At Youthreach, we like to believe in the boundless potential of the human spirit. The communities we have had the fortune to access as part of our work through our Corporate and NGO partners have given to us fascinating stories of that potential. Whether it was a child who returned to school after eight years, a young girl who defied social norms to take a bus to a far away school, a woman who made paper bowls to ensure a decent life for her family, or a teenager who beat paralysis from disabling his life… each person is a story. This section brings you a few stories of the unlettered, under-confident, underprivileged and marginalised… and their rise, their transformation. We are proud we have been part of these lives even though we have merely facilitated the change. To quote Emerson, they dipped their pen in the blackest ink because they weren’t afraid of falling into their ink-pot!
AND THE LAMP OF LEARNING CONTINUES TO BURN
“Madam, college ja rahi ho… padh kar madam banogi ya chulha phukogi.” The mocking words of her peers seeing her go to the AIS Unnati Centre would have cut her deep then. But that was the truth. Jyoti had gone to the nearby government school despite all odds. Failure in class 8, the subsequent dropping out of school sent Jyoti back to doing what most girls in her situation do – cook, look after her siblings and do other household chores. Her father Dayal Singh was a casual labourer in Mohammadpur village in Rewari. So, expensive tutorial back-up was out of the question. Two years went by. And then, truth seemed like it may change.
Jyoti learnt of the AIS Unnati Centre in her village for out of school children when a teacher from the centre and the in-charge informed her family about the facility. There was both trepidation and excitement as the young girl started preparing for the class 10 boards through Haryana open school. As if the books weren’t tough enough, the jibes from her peers made it even more difficult. The teacher and other friends at the Centre, however, were constantly pushing, encouraging and helping. To her own surprise, Jyoti passed the first semester in all subjects. That made her more confident for the second semester in which, however, she passed in only half her subjects. Her constant ally, her teacher, counselled her. Finally, Jyoti cleared her compartment exams – and her class 10. “It was a great day for me. The whole churn seemed like a long journey which would have never happened but for AIS,” she says.
ONE BUS, MANY JOURNEYS
One bus and six lives without stops – that pretty much sums up the story of Leena Kumari who lives 8km away from Bawal (Rewari) in Harchandpur village. Daughter of casual labour father and homemaker mother, Leena belongs to the Dalit community which frowns upon girls’ education. So when she passed out of the village primary school, the young girl found she had little choice but to give up her dream of pursuing commerce and becoming an accountant. Dreams, especially for children like Leena, are like the bloom that withers away as quickly as it flowers. She had five sisters and a brother. Her parents, much as they wanted to, could ill-afford to send her to school where they would have had to spend on tuition and other fees.
But seasons changed – and the year 2004 heralded spring for Leena’s dream. Asahi Glass started a remarkable bus service under its flagship program, AIS Integrated Community Development Programme, for enhancing the quality of life of the people in the vicinity its manufacturing plant. Leena and two of her sisters hopped on to the bus to Bawal for further studies. Her elder sister completed class 12 the next year, found employment in a neighbouring factory in Bawal and began contributing to the household income. Another scored a decent 78 per cent in the science stream in 2008 and went on to do a Bachelors degree in science from Gurgaon. Subsequently, her younger sister also started going to Bawal Girls’ School in the bus. Prior to the bus service, only 10 to 15 girls could step outside their village to pursue further education. The bus service changed the lives of nearly 60 girls (2010-11 figures) – and along with them, of their families as well.
Leena is now in class 12, studies commerce and dreams again… all because of a bus that has stopped nowhere in its journey to fulfill the aspirations of its young passengers.
SHAKTI – POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE
Each of the members from their self-help group ‘Shakti’ in Latherdeva village bear out the name of one the oldest women’s groups started under Project Aarohan, an AIS initiative facilitated by Youthreach, in the village communities of Roorkee. They keep their financial records like any capable accountant, fill their own bank documents, and calculate their savings and interest besides writing the minutes of the group meetings. They have their own micro-enterprises, each one of them, and both the tenacity and confidence to face a new world.
The story was different till a few years ago. These women were constantly and completely dependent on their spouse for petty cash, unable to save even a little and always forfeiting small personal joys for the sake of the household. Project Aarohan gave them a measure of self-determination and belief. The project, under which 12 women joined hands to form one of the oldest self-help groups Shakti, aimed at social and economic uplift of the Roorkee women. The group took its first small, but significant, step towards this aim by saving Rs50 per month for the very first time outside the domain of their homes. In February 2006, each of them opened their first bank account in a public sector bank on the basis of their SHG account – and that opened their eyes to the worth of collective power. For a bunch of semi-literate women that was skeptical about its own abilities to run a group and handling money, their maiden visit to a bank without a male member gave them conviction.
