Blossom Bus Girls at the Door Steps of Higher Education
It is now March, and winter is thawing, festivals are beginning, and spring is coming to blossom. In India, this is the time when students take final exams and move on to the next grade. And so it is that Lotus Outreach’s own spring blossoms are blooming—the Blossom Bus girls are graduating high school!
In the next month, the very first group of Blossom Bus riders is finishing the twelfth grade. Many of the 34 young women who are finishing this spring are the very first women in their families to complete high school.
Two such young graduates are Priyanka and Renu. Although they are excited for their achievement of graduating high school, they feel disheartened that their parents will likely ask them to marry soon after final school examinations. For many girls in this part of India, marriage is common as early as age 14, but these young adults still yearn for independence and further learning. Uninterested in getting married any time soon, Priyanka and Renu asked Suraj Kumar, Lotus Outreach’s Project Manager in India, to approach their fathers about continuing their education and pursuing a college degree. Pryianka exclaimed with a touch of reservation, “Now college is our new goal!”
In Mewat, only 6 percent of women of the minority Muslim Meo population are literate. Priyanka and Renu want to continue to forgo marriage so that they can go to college – a level of education very rarely achieved in their communities. The local women’s college is 13 miles away from the Durgapur village, where both Priyanka and Renu live. Unfortunately, given the dangerous conditions in India for women to travel on their own, it is too risky for young women to use public transportation. The heart of the matter is that their families will simply not allow them to pursue a college education if it means travelling on public buses.
The two young women hesitate to ask their fathers if they would be allowed to take this unprecedented first step towards a higher education. Priyanka’s older sister was married after graduating from high school at the age of 18, an exceptional achievement in a young Meo woman’s life. Hence Priyanka was doubtful that her father would allow her to remain unwed and in school.
In the presence of the two young women and their fathers, Suraj proposed that in the case the girls were allowed to pursue higher education, the Blossom Bus program could ensure their safe transport to and from college. Without any hesitation, both fathers nodded in agreement.
Suraj’s surprise at the fathers’ answer must have been obvious, because they promptly explained that they enthusiastically support the education of girls. Their reluctance about girls pursuing an education stems solely from the legitimate concern for their daughters’ safety in transit. Their progressive mentality is part of a cultural shift that might not ever have happened in this area if not for the Blossom Bus influence.
Lotus Outreach is working on a plan towards moving the Blossom Bus program forward to provide college transportation to the Blossom Bus graduates that wish to continue on with their education and are granted to do so by their families.
This year, the program will continue to proudly serve 300 Meo girls, with the 34 graduates being replaced after their final exams by a new group of girls. We are ecstatic that the Guru Krupa Foundation has for the second consecutive year awarded a grant to help support the Blossom Bus program. Guru Krupa is also the sole funder of Lotus Outreach’s Lotus Tutors, a program that provides tutoring to 250 children of rock quarry workers in Tamil Nadu. Lotus Outreach is extremely grateful for Guru Krupa’s continued partnership and support in bringing access to education for marginalized youth and girls in India.
You can also partner with us for the Blossom Bus program: a commitment of US$14 per month allows Lotus Outreach to provide daily, safe transport to and from school for a Meo girl.
LEARN Receives Award from Indian Government
The Chief Minister of Haryana, Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, presented an award on February 5th to the White Lotus Trust in recognition of LEARN’s contribution to Haryana’s Mukhya Mantri Shiksha-Deeksha, the state Teaching-Learning Program. Several influential state leaders and a host of government dignitaries attended the award ceremony.
The award recognized LEARN’s achievements in improving the quality of education in government schools across Haryana, and its oversight and assistance in designing education campaigns such as Dastak E Taleem (a school enrollment drive), Shirkat E Taleem (a program to promote community participation in public education) and the Youth Leadership Development program.
Awards were also presented to education officers and teachers that had made outstanding contributions to Haryana’s Class Readiness Program. These contributions ranged from hosting sports events, running extracurricular activities, to organizing field trips to places of historic importance as well as commercial and government institutions so that students learn through direct experience. The Class Readiness Program emphasizes learning through engaging and fun activities, and encourages educators to recognize and bring out every child’s unique talent. The program also includes a safety campaign in which police officers visit schools and give talks to raise children’s awareness about road safety.
