Although her father was a reasonably well paid state transport driver, Shabana is from a large family and when she reached 18, peer pressure from his community and financial constrains forced him to marry her off to an auto driver. Wanting to help support her own family, Shabana decided to study a Montessori course and found work in a primary school. She says: “Teaching has always been my passion and the education of girls and women has always been my prime concern. Having two daughters and personally experiencing gender discrimination in education, I’ve always felt there is a lot of work to be done in this area.”
Living in Mukundnagar, a Muslim majority slum in Ahmednagar, she had noticed that once children attending school finished for the day they were falling into bad habits which were affecting their studies and in turn causing them to drop out of education. When she met Hanif, our Director of Education, in 2008 and shared the issues in Mukundnagar he and our founder Girish encouraged her to help us establish a Snehalaya balbhavan (community hub and after school education center) there.
The situation of education, particular for girls, within the slum was very grim at the time with many parents reluctant to send their children to school. Much of Shabana’s time was spent counselling them, their children and local leaders to convince them of the importance of education and that her motivation for doing so was not politically charged. Through continuous dialogue the community eventually saw the benefits. Then it was simply a case of recruiting and maintaining the attendance of the children! By designing games, activities and study materials that appealed to them, inviting experts to talk to them on their interests, rewarding them for their achievements and developing role models from amongst them, slowly but surely the number of students grew.
Each day after school Mukundnagar Balbhavan now receives up to 100 children attending classes revising the subjects they have been studying at school. At weekends and festivals sports, science fairs, self-defence and festival celebrations bring them together to learn new skills and subjects, play and celebrate. A toy bank helps younger children with their early-years development and our pupils also attend courses to improve their digital skills at our IT Center.
What started out as a small education project soon expanded with the children’s mothers also taking interest in the community center. Shabana started a micro finance group to help them manage their household budgets and become financially independent. Some of them have since joined our project as teachers and counsellors, helping us to connect further with the community and spread the importance of health and hygiene, cleanliness, social responsibility and the proper use of water.
The transformation in this small community has been significant with more than 2000 children having directly benefited. Many have become role models, increasing the numbers in full-time, mainstream education and progressing into careers such as hotel management and the civil service. More importantly there has been a shift in the attitudes of parents towards education as they can see the longer-term benefits to their families. Extracurricular activities have also enabled those students who may not be academically successful to excel in other areas such as sport, with our students representing Ahmednagar in state level competitions.
Shabana is now the project manager for all seven of our balbhavans working in Ahmednagar’s largest slum areas where she continues to visit and encourage parents to ensure their children receive the best education possible and develop initiatives to improve the living conditions and prospects for slum-dwellers.
Help Shabana in her work by donating to educate a slum child here.