Blossom Bus Now Ferrying Young Women to College
The Blossom Bus program has been operating in Mewat since 2008. Currently, the program supports 300 girls attending middle school and high school to continue their studies. This August, Blossom Bus has arrived at a new benchmark: transporting 15 high school graduates to college. Moving forward to pursue a tertiary degree of their choice is an accomplishment previously undreamed of. We are deeply honored to be part of their incredible story of triumph.
One of the 15 graduates traveling to college is Zeba Khan. Zeba lives with her parents Akbar and Asmeena, and four siblings in Mamolaka village. Akbar and Asmeena recognize the value of education and all of Zeba’s siblings, one a younger sister, are attending school. But Zeba shares, “I never thought I would be able to go to college. No girl from our village had attended any college till date. The reason is that parents are not comfortable with the hostile environment around the villages and in college.” It is a dream come true for Zeba and her cousin Sanam, who is also a Blossom Bus rider to college.
Zeba and Sanam graduated high school riding on the Blossom Bus. They were disheartened at the prospect of having to suspend their studies, since their parents would never allow them to travel the 20 km from their village to the college town of Palwal. They asked the Blossom Bus operator if there was any possibility of extending the transport facility, and their request was relayed to us.
We at Lotus Outreach were inspired to answer the graduates’ request and to be able to continue supporting their academic aspirations. To ensure the parents were on board with their daughters pursuing a college education, we selected a women’s-only college 4 km further away, as the parents would not be supportive of a co-education institution.
Once the logistics to expand the program were sorted out, we relayed to the 15 graduates accepted into college that a Blossom Bus would be available to them. The young women were astounded and extremely relieved that their parents were supportive of them joining the women’s-only college. Students and parents were very happy that the Blossom Bus had been expanded to provide them transportation to college.
On August 25, Mr. Glenn Fawcett, our Director of Field Operations, met these young students while traveling on the Blossom Bus en route to college. He talked to them about their experience of being in college. All students expressed they were delighted to pursue a tertiary education.
Zeba and a few other students communicated with Glenn in English and were astounded at their gained ability to communicate clearly to an Australian man in his own language. Zeba said, “I never imagined that one day I would be talking to a foreigner in his own language.” Zeba’s parents and friends also recognize what a remarkable accomplishment this is.
Zeba and Sanam are trailblazers in their family and community. Sanam’s two elder sisters were already married at the age of 14 and 15, and sadly never attended a day of school. Zeba and Sanam’s fathers, who are siblings, get by through working odd jobs and farming on a small piece of land that doesn’t even provide enough grains for the family’s own consumption. Young women of their background achieving a college education will have a profound impact on this family and the entire village. Zeba and Sanam are leading the way as the first women to pursue a tertiary education in a community where tragically many are not able to complete more than five years of primary school. We salute these young women’s striking determination and commitment.
Training Delhi University Students to be Champions of the Right to Education Act
By Glenn Fawcett
This April we created a youth group to educate university students in Delhi about the Right To Education (RTE) Act. Our key message to them was that rapid social development can only be achieved by delivering the same quality of education to all social sectors. The university students reached by this initiative come from many different states in India. With the right training and motivation, they might go back to their own communities and and help establish School Management Committees to access the government’s grievance redressal mechanisms and ensure their children are getting a quality education from local government.
After meeting a group of around dozen students at Delhi Univeristy’s North Campus, we created an online Google group to serve as a resource for materials and communications. We designed a two-day Right to Education training course as an introduction to how and why government schools are not functioning. We shared with them the basics of how to leverage a grassroots effort to ensure schools become compliant with Right to Education legislation of 2009, that they have adequate infrastructure, deliver quality education, and have a school management committee comprising mostly parents, 50% of which must be women.