The celebratory ceremony included theater and musical performances that sung praises to education and proclaimed the critical need of access to education for all children. Lotus Outreach and its sister organization, White Lotus Trust, are extremely thrilled to see the renaissance of public education unfolding in Haryana.
A Heartening Visit
Clare Campbell, co-chapter leader of Dining For Women in Santa Cruz, spent a month in Cambodia doing volunteer work with her son this January. Dining For Women is an organization that has been supporting Lotus Outreach since 2011. Clare is a longtime champion for Cambodia, having done extensive volunteer work there, in addition to her dedicated fundraising efforts for projects in the country. During her trip, she spent a day with Raksmey Var, Lotus Outreach’s stellar Country Representative in Cambodia. Together they visited a Non-Formal Education class in Phnom Penh. We asked Clare to relay her experience to LO’s newsletter readers, and she very generously shared the following account and beautiful photos.
In December 2011 I travelled for the first time to Cambodia where I spent a month volunteering in Siem Reap, the wonderful town by Angkor Wat. The country and its beautiful people truly captured my heart. Seeing their many struggles, due to their horrific Khmer Rouge past furthered my inspiration to help them and in December 2013 I returned with my 13-year-old son Luka to volunteer again.
For the last 18 months I have been a co-chapter leader in Santa Cruz, CA of an amazing group called Dining For Women, of which in April 2011 Lotus Outreach was chosen to be the recipient of a $40,000 grant to continue their great work in Cambodia. And in this past December Lotus Outreach was chosen again to receive a three-year grant for $15,0000 per year.
Elise De Grande graciously connected me with Raksmey, their Country Representative, so when my son and I visited Phnom Penh she took us around for a day to visit different aspects of the great work they do. Raksmey is an accomplished and highly dedicated social worker, as well as being a fun and loving person, and a very good guide! We first visited a karaoke bar where a group of the young women were having Khmer and math lessons from a Lotus Outreach trained teacher.
The girls did not speak English and were very shy but I wanted to engage them so began a playful game of simple English words and numbers. It was most endearing to see them open up with me a little and then let me take a few photos with them. We then went on to visit their sewing room classes before wandering through an extremely impoverished neighborhood to find one of the beauty school graduate young women who now has a small shop and was doing nails for one of her customers when we arrived
I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit and see first-hand the much needed work that Lotus Outreach does for these young women, giving them counseling and skills for a more hopeful and satisfying future. I definitely plan to return again on my next trip to Cambodia.
Meet Sreyney: Protectress of the Phnong Culture
Sreyney, like thousands of other young Cambodians, is studying to become a primary school teacher because of her passion for education. But there is something extraordinary about Sreyney’s pursuit. This intrepid young woman is studying to teach the people from her homeland in their own mother tongue, the Phnong language – a culture and language that is threatened with extinction.
Sreyney knows firsthand the difficulty of belonging to a rural minority marginalized by the broader society. As a young student, Sreyney was awarded a full scholarship through LO’s Phnong Education Initiative, and left her remote home to live and study and at the Orang Lower Secondary School about 19 miles away – a great distance to be traversed on poorly maintained, dirt roads ravaged annually by the monsoon rains. Since then, her studies have taken her far in the pursuit of her aspiration to bring the joy of learning to the Phnong children in her home province.
A history of marginalization, combined with the kind of exploitation that usually accompanies it, has left the Phnong people largely without access to educational resources, minimal wealth, land, or infrastructure. The Cambodian public education system teaches only in Khmer, and so people who speak other languages are left by the wayside.
Sreyney made the journey to find her own education as a child, and she adds, "Since grade eight I've had the dream of becoming a primary school teacher." Through LO’s scholarship she received all the support she needed to excel in school, especially in mathematics.
To become a teacher, one must obtain a certification at the Provincial Office of Education in the province capital. Sreyney had never ventured to a city as big as the capital before. When she arrived to take her examination, she found 160 other applicants vying for only 55 positions. Due to her hard work and dedication to her studies she passed the examination and was accepted to the Phnong Teacher Training Center.
Currently, the Phnong Teacher Training Center dormitory in Steung Treng is her home, and Sreyney is studying Pedagogy with 19 other minority students. Each one of them dreams of bringing the power of education to their villages. Better education means better health, better earnings, better representation in the government, and a brighter future.