How a little support in education of girls is transforming rural India

When Safeena Husain decided to work towards getting the girls to school, she knew the journey would not be a smooth one. She was aware that the process of educating the girls would begin with battling the three Ps- poverty, patriarchy, and policy. In 2004, when ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao’ was unheard of, Safeena founded the non-profit group Educate Girlsto address the biggest gap in Indian society concerning the education of girls.The problem was glaring but was never a priority for society.
Resistance from the families, lack of motivation and reluctance from the girls themselves were the major roadblocks Safeena had to face when she started the mission to educate girls in rural Rajasthan, which has now expanded to Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. With as many as 1.4 million girls back in schools, Safeena now looks back with pride and added responsibility to amplify the work.
Speaking to Education Times, on the sidelines of the 11th edition of the WISE Summit organised by Qatar Foundation held in Doha, Safeena underlines how the education imparted to the girls has changed their attitude towards life and transformed the village. “Education has been a long journey for these girls who are not just going to schools, but are also questioning the deep-rooted patriarchy and other social menaces. Education has helped in stopping child marriage, lack of care towards girls, and ensuring availability of toilets in schools and more,” she says.
Safeena is the first Indian to win the 2023 WISE Prize for Education, which has a cash prize of $500000 that she plans to use for expanding her work. Such awards are indeed a motivation, which gives a major boost to one’s spirits, says Safeena. In the next 10 years, she aims to introduce ‘10 by 10’ programme, wherein the NGO will reinforce its energies to educate the adolescent girls who would then find jobs based on their education and will further educate others in their family and society.
Corporates have supported her work, but the state governments have stepped up, allowing her to penetrate the interiors. When I started in Rajasthan, the MHRD and the state government had offered the most ignorant and troubled villages. The NGO worked in villages including Pali, Jalore, Sirohi, Boondi and more. When they started to work in MP, they picked the border villages first to understand the problem, which was more or less similar to Rajasthan. In UP, the state government is supportive of the initiative. They provide the support staff, while we provide the master trainers to teach the teachers who convince girls and their families.
“Fighting the patriarchy was crucial as that had hollowed the girls from within and shaken their self-esteem. When we start the door-to-door campaign to identify girls, our volunteers try to convince the entire family. When the girls do start coming to the school, we start with bridge courses to support the first-generation learners,” she says.
The introduction of AI, ML and data analysis has helped in precision sampling in villages. In a state, there are 5%- 10% of villages that have a high number of out-of-school children and girls. “Identifying these villages is time-consuming. With the use of AI, we now predict and spot the villages faster. This saves our time and resources, besides helping to keep a tab on the girls who get wary of going to school after a while, adds Safeena.
The success of each girl is a personal triumph for Safeena, who grew up in modest colonies in Paharganj. Her family almost decided to get her married instead of letting her study, when a close family friend showed her the path to education. She graduated from the London School of Economics in 92-95, which changed the way she looked at life. Safeena moved to work in Silicon Valley in San Francisco before joining a non-profit organisation to work extensively with rural and urban underserved communities in South America, Africa and Asia.
Daughter of noted character actor Yusuf Husain who recently expired and married to filmmaker Hansal Mehta, Safeena travels extensively to villages. “More than education, we need to build aspirations in girls. Most girls are made to do the household chores throughout the day leaving no room to think about schooling. The condition will improve when the entire family gives importance to education for their daughter as much as they do it for their sons,” says Safeena signing off.

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