Poonam Story: Crying everyday to go to school – until she did. India.
In India, most girls remain undocumented and uncelebrated. The date of their birth is often not recorded or can’t be recalled. Poonam had to find her date of birth in her father’s diary. “I started school when I was three years old and I used to cry constantly as I did not go to the same school as my brother. My parents got fed up and enrolled me in my brother’s school. The school would not give me admission, saying I was too young. I forced them to allow me to sit in the class.”
When Poonam was six, her father pulled her out of school because he did not see the point of educating a girl. Undaunted, she continued to read her brother’s books. When she was 10 her father, an alcoholic, died of liver failure, so her brother was forced to leave school to help support the family. Unable to manage Poonam’s curiosity, her mother sought advice. One friend suggested Poonam attend Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), the government-run, free residential girls’ school. KGBV offers grades 6, 7 and 8, with preference given to girls who have dropped out of school.
Digital Study Hall (DSH)—the outreach arm of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF)—recorded and distributed video lessons across a range of topics. Poonam now had access to the best classrooms in the state with the best teachers!
For the next three years, Poonam devoured all that the teachers could teach her, both in the classroom and on video. Her teachers often showed videos from the Critical Dialogues curriculum that discuss gender equality, dowries, education rights, child marriage, and other topics. Poonam decided she wanted to study further and live an independent life free from poverty, subordination, and exploitation.
Poonam was at the top of her class each year but wanted more. Unfortunately, after completing grade 8 at KGBV, she returned home because her family could not afford to send her to school. At this time, her father’s land was in dispute, and her mother and brother could not figure out how to claim it. Poonam marched to the head of the village, and after several weeks of heated discussions, reached a settlement and claimed the land!
To find a way to continue her education, Poonam turned to her KGBV headmaster, Neelima, who called the DSH office and explained the need for scholarships for promising girls who could not afford to continue their education past 8th grade. As a result of receiving a Mona scholarship, Poonam continued her schooling and graduated from 12th grade. Impressed by Poonam’s potential, Neelima urged DSH to help Poonam obtain more support so she could fulfill her dream of getting a university degree and continue to inspire those around her.
DSH offered Poonam a position as a Non-formal Education Center (NEC) teacher. Her enthusiasm, energy, and vision so touched the DSH team that they offered her a scholarship to attend college. She is in her second year of a Bachelor of Education degree.
The students’ parents respect and admire her, and their children idolize her. She has expanded the aspirations of her entire community. Now, they not only dream of a better life, they see a path to achieving it.
“My job is to feed their dreams. I like to teach because these children are like I was in the village. I feel very sad when I see they are not going to school. If I can teach them, my village will grow. My village will become a post, from a post it will grow to a block, from a block it will become a city, and from a city, the whole country.” – Poonam
Ten students have transitioned from Poonam’s group to public schools, but they continue to attend her classes. DSH and the Mona Foundation sponsor initiatives like the KGBV and NEC programs so that more promising students like Poonam can fulfill their dreams and become role models and help transform their communities.
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