36 Hours with the Slum-Girl Whisperer
12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
On Saturdays (and Sundays), I conduct my mothers’ meetings to discuss the progress of the girls with their mothers and to motivate the mothers to be a part of their academic learning at home. Around 20 to 25 mothers attend the meetings, but sometimes they show up in fewer numbers due to domestic duties.
The meetings typically last for 1 – 1 ½ hours, and we all sit on the floor because there are no chairs. Mainly, I share with the mothers about their girls’ progress through the girls’ daily dairies. Also, I have initiated a Girls’ Bank, a savings program for mothers and girls to save specially for their daughters’ educations. We count their daughters’ money at the meetings each week.
Some of the mothers are very proactive. Maya, for instance, whose daughter Prerna comes to GLC, always goes to other mothers’ homes before the meetings to make sure they will come. She is a domestic worker, and she has a strong wish and aspiration to educate her daughter. She has even helped to start a basic reading and writing skills program for about seven mothers that I call Mothers’ School to support the girls learning at home.
To encourage the mothers, Maya told them how Prerna was struggling to read and write in Marathi and English. Maya signed Prerna up for GLC, and it became a turning point for her. Because Prerna is really good at drawing, I began focusing on that and helping her build confidence, and now she is showing progress in reading and writing, too. All of Maya’s worries have gone away and she now believes that her daughter’s education will move ahead positively.
This kind of sharing makes the other mothers feel stronger and encourages them to be more active in their daughters’ education.
But sometimes, we discuss more difficult issues.
I still remember one meeting where I shared that I had found two or three girls roaming in the slum area, close to the main road, instead of coming to class.
I am like a one-woman army and working with slum-based girls is very sensitive, and it’s a big responsibility. So I shared this in the meeting and asked for all the mothers’ support. Initially, the mothers hesitated to accept that their girls would do such things. But then gradually, during the discussion, they became more concerned with their daughters’ care and protection. There are so many abusive and violent things happening with girls in the slum, so it is essential to watch over our girls and make sure they are where they are supposed to be.
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
I conduct the Girls’ Book Bank in the Community Hall, where the girls come together to help each other read and exchange books in Hindi, Marathi and English. They participate in writing and reading competitions and fun activities to improve vocabulary and build confidence.
The Book Bank is something the girls really look forward to attending each week.
Here’s proof: I was not feeling well one week, so I could not go to the activity. And I was not able to pass the message to the girls before the activity started. After 15 minutes, it was a great surprise to see that these girls had come to my home. They were knocking on my door. I opened the door and saw the girls’ smiley faces!
One girl, Gaury, said, “Tai, today, why you have not come to our place with the books? We were waiting for you? Please come soon. Other girls are also waiting for you and the books.”
When I told them that I was not feeling well, their faces looked upset, but they accepted it. When they were leaving, Gaury and the other girls said, “Tai, please get well soon and come to our places with the books!”
5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
I bring books door-to-door to the girls to motivate them to read at home and to encourage younger siblings who cannot come to my classes.
Unfortunately, sometimes, I face the reality of the home situation for many of my girls.
Just last week, when I was visiting Sejal’s home, I saw some people gathered at the door, whispering to each other. I was a little bit fearful, but I went ahead, and I saw that Sejal’s mother, Rupali, was crying. When I asked Rupali why she was crying, she said in a low voice that her daughter was not at home when her husband came home. He asked, “Why the girl is not at home?” He got angry when he learned that she had been attending Book Bank. Under the influence of alcohol, he started to beat Rupali by snatching her hair. I was really helpless because Rupali told me to please not talk with him, otherwise he will beat her again, and maybe Sejal, too.
I am continuously in touch with Rupali, who I have become good friends with. I hope for the best.
And that’s it! Another day comes, and I start my routine all over again.
It’s all worth it. I deeply believe that another world is possible—one where my slum girls and I can move ahead in our lives with basic education and life skills to become whatever we dream of becoming.
You can count on me to keep working at it until life changes for all the girls in my slum community!
Bonus: Through a generous grant from Toyota and donations from supporters around the world, girltank helped Aarti raise $2,705, which she is using to hire an additional teacher and pay rent for the GLC space through 2015.
[Micaela Malmi (center) traveled to Mumbai and donated her time capturing beautiful images of Aarti, her family and her girls. Thanks Micaela! (www.epicphotojournalism.com).]
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