At the beginning of my/ETOSE’s Gujarat trip in January, my group and I had the opportunity to visit Kadam Education Initiative in Ahmedabad that provides education to children who have been denied their childhood and deprived of their education. The girls we met were largely Muslim, school dropouts, orphans, from a single-parent household, largely poor, displaced or abused in some form. The girls, though initially shy to speak, appeared to be intelligent and were motivated to do something better with their lives, given the opportunity.
KADAM undertakes some of its work with financial assistance from Asia Initiatives (AI) and the use of AI’s SoCC concept. For the SoCC “exercise”, KADAM selects 30 “special” girls (those that show the motivation to learn and appear to have the intelligence) a year and provides the girls with education and training, in areas including self-defence, sex education, language skills, IT skills, hygiene, girl’s/women’s rights, and so on.
The Kadam Resource Centre for Girls offers the girls a safe haven where they can learn and study at their own pace with help from volunteers, teachers and laptops (also provided by AI). The girls also receive one warm meal at the Centre, partly as an incentive to attend class, as they come straight from school or home before lunchtime; and for many of them this meal is often the only nutritious meal they would have on a day.
The girls earn SoCCs by attending classes at the KADAM Centre and then each girl in turn tutoring 5 other children in their neighborhoods. The girls are also allowed to take home laptops, which they then use to train others. The SoCC’s the girls earn are redeemed by them to pay for “safe” transport between their homes (often in segregated slums) and the KADAM Centre, paying one of the two teachers, and for renting the space that has been hired to hold classes. Many 3-Wheeler Rickshaws with known drivers are hired to transport the girls to and fro their homes and class.
On the last day of our trip, we had the opportunity to visit the home of Nazia, a bright girl whose parents stopped sending her to school, as she was considered to be “mischievous” (largely out of boredom at school). Nazia, around 16 years old, has with the help of KADAM and the SoCC concept learnt how to read and write and become computer literate in just over a year! She lives with her widowed mother, 2 elder sisters and a younger brother in a room approx. 8 square meters and yet had 5 other small children in that limited space that she was teaching the alphabet and basic maths, skills that the government schools often fail to provide. Nazia, who was supposed to be a lost case by her family, now hopes to become a policewoman one day and support her poor family, apart from help change the mind-set of the Muslim community where she grew up.
There are a number of other girls like Nazia whose lives have improved with the help of KADAM and SoCCs, including a girl who now attends college. In a city where lower-castes are by and large denied access to quality education and entrance to government schools, where girls’ and women’s education is still viewed with skepticism, where life in poverty is a norm for many, and where many jobs are denied to people from certain communities, KADAM and the SoCC concept offers some ray of hope for Nazia and her friends.
This was my second visit to a SoCC project (first one was in Kisumu, Kenya) and as usual I was impressed by what this “simple” concept of earning points and exchanging them, for something beneficial to the earner, can achieve in environments where governments have failed their people.
Mayuri O. Straub is the Founder and sole Manager of ETOSE (Ethical Tourism for a Cause) and is on the Board of Advisors of Asia Initiatives.