Malwani is a slum in North Bombay, known for alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, and girl child abuse. Kusum, a class 8 student of Holy Mother English School, studies in a Teach for India classroom.
She has lived in Malwani all her life. A bright student, she has participated in several state and national olympiads. She even created a self-learning module for her classroom last year, to help her new teacher transition to her classroom.
However, despite her deep interest in studying further, her parents have discouraged her from taking it seriously.
Eventually she’ll be married off and will have to become a good wife to someone, they tell her. They belong to economically weak strata of society, for whom it makes more sense that Kusum learnt how to cook than wasted time on her science experiments.
Kusum is not alone. There are thousands like her who drop out of school every year due to lack of money and neglect. Kusum has had to say goodbye to a lot of her friends in this manner. She wasn’t okay with it.
This was when she along with a few friends started an initiative called Balika to support adolescent girls like her in getting an education.
The project has the support of Teach for India in making it successful. They want to do so by creating a safe space for girls in Malwani in the form of a community centre, where they can spend time after school and study for exams.
There will be a literacy program, which will provide free education in English to girls who are school dropouts. They have also partnered with the National Center for the Performing Arts to involve the girls in music, dance and self-defence. The girls will also be educated on issues of gender discrimination and safety.
On Children’s Day, Balika celebrated by donating food to the young and elderly. They had earlier urged people to sponsor a girl child and donate to their campaign, which got them donations worth ₹1,40,536. You can find out more about Balika here.