Our Educate. Empower. Lead. campaign with Malala Fund is engaging with girls aged 13-17 at risk or the victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), to inspire them to stand up for their rights to their own education. We are also empowering them to challenge the barriers to equality in education and giving them the dais to advocate for it with key influencers and decision makers.
Another way we are empowering them is through the recruitment and development of peer mentors, girls aged between 13 and 17 and older role models, who are the children of sex workers, living with HIV/AIDS and slum dwellers. As well involving them in the delivery of our our workshops and presentations, we want to hear from them how we should be running the campaign, what issues they face as girls and their solutions to redress the balance in education. It is also really important that they have the opportunity to present their views to change and policy-makers.
Shubangi is one of our longest attending Balbhavan beneficiaries who we have proudly watched grow up over the past 12-13 years. She lives in one of our poorest slums with her 2 younger sisters and brother. Her father is one of the ubiquitous bottled water sellers plying bus stands and her mother is a maid.
As well as completing her final years of a BA in social work she is campaigning for girls' education as a peer mentor for our Educate. Empower. Lead. campaign. Having watched all her friends give up their education in favour of marriage, the 22 year old is determined to complete her degree and join the police force before settling down herself. Having grown up attending our evening study classes she still turns up every night to teach and inspire the next generation and is a great role model for other girls living in slums.
On top of all it all she also has a passion for football and is a member of our women's team and having represented Snehalaya and Maharashtra in the Slum Soccer state and national championships and has just been selected to represent India in the Homeless World Cup in Mexico.
One highlight of our current campaign was a program of eight hours of self-defence training to nearly 200 girls which was delivered by US-NGO, Green Tara Project. The organisation visited our projects last year and three girls who had completed the level 1 training were recruited to act as teaching assistants to four classes completing the same level this year.
All three girls did such a fantastic job taking the lead demonstrating and encouraging participants to pass the course we invited them to become peer mentors. They are really throwing themselves into every element and taking up the opportunities to develop personally including speaking and presenting workshops, taking photos, shooting videos, attending training and interviewing and selecting new peer mentors.
One of them, Asha is a strong and confident 16-year-old who enjoys playing cricket, reading and studying geography and has the ambitions of becoming a police officer. She and her brother have been living at our shelter home since 2009 when her father died, and their illiterate mother was no longer able to offer them a safe home and education. Asha is determined to break the cycle of poverty she was born into by succeeding in her own future, saying: “The staff and children here are very supportive and encouraging in making sure I get the best education. My mother wants me to return home and start working to help support her, but I know I need to stay here to achieve my ambition of becoming an IPS officer.”
She adds: “I am really enjoying taking part in the campaign. I get to visit new places and enjoy working alongside the Malala staff team and I feel like I have an equal responsibility to make the campaign a success. At first, I was nervous about speaking in front of large crowds, but I am now very confident, especially after girls have come up to me to thank me for sharing my presentation.
“I am proud to be standing with Snehalaya and Malala to help improve girls’ education and empower girls by explaining their rights and giving them inspiration to do the same. Before this campaign I saw boys as being above girls but by telling other people about gender equality I have begun to believe in myself and can see we are equal.”