As we begin our conversation, 18-year-old Kaavya Rajesh tells me, “Did you know that almost 65 million girls are denied of education world over?” Kaavya was only 15 when she saw a documentary called Girl Rising, based on the story of nine girls from nine countries who fight child marriage, poverty, and other challenges on their path to acquiring an education. Having lived in Dhaka and Gurugram, Kaavya knew that gender inequalities are not nation-specific but exist everywhere. Daughters in underprivileged areas rarely get the opportunities they deserve.
And the documentary kindled something within her.
Looking to buy an interesting board game? Check out this Snakes and Ladders boardgame handcrafted in raw silk, with wooden tokens.
The result was ‘My Daughter Is Precious’ (MDIP) – a programme launched in March 2016, to celebrate the girl child and provide her with opportunities for a better life.
In the beginning, MDIP was more of an awareness project, says Kaavya. Supported by her father, Rajesh Ramakrishan, Kaavya visited the socially and economically backward areas in Gurugram and spoke to girls and their fathers, urging them to let their daughters go to school.
For Kaavya, it was important to talk to the fathers, “We live in a patriarchy driven society, and the decision even now in these households vests with the father. Which is why we needed his buy-in on this,” she informs.
How a picture and a few words helped these families
Kaavya understood that just telling them about the importance of education was not enough; she had to find the means by which these girls could go to school. “I was passionate about photography and writing and that is what I did – I clicked their pictures and posted their stories on our Facebook page. Slowly, we started seeing interest and people started coming forward wanting to help.”
Kaavya would also leave a Polaroid picture of the father-daughter with the families as a reminder to value the girl child. What was her takeaway from these discussions? “I had the incorrect assumption that the father’s didn’t want to educate their daughters. The fathers we spoke to were actually very determined to let their daughters go to school. In most cases, what held them back was lack of finances.”
Solving the money problem
“Once we understood that the issue was not of intent, but of ability, we started thinking of ways to address this. Ability is an easier challenge to address, intent is more difficult. Initially, we partnered with Bitgiving, an online crowdfunding platform to raise funds for these girls. We used all our social media channels to get traction. We managed to raise Rs 3.5 lakhs through this channel in 2016,” she says.
This money was then handed over to Nanhi Kali, an NGO based in Mumbai that used it to send 108 girls to school that year. “That moment made me see how big this could be,” she says. MDIP has tie-ups with many NGOs across India that turn plans into actions.
Over the years, there have been improvements and changes to the model, as now MDIP is also focussing on higher education – enabling girls to get to college and beyond, so that the loop is fully closed and the girls have support till the time they can support themselves.
“The good part about all of this is how organic the growth has been. We encourage students to partner with us and become MDIP ambassadors. They can raise money for these girls and be a part of this movement,” she smiles. For more details on how to become an ambassador, click here.
Stories of change
Prasad lives in Kolkata and works for the Municipal Corporation. His daughter, Rinki, attends Class 6 in the local school and loves it. Prasad really wants her to receive a good education and hopes for her to accomplish her goals. In the future, he wants her to do whatever makes her the happiest, and as of now she is interested in becoming a doctor.
Bulbul is the only child of Prem, who is a mason and does odd jobs. They live in Tollygunge area in Kolkata. Bulbul goes to Class 1 in the local primary school. She is still not sure of what she wants to become when she grows up. Prem is keen on supporting her education and allowing Bulbul to follow her dreams.
We met Jayant and his daughter Deepakshi in a basti (slum) right opposite our old house in Gurgaon. The incredibly cute six-year-old was singing. She had just gotten back from school. Deepakshi is in Class 1 at Rao Ram Singh Public School. Unlike most little ones we met, she wants to be a singer when she grows up.
Though shy at first, her love for music encouraged her sing a hindi poem ‘tittli chale jayegi’ (the butterfly will go) and her mother also asked her to sing ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’. Her father, Jayant, works with the Delhi Public Transportation department and is very proud of her.
These are just a few lives that Kaavya has touched, MDIP has a long way to go and Kaavya is certain of doing much more. While the response has largely been great, Kaavya says that there have been encounters, which sometimes show her how irrational society can be. “One father in Dhaka was especially staunch in his belief that his daughter should not be going to school. He barely talked to us and that was one of the cases that we could not make any progress with,” she rues.
More power to Kaavya who is changing the society’s mindset, one girl at a time.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)