Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other. – Carol Saline
“Geeta and I are twins. She is bossy sometimes and loves to remind me that she is my elder sister even if that’s by just 5 minutes! She fights with me in school over silly things and then I’m the one who has to make amends with her. But if any other girl argues with me, Geeta takes my side and fights for me. At home too we have some arguments if I take her hair clips or she takes my earrings but when Mom intervenes, we protect each other! I guess having a brother could also be nice but I wouldn’t exchange Geeta with anybody or anything. It’s nice to have a sister,” says a constantly giggling Sita, when we met her at her school in a village in the Jalore district of Rajasthan, India. This was a few years ago.
Although their happy disposition and smiling faces don’t indicate it, Geeta and Sita have had a difficult past. Like many people in the community, their father wanted a son. Some years after the birth of Geeta and Sita, finally their mother gave birth to a son who unfortunately died due to ill-health. All the blame was put on their mother. She was said to be cursed and accused of being careless. Their father started abusing their mother and eventually left her, cutting off ties with his daughters as well.
Geeta and Sita’s grandparents forcibly got their mother married again, but to her misfortune her second husband and his family abandoned her as well when a daughter, instead of a son, was born. This was the second time she had to return to her maternal home with the girls. The grandparents and uncle resented the added burden of having to support them all and made this clear with their taunts and ridicule. Their mother made Geeta and Sita drop out of school when they were in Class 4 and gave them household chores and tasked them with taking care of their youngest sister while she found ways to earn whatever wages she could.
At a young age, their relatives and community have in so many ways revealed to that the twins are dispensable and lack worth. Unfortunately, many girls like them will grow up and experience this harsh reality unless something is done about it! It’s a mind-set issue and education is the first step towards ensuring this change.
Educate Girls’ Field Coordinator, Lalita, identified Geeta and Sita as out of school girls during a door-to-door survey. Upon hearing their story, Lalita suggested that the girls be put into the nearest Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhalaya (KGBV) – a government-run, free residential school for girls. They were enrolled in grade 6. Lalita explained that the girls would be taken care of while receiving an education and thereby have a chance at a better future. However, their mother was sceptical about separating her girls from herself and sending them far away to study. Lalita made frequent visits to their home and often spoke to the girls’ mother encouraging her to send her daughters to school.
Lalita took the mother to the KGBV and made her stay there overnight to show her the premises and classes. A few months later, the sisters were enrolled in the KGBV! Geeta and Sita have blossomed in this environment where they were allowed to explore and are treated as individuals with worth. After a few months at the school, when they went home the changes in them were visible to everyone. They have even convinced their grandfather to quit consuming tobacco!
As of 2019, the girls are still in school.
They study in the 10th Grade and are doing well academically. They are great at public speaking as well. Both sisters have spent almost a year talking to their teachers and other mentors about career prospects. The sisters want to be teachers! When asked what education means to them, they smiled, “it means we have the power to fulfil our dreams!”
Educate A Child (EAC), a programmme of the global Education Above All (EAA) Foundation, has partnered with Educate Girls in identifying out of school children like Geeta and Sita and making sure that they have access to quality primary education.
With the support of EAC, Educate Girls has been working in some of the most remote and marginalised communities of India, providing over 184,000 OOSC to date an opportunity to learn, thereby contributing directly to the UN’s SDG 4 and indirectly impacting a number of other SDGs.