The excitement is palpable and the energy contagious. Just one look at them is enough to convince you how excited these girls are to be back in school. It’s a new year for some and a fresh start for others at the 24 KGBVs supported by CARE through its Join My Village project in Uttar Pradesh, India. Girls in the age group of 10-14 years who have either dropped out of school before class 5 or have never been to school can study at these state-run residential schools for three years, free of cost.
While the older ones were all smiles on day 1 at the Gaindas Buzurg KGBV in the Balrampur district, the younger incoming students were understandably a little nervous. Leaving their homes in their villages to live in a residential school for three years is not easy. But there is a lot to offer at these schools and this brings the girls back to school every year. “Unlike my previous school, there are a lot of extra-curricular activities like sports, science fairs, field visits and music classes at this KGBV. This is why I like the school so much and love to come back here,” says Aarti, who is studying in class 7 at the Pachpedva KGBV.
“We participated in a science fair and went on a school trip to visit another district. I have never been outside my village so it was a very exciting experience for me,” says Mithilesh, a class 7 student at the school.
Another reason why these girls love to study here and return to school is because for many of them this is their only chance at education. Economic constraints prevent parents from letting girls study beyond class 8. Only a few lucky ones get to continue their studies. The desire to learn, the most intense in these three years, keeps these girls in schools and brings new ones.
Also, girls in villages are expected to help out with household chores and in the fields and an education is not considered a priority, especially in backward areas like Pachpedva and Gaindas Buzurg. Given this social backdrop, KGBVs provide a welcome change for these girls. It is at these schools that the girls actually have a choice—to study, make friends and realize the power of education. Therefore, most of those who enrol in these schools are not keen on dropping out unless familial pressure prevails.
At both the KGBVs I visited, the girls wanted to achieve something in life. Like their counterparts in cities, these girls also want to become doctors and teachers, journalists and civil servants.
“Before coming to the KGBV, we were not even aware of these professions. But I learnt so much in the very first year that I will come back the next year,” says Bharti, a class 8 student, at Pachpedva KGBV.
“We have six new girls this time and all of them were reluctant to stay here in the first week. In fact one of them threatened to run away from here but now, they refuse to return home even during breaks, preferring to stay here in school with the teachers and resident advisors,” says Indumati, resident advisor of the KGBV at Pachpedva in Balrampur.
At Gaindas Buzurg, the number of new students was 93—all in the age group of 10-14. A little shy and nervous, these girls looked up to the senior girls for support. “They are scared because they have never been away from their families. But we try to befriend them and pacify them with our own example,” says Jyoti, a class 8 student. “It’s just a matter of days before they start enjoying it here like we do,” she adds.
A significant role in convincing these girls and their parents to let them stay in school is that of resident advisors and teachers.
“Since the parents can withdraw their daughters anytime during the three years, we have to put in extra efforts to ensure that both parents and children realize that they are gaining something additional here,” says Mamata, warden at the Gaindas Buzurg KGBV.
At Pachpedva, the girls adore and look up to their resident advisor Indumati. Not just an advisor, she is mother, friend, teacher and guide to these girls. Her relationship with girls and their families is admirable.
When one of her students Shabnam Bano ran away from home because her parents refused to send her back to school this year, another student Preeti refused to return home with her mother from school during break. They both credit their advisor and the teachers for their decision to return to school and insist on completing their education, despite all odds.
“The teachers here teach us in a manner in which we can understand. They simplify the coursework which makes studying here fun. That is why I prefer spending time here over going home and doing housework,” says Preeti.
“The personal bond between the staff and the students is what keeps the dropout rate in our school next to nil,” says Indumati.
“The girls at KGBV cry on only two occasions—on the first day of school and on the last day, when they are leaving. The rest of the time, we live as a big happy family,” says Indumati, who gets to see her two kids and husband only twice a year since they live in another district.
“These girls are also like my own children and seeing them in school every year makes staying away from my own family worth it,” says Indumati.