India has the world’s largest youth population (356 million young people) and the highest number of school-age children of any country in the world, according to UNESCO. Many of the sixty million school-age children in India are currently not attending school primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic as schools have largely remained closed for the past year.
School closures, increased poverty, and social isolation have created a setback to the many gains made in girls’ education across rural India in recent decades. Because technology access is often prioritized for sons, many girls have been unable to access the remote learning model when it is available.
However, Sehgal Foundation is happy to report that the TRANSFORM LIVES one school at a time initiative has continued with its digital and life skills training classes despite schools being closed. Sehgal Foundation teams have doubled down to ensure that girls are protected and empowered during this challenging time.
The Transform Lives initiative targets student dropouts and those who would attend government schools in rural areas. Student dropouts are mostly girls who must forgo their education because their families require them to help with farm and household duties or because of a lack of schools where they live. Two villages, Rangala and Khori, in the Nuh district of Haryana, are just an hour away from Gurugram, the financial and technological hub of North India. In Rangala and Khori, cellphone reception is weak and people in the village struggle to have even basic communication with the outside world.
Throughout the pandemic, young women and girls in Rangala and Khori have engaged in digital and life skills awareness trainings. They have learned not just the basics of internet research and various computer programs, but have learned how to search for employment, pay bills online, and apply for various government benefits that foster economic security for their families.
Manju, a grade 11 student from Beejwad Naruka School in Alwar, Rajasthan, felt very alone once schools closed. However, her school had been transformed by Sehgal Foundation, and because the digital and life skills trainings continued, Manju learned how to access information on computers about various benefits for which her family was eligible. She applied online for her family to receive a ration under the COVID-19 program; and she was able to check her Public Distribution System status and start getting the food items regularly, which was a great help to her parents during a time when there was hardly any work or income for many months.
Hema Kumari, in grade 10 from village Shahpur, missed her school and friends when she was unable to leave her home for months during the lockdown. When she learned that Sehgal Foundation would resume digital and life skills trainings, she joined her friends and instructors who were advocating for the village to find a space for the girls’ classes. The classes were able to resume following all necessary COVID guidelines, including wearing masks, handwashing and sanitization, and social distancing. A proud Hema says, “I got to know about myself and my goals in life. The empowerment led us to find alternatives amid adversities, and we found a solution for holding classes.”
Manju and Hema represent two stories of empowerment made possible by the partnerships between Sehgal Foundation and India’s rural communities—collaborations made possible by philanthropic partners in the US. The lives of 5,000 young people have been transformed in the past year by an initiative that promises to help more and more young people in rural India become the next generation of changemakers and leaders. THANK YOU!