.
A new trend is that girls are extending their stay at Barli for four to five years. Barli screens the interested senior girls to evaluate their capacity for higher education and the willingness of their parents. Those who return also learn typing, basic computer skills, desktop publishing, and office management.
Barli also offers 1-12 month internships and volunteer positions to college students and other aspirants. Normally, two interns from management, social sciences, law, or other fields volunteer onsite at a time. The interns conduct field evaluations, take videos and photos, administer questionnaires, help in office management, and assist in outdoor activities.
The trainees who are asked to come back after their six-month training continue as trainee assistants for the new batches of girls. Since 2012, six to eight trainees in each batch have continued as trainee assistants for at least six months.
When asked about her proudest accomplishment in 2015, Tahera said, “Every student passed the cutting and tailoring exam by the National Institute of Open Schooling,” said Tahera. “They got higher marks than students outside of Barli who took the same exam. I’m also proud of increasing our capacity so that more girls can read and write and get life skills for their future.”
Graduation results and impact: Barli Institute has received many honors. UNESCO recognized it as one of the top 100 education projects in developing countries. It was also listed on the UN Environmental Program Global 500 Roll of Honor. In 2015, the former director of Barli Institute received a Padma Shri (civilian award) for Barli’s services toward uplifting the lives of rural and tribal women. Below are additional indications of the impact of this great institution:
• 200 women trained onsite
• 128 women trained at extension centers
• 32 women trained in the use of solar cook stoves
• 425 women and their parents trained in organic agriculture practices
• 200 women trained in HIV/AIDS education
• 325 high school students were provided health education courses by trained Barli students
• 203 women trained onsite
• 130 women trained at extension centers
• 35 women trained in the use of solar cook stoves
• 565 women and parents were trained in organic agriculture practices
• 203 women trained in HIV/AIDS education
• 240 high school students were provided health education courses by trained Barli students
Field visits and sample surveys reveal that almost all trainees use their literacy and knowledge of healthcare and teach family and community members sanitation practices, organic farming, and solar cooking, spurring attitudinal changes in the society.