They started inter-loaning with the collective savings, initially for domestic consumption. Training in micro entrepreneurship coupled with exposure meetings with other women entrepreneurs and the support from the AIS Revolving Fund spurred them into establishing their own micro-enterprises.
Today, the power of those initial 50 rupees has not only made them economically independent but has given them also a sense of indefatigable self-worth.
DAWN OF A NEW MORNING
Bowls are often suffixed to begging. For Lalita of Makhdoompur village, however, bowls have spelt prosperity.
Landless Lalita was the first woman who started her own little paper bowl-making enterprise with a loan from her SHG. She made a record 10,000 machine-made bowls in two days at the rate of 100 rupees a day. Now, she not only supports her family that includes a physically challenged husband, but also sends her three children to school.
There was a time when her family was trapped in an unending debt spiral. She couldn’t borrow from the money-lenders for her family’s day-to-day needs. Now with 3000-4000 rupees that she makes every month, Lalita doesn’t have to beg for petty cash. In fact, members of her self-help group have emulated her as Lalita goes strength to strength forming other SHGs. Exposure to bank procedures and the ability to keep an account of her income and outgo has made her stronger – and her world less fragile than paper!
Sajda’s story, like Lalita and several other women in Roorkee, follows a similar trajectory. When Sajda, 35, joined Naya Savera, the self-help group in her Kotwal Alampur village, little did she know that it would literally mean the dawn of a new morning in a tough life.
With eight children and single income from husband Julfikar’s sale of petty consumer items made by moving on foot from one village to the other, life was, indeed, tough. That they had no agricultural land either only made it worse.
A couple of years ago, Sajda joined her SHG, took a loan from the revolving fund and brought a paper bowl –making machine with it. Soon, she started making Rs2000-3000 every month. An active worker in her group, Sajda took a second loan from the group to buy a buffalo. The milk not only went towards meeting domestic needs, there was even enough to sell for income. Thanks to her SHG’s link with a bank, Sajda knew how to do book-keeping and account for her income, profits and losses. The capacity-building workshops organised for women’s groups like hers under various project activities not only shored up her confidence, but her husband has also started consulting her in decisions affecting the family.
SAYING YES TO SELF
“When I came here, my English was not good I could not talk to anyone confidently. All the other classes like life skills, English and counselling sessions really helped me a lot. When I joined Shine, I wanted to do a job after completing my course. Initially… my parents were not in favour of this, but now they are supporting me. And this is just because of Shine Foundation, and their supportive staff who helped me to get into this level so that now I am able to convince my parents to support girls’ education.”
Nikhat, 19, is a fine English teacher at the Shine Foundation, a girl from a lower socio-economic background and a conservative, patriarchal family. Two disparate facts mentioned in the same breath? Well, here was a shy girl with hidden spunk, someone who was aware of her limitations and wanted to transcend them given half a chance. She was curious to know and learn, enthusiastic and with a burning desire to alter her circumstance. Nikhat’s was a life of contradictions till such time as she enrolled at the Shine Foundation for Wrigley’s YES programme – the Life Skills and Workplace English classes – implemented by Youthreach.
At Shine, the programme polished her inherent abilities and enabled her to discover her affinity for the English language. In very little time, she had begun to pick up new words every day and make sentences which she would bring to class for the trainer to check. The shy girl was transforming into a quick-minded, dedicated learner who not only went through her English lessons but also wrapped up alongside a course in basic computer programming.
Nikhat’s transformation was too obvious to be missed – even by her family that wouldn’t have dreamt of their daughter pursuing higher education, let alone a career. Today, Nikhat is working at attaining her graduation degree besides teaching at the place that taught her wake up to her own potential by simply asking her to say YES to herself.
BUILDING CAPACITY TO BEAT DISABILITY
Young Parveen works at a television showroom besides doing his higher secondary through a correspondence course. He is like many young people who must study and also work to support themselves as well their family. What sets him apart is that he studied only till class 3 before a stroke of illness left him with paralysed legs. Like most children again, he was happy he had a good reason to bunk school. But he grew up and realised his loss. The despair of remaining unlettered like his parents and brothers who work as casual labour troubled the young boy as he looked for an opening to return to education. It came in the form of Wrigley’s YES programme that Youthreach was implementing for many of its NGO partners, including the Hope Foundation. Parveen attended classes in life skills and spoken English at Hope. He says “I am grateful to Hope for giving me back my confidence. I now want to study further and get myself a decent job” and is proof that disability is not a synonym for incapacity.