Let me tell you a story of an 18-year-old girl who is in the 12th grade and part of our Girl2B Empowerment Program. I will call her Priya to protect her privacy. The photo above is of a lovely girl we met during our travels in Kolkata and not the girl in the story below.
Priya’s mother married a 24-year-old man when she was only 14 and by 15 Priya was born. Immediately after that she gave birth to another girl, and then 2 boys. Her mom never went to school a day in her life. Instead she got her first job at 8 years old working in a papermaking factory. Almost 20 years later she still has the same job working under terrible conditions with the unbearable smell of glue for hours on end.
Her father still has the same job as well. He works 13 hours a day in a factory that makes candy. He recently had to stop working due to a bad hernia which causes him a tremendous amount of pain.
When Priya was 6 she had the unbelievable luck to be approached by social workers and given the opportunity to go to school and live in a girls home. Thankfully, her parents were grateful for the opportunity and let their two daughters move to an NGO almost 3 hours away. They then decided to have one son move in with the grandmother and the other son stay with them. This helped their monetary situation as they could not feed themselves and their two sons.
What came next? Ridicule from the villagers! The people in the village assumed that Priya’s parents “sold” their two girls. They never really believed that they were actually safe and in school. As the years went by, eventually the people of the village saw Priya, and saw how she had grown, how she spoke English, and how educated she actually was.
Great, right? What next? Well, maybe you went to school long enough? You are already 15… you are already 16…. and by 17 Forget it! Honestly, isn’t it time to get married? We have a nice man for you. You can’t embarrass us any more. What will happen when you are 18 and NOT married? How will you care for yourself? Who will want you? I already had four children by time I was 18. What will all this schooling do for you? Does it ever end?
Priya stands very strong and begs and pleads to be left alone to study and graduate. She is not just talking HS, but university as well. She wants to be a journalist and tell stories. She wants to tell the world about girls in India…. and why don’t we just let them STUDY! In her village there are 10 year old girls working in factories, girls being sent off to far away cities to get ‘work”, and 12 year olds that are forced to marry.
Priya loves her parents very much. Every visit to the village is a bit of a struggle. Normally the same old conversation takes place, tears are shed, hugs are given, and she ends her visit triumphant that she got through another visit of challenging her parents, her neighbors, and locals. We personally consider her a hero!
She actually said to me… “You know what aunty?” I think people are changing…. people are seeing me come for a visit, and they are asking me if I can help their daughter go to school too. Maybe we should start a program and I can sponsor a girl. What do you think of that???
You can only imagine my joy upon hanging up the phone with this little lady. Immediately, we wrote our business plan for the Girl2B Ambassador Program ready to launch next year!
We are so grateful to these girls for helping us see the world with a new lens and encouraging us to make this world a better place one girl at a time.