In Hindi, Nanhi Kalis means “small flower buds”, a poetic and meaningful name that was chosen by the K.C Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET) when creating a remarkable educational program targeting underprivileged little girls of India. As each little girl has the right to grow and bloom, no matter her religion, cast, ethnic group or background, the Nanhi Kali project, jointly managed by KCMET and Naandi Foundation, fights everyday to make that dream come true in India.
Why focusing on little girls?
Because they are still the most vulnerable and disadvantaged ones. Female discrimination is deeply rooted in the country’s culture. (According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Index, India ranks 113th out of 135 countries for gender parity!).
The Nanhi Kali project currently supports the education of over 75,000 underprivileged girl children from poor urban, remote rural, tribal and conflict afflicted communities across 9 states (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and New Delhi and Haryana and recently in Tamil Nadu). My visit to different schools in Andhra Pradesh enabled me to witness the amazing work of the team with these children.
The programme provides academic support through a 1 to 2 hours class conducted after school hours, called the “Academic Support Centre”, where Maths, Science and Language are taught to bridge the gaps in learning and enable children to attain competency levels.
A kit with school material including uniforms, school bag, shoes etc. is provided at the beginning of the year to each Nanhi Kali, to enable the girl child to go to school with dignity. (A lot of families in these remote areas can’t even afford the notebooks and pencils, the little girls being then ashamed of going to school).
The Nanhi Kali team also works with the parents and community to sensitize them on gender equity and on the importance of girl’s education, conducting monthly meetings at the school and visiting the villages and parents houses. Furthermore, they give moral support and guidance to the girls, advising on their carrier but also on more intimate worries teenage girls usually experience.
Naandi has established a very innovative methodology of teaching, particularly relevant in such empowerment programmes: The youngest will learn through storytelling and songs. Color charts and drawings they collectively make will teach them everything about hygiene, sanitation and nutrition, essential issues at these ages.
The primary and high school students work in groups of 5 or 6, where one of them will be chosen by the tutor as a “group leader” to teach the others. Thanks to this method, the children can develop leadership and teaching skills but also respect and sense of collectivity. In that case, the teacher, named “Community Activist “, coordinates and supports the children on their tasks but leave them enough space to encourage them to participate and interact within the group. They incite the group leader to feel responsible which enable them to be more involved and rigorous.
The children develop a strong and close relationship with their tutor, who they call “Akka” (sister) rather than “teacher” to avoid distance and create a special bond.
The results of the project are very encouraging; the organization has witnessed a significant increase in both enrolment of girls and attendance of girls in schools. The dropout rate is curtailed to 10% in the project area and learning level increased by 20 percentage points. It is today 75 000 little girls and families that are able to believe in a brighter future.
Beyond the figures, I wanted to meet the Nanhi Kalis, and ask them about their life, their feelings, about their deepest dreams. I wanted to witness through their testimonials the remarkable impact of the project, to show how education and empowerment of these girls not only give hope for their own future bloom, but to the whole nation.
Nandini is 14 years old and is in 9th grade in the APTW Residential School in Araku, far from her village. She has joined the Nanhi Kali programme 6 years ago in 3rd grade. Thanks to the programme she is able to have material for school, very good tutors and can enjoy various activities. Indeed, the strength of the Nanhi Kali’s programme is to not only provide academic support but also all sort of fun activities that will enable the girls to grow and blossom: singing, dancing, gardening, practical trainings, health camp, thematic clubs etc…
Nandini has nourished some true ambition for the future. She wants to be a doctor, maybe even study in America (the ultimate place for high medical education)! She wants to learn languages and travel. (She told me smiling that she would like to join me to travel around the world! I love her confidence and attitude.)
Being empowered is being able to look at the future and make some plans, to trust ourselves and have the strength to follow our dreams. That is what is see when I look at Nandini. Moreover, beyond the professional ambition, and like all these little girls I met, she has a real will to make a change in her community. “ I want to be a doctor to open a hospital in my village and give free consultation, because there isn’t any health center there, tells me Nandini. When people are ill they have to go very far, it is expensive and long. I want to heal the people of my community, and inform them on sanitation and hygiene to prevent illnesses.”
Prasanthi, another 14 years old Nanhi Kali, also wishes to make a change. She wants to be a teacher, to help others through education. “ I want to be a teacher so I can teach my family and all the children of my community. I want to tell them how important education is, and give them a positive message“. Not only Prasanthi wants to be a teacher, she wants to be a Community Activist in the NK programme. She is only 14 years old but she has already understood the keys to empowerment: educating and building confidence through positive words and support. The will to teach is a will of transmission, of sharing. She wants to give others what the Nanhi Khali has given her: strength and hope for the future.
And indeed, the change is in their hands now. These girls are the future of the country.
The Nanhi Kali project enables to empower thousands of little girls, to find themselves and pursue their dreams. And their dreams are not about individual preoccupations, they are all about helping their community and making a change.
Their motivation and spark are very inspiring. It gives hope for the future and most of all it gives us even more strength and passion to fight for them.
Visit the NK website and sponsor a Nanhi Kali girl: http://www.nanhikali.org/
Alice Vivian - India 2012