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A 13-year-old Pioneering Positive Change

Written By: Sharon Panackal 

Seema grew up in a village far from the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, which has a below-average literacy rate. The village is entrenched in gender-based stereotypes and there is a common belief that the world outside the village can ruin a girl. It is not uncommon to come across someone who might say, “Why educate girls? They are to clean the households anyway!” Unfortunately, most government attempts at educating the villagers through primary schools have been futile; the area’s only primary school does not serve the community’s needs, and often, students attend only to receive free mid-day meals.

Seema was a class 4 student at the school when some teachers of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) visited her village to advocate for girls’ education. KGBVs are government schools supported by CARE that provide upper primary education to girls from minority communities. Residential and free of cost, these schools ensure that parents no longer need to worry about their daughters’ safety or the high cost of education.

However, those reasons were not enough for Vinod, Seema’s father, to educate his daughter. While Seema had dreams well beyond being an illiterate housemaker, to Vinod, sending her to a school also meant having one less person to work at home.

It was practically an accident that Seema and Vinod went to a KGBV. They were walking by the school when Seema noticed some girls studying and playing. Sensing she might have found the right school for her own education, Seema pleaded with her father to inquire about the place. After seeing many girls from similar backgrounds happily doing their chores at KGBV, Vinod finally yielded to Seema’s wish to study.

Although she had graduated from primary school, the quality of her education was so poor that, at the age of 11, Seema could neither read nor write. She also lacked basic life skills; when she was given a banana at KGBV, she threw the fruit away and kept its peel.

Nevertheless, within her first month at KGBV, Seema learned to speak respectfully with others. By the end of the second month, she learned to read Hindi fluently. Seema remembers the day she read a Hindi text all by herself as the happiest day of her life. Although Vinod misunderstood his daughter’s new language as a sign of the negative influence of the outside world, even his scolding did influence her dream to be educated.

The second time Seema went home on vacation, Vinod had two questions for her. He asked, “If 1 kilogram of wheat costs Rs. 10, how much would 100 kilograms cost?” Seema replied “Rs. 1000.” He then asked, “If 1 liter of oil costs Rs. 7, how much would 30 liters cost?” She replied, “Rs. 210.” On receiving these two correct answers from his daughter, Vinod was impressed with the education Seema was receiving at KGBV, and he decided to let her study until class eight.

Now a class eight student, Seema is the first girl from a village of 800 families, each of them with between two and four daughters, to receive a quality education. She learned more than just a language and math over the last two years. She is now a dietician for her parents, suggesting they eat fewer spices and more vegetables. She is a teacher for her mother and siblings as well as 12 other girls in the village. Thanks to her, they can now write their names in Hindi. She is also a specialist in newer technologies – Seema’s is the only house with a gas stove – and an ardent advocate of education and peace. She has learned to paint, sing and cook. Seema now gets invited to sing and play drums at all events in her village. She also cooks delicious food for her father, so he will listen to her interest in studying further. Having also learned the value of being compassionate towards the sick, Seema wishes to become a nurse. 

Witnessing the changes that education has brought in Seema and their family, Vinod finally realizes the value of education. With the help of KGBV and CARE staff, he is now exploring ways to educate Seema further.