On the first day of the program, university students came to the Mewat district outside New Delhi where 120 School Management Committee members from 25 of the 50 schools that Lotus Education As A Right Network (LEARN) serves came to share their experience. Implemented in partnership with the Education Department of Haryana, the program was also attended by a panel the District Project Coordinator and the District Education Officer for Mewat. Last, but by no means least, our esteemed LEARN program coordinator, Suraj Kumar, led the program itself.
The university students were thoroughly captivated by the shared methods of solving issues such as teacher absenteeism, lack of infrastructure and teachers’ control and manipulation of School Management Committees. 17% of the School Management Committee members present at the training day were women, a breakthrough in gender roles. Women are generally discouraged from even going outside the village and so this outcome alone showed us and the university students that it’s possible to bring women onto the same footing as men even in the most conservative communities. The field trip to Mewat was an outstanding success for everyone involved and we celebrated en route home with a raucous lunch of potato stuffed baked breads, yoghurt and masala tea!!!
The second day of training was aimed at imparting on the group a broader perspective of the challenges facing public education and a finer understanding of the Right to Education Act. The training was held at the Centre for Social Development, an esteemed Institute founded in 1962 by eminent social workers and nowadays home of the national Right to Education Forum and office of Ambarish Rai, the Forum convener. Ambarish is an education activist par excellence, a veteran of many battles for social justice and closely associated with the development of the Right to Education Act since its’ inception. After a rousing introduction from Suraj Kumar and Ambarish, students were encouraged to share their own experiences of government schools as an exercise to explore the various solutions that empower parents and community leaders. The university students were highly motivated by the practical advice and encouragement from the panelists, all of which hold deep convictions with respect to education as a tool to effect social justice.
Coming this September, we plan to have the university students join the National Right to Education Forum for our first Open Platform Meeting.
Yann Sinath's Pursuit of Justice
Meet Yann Sinath, a GATEways scholar since 2011, currently a third year student, majoring in Law at the University of Management and Economics in the Banteay Meanchey Province. Sinath is originally from Prech Chey village, in the Banteay Meanchey Province. Her mother and two siblings work legally as construction workers in Thailand.
Sinath’s father passed away when she was 12 years old. Upon her father’s passing, Sinath’s mother strived to support their family with their small rice farm. Sinath’s brother then migrated to Thailand to look for a job so he could help to support their family. Sinath and her sister tried to study and would help their mother on the rice farm during their free time.
After her high school final exams, Sinath decided to migrate to Thailand to earn money to support her mother, who was in debt. However, when she discovered that she had passed her exams, she discussed her options with her mother and decided to come back and enroll in college. During the second semester of her first year, Sinath was selected as a recipient for a GATEways scholarship.
During her studies, she has been a hard-working and active student. She always enrolls in extra classes and takes up internships to gain more knowledge and experience. During her second year, she worked as a kindergarten teacher at the Sisophon Language School for 3 months, earning $50 per month. From this job, she saved to pay for extra course fees that could help build her capacity, such as leadership, administration and computer lessons.
In May 2014, Sinath worked as a short-term data collector with the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) to research about “Cambodian Child Migrant Workers in the Thai Fishing Industry”. In June, she applied to be an intern in the New Hope Project with CWCC, and was selected. Sinath said that she has learnt many things from her jobs, especially when working with CWCC. She has gained more experience in preparing meetings, documents and reports. In particular, she has learnt to communicate and work with people, and understands more about peoples’ living situations. These internships are also an opportunity for her to put into practice the knowledge of law that she’s learnt from school when working with the villagers and networks.
Sinath shares with us her admirable aspiration, “I want to work with the Cambodian government or in an official law department, such as the Ministry of Justice, because I want to help poor and vulnerable people get justice and live equally within our society.”
We are delighted to invite you, your family and friends to Blossom, Lotus Outreach's First Annual Benefit, in San Francisco. Our intent in establishing Blossom is to raise awareness and funding for the work Lotus Outreach is dedicated to, while having a great time!
Saturday, September 20, 2014
2:00 - 4:30 pm
Watch an introduction to Cambodian Dance by Charya Burt: