Meet Divya and Mandula, Two Girls Leading the Charge for Change in India

 by
Child Marriage , Education , Health

Anganwadi Centers are community centers that the Department of Women and Child Development built, which provide some basic healthcare services and child nutrition programs for villages in India. The Anganwadi Center in Modiwasa in India, like most of the other Anganwadi Centers I visited with Girl Up during our trip, had depictions of morality tales on the wall, like Aesop’s fables. As I sat down on the floor to chat with two 16- year-old girls, Divya and Mandula, I glanced at the wall behind them.

The story depicted on the wall featured a pitcher and a crow. The crow wants the water in the pitcher but can’t reach it because the water level is too low, so she fills the pitcher with stones until the water level rises high enough to drink it. This tale teaches thinking about problems smartly and looking for creative solutions — and it made me think about the problem we were facing: how adolescent girls in India are at risk of dropping out of school to work or care for younger siblings, how they don’t always have access to a quality education. I thought about the solution we were working to implement with our local NGO implementing partners, Jatan and Vishaka.

In Rajasthan, adolescent girls in our program were trained as peer educators who run clubs for other girls aged 10-19 in their community. The club meets monthly to go over topics such as nutrition, health, and vocational skills, and provide a platform for girls to meet and create supportive friendships.

Divya and Mandula are both peer educators as part of this program. Mandula had to drop out of school when she was in 5th grade because she has six siblings, and her family couldn’t provide for all of them, so Mandula began taking care of her younger siblings and later started working in a brick-making factory. She works seven days a week and makes around 200 rupees a day (about $100 USD a month).

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Mandula poses outside an Anganwadi Center in Modiwasa, India. Mandula is a peer educator through the UN program Girl Up supports in India. Photo: Neel Dhanesha/Girl Up

She takes off one day a month to run her adolescent club meeting. When she runs her meeting, she has to take the entire day off, and sacrifices a whole day’s worth of pay because she is not allowed to come to work late, or leave early. Mandula is not married, and her parents don’t put pressure on her to marry. She thinks the hardest thing about being a girl is not being allowed to go out freely; her parents worry boys might tease or harass her if she walks anywhere alone. Her brothers get to go out and play whenever they choose because they have more free time than she does because she has more household chores.

Mandula wishes she could change her family’s thinking on this. She likes being a peer educator because she got to leave the village for the first time to go into the city for her peer educator training, where she got to make like-minded friends. Through her training, she gets to learn more about health-related issues, and about hygiene, which she is really interested in because she hopes to be a science teacher when she grows up.

Divya was able to stay in school until 10th grade, but she had to drop out after that because she had to take care of her five siblings, and now does construction and labor work. Each day, she sees other children in the village walking to school and she wishes she could join them instead of going to work. She wants to be a college lecturer when she grows up. She isn’t married yet, and hopes that she won’t be for a while.

Each day, [Divya] sees other children in the village walking to school and she wishes she could join them instead of going to work.

She believes the hardest thing about being a girl is having to get married and move into the husband’s village, and having to leave her family behind. She likes being a peer educator because of everything she was able to learn during her training. She hopes of being able to learn how to use a computer, so she could teach other girls in the village how to use one.

Divya and Mandula are both adolescent girls who are leading the change for other adolescent girls in Rajasthan. This is a movement powered by strong girls like them. They remind me of my fellow Girl Up Club leaders, because of their passion for sharing new knowledge with their clubs, in order to shape their community.

This is a guest blog by Lindsay Schrier. Lindsay is a 2013-2014 Girl Up Teen Advisor and a sophomore at Boston College. She currently serves as the Boston Coalition Leader, and interned with Girl Up in DC last summer.