COVID forced the suspension of all in-person educational activities, and the Kadam Resource Center for Girls in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, was no exception. Like students everywhere else, girls who came to the center had to stay home and depend on online learning. It did not take long for the murmurs to start in the families and in the community:
“I can no longer afford to educate her.”
“She is sitting with that contraption in her ears every day for 2-3 hours when she should be doing household chores and getting ready for marriage.”
“There is no point educating girls beyond high school; it is a waste. Such girls become a liability for the family.”
COVID created a lot of uncertainty and severe financial pressure on the girls’ families. These families make a tenuous living as vegetable vendors, household help, street side vendors, hand cart pullers, and so on. Anxious for the future of their daughters, they began to fall back on marriage as the safe option. Why spend time on a ‘contraption’ for online learning? That did not look like education! Best to focus on household chores and prepare for marriage.
Kadam Education Initiative (KEI) runs the resource center that provides a space for girls to feel empowered, gain confidence, and develop skills such as spoken English. It gives them the courage to withstand the challenges of poverty, gender discrimination, family compulsion, and community pressure, enabling them to pursue higher education and an opening to a wider world. KEI provides mentoring, guidance, tutoring, camaraderie and a positive network with other girls. With the temporary closure of the center the gains made by KEI were in danger of being lost. They had to fight battles with families and the community all over again.
KEI has persevered. With Asha’s approval they reallocated existing funds to buy tablets and an internet subscription for a year for every girl. With these devices girls have been able to connect to online classes at college and re-start one-on-one sessions with tutors. Since girls have to help with household chores at home KEI conducts its workshops on Sundays, when the girls have a bit of free time. KEI also has frequent counseling sessions with families, explaining that their daughters are really learning with the ‘contraption,’ and it is more important than ever to be armed with education and skills for a job in the future. This is not the time to stop.