It was not my first visit to a Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV). Every time I go to one, I come out inspired. What a great program this is: many thousands of girls who have missed the education boat are being brought back into the school system all over India! To me, it is the best part of Sarva Siksha Abiyan (SSA), the Government of India’s very successful Education for All Program.
That day in January, we were in Jehanabad in Bihar. We were sitting in the court yard of the KGBV school watching the karate demonstration the students put up for us. The girls learn karate for self-esteem and self-defense; it is a great thing. During the demo, one of the other girls came up to us. “I am Kusum”, she said, “I am in class 7.” Her English was perfect, so I complimented her on that. Kusum went back and we continued to watch the karate. When the program was over, Kusum came back to the front, with a determined look on her face. “Next year, I will go to class 8” she said. “I am happy you came to visit my school.”
A little later, we were going through the school facilities and looked at the dorms, the kitchen, the class rooms and the generator. We ended up in the multipurpose room for some more demonstrations. While I was watching one of the blind students type the name of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Kusum came up to me again. She now had a very intense look on her face. “I am Kusum Kumari”, she insisted. “My father’s name was Ashok Kumar, my mother’s name Preeti Kumari. They both passed away. I am very happy to be in this school, and next year I will be in class 8. The year after, I want to go to class 9, but I do not know where I will stay.” Kusum burst out in tears, and frankly, I had trouble holding back mine.
See, the issue is, KGBVs bring girls back into the system and take them through classes 7 and 8. The goal of the program is that girls get ready for class 9-12 and hopefully beyond. The only problem is that there is no such program yet for classes 9-12. This leaves orphans and other vulnerable girls like Kusum looking for a place to stay. Hopefully, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), the Government of India’s secondary school program will include a follow up program for girls like Kusum.
“Thank you so much for visiting our school Sir,” Kusum said when I left. “I am really happy you came.” She is a really strong girl. I am pretty sure she will find a way to make it.
Photos by Martje van der Heide