In order to fully understand a machine itself, people must not only study the cogs within it but also become familiar with the environment that the machine operates within. For most of our time at Educate Girls, we have been allowed to see how the cogs of this machine works from our time in the Bali office to after-hours spent with our bosses to field visits and Team Balika recruitment sessions. Yet one thing that we had yet to discover first-hand is why the machine exists itself. We have all heard about the 50% literacy rate in Rajasthan and the educational disparity that exists here, but as with many things in life, the words we absorb at our computer or via third parties mean little in comparison to hearing it from the people themselves.
Luckily, last Monday we were able to have a first-hand experience when we went with Meena, who has been working at Educate Girls for an incredible seven years now, to visit the government upper primary girl’s school in Sanderao in the Pali district of Rajasthan. Despite the fact that we have now visited a couple of different schools across the Pali and Jalore districts of Rajasthan, we were still wide-eyed with excitement at the prospect of entering another one. Guided wonderfully by Meena, the four of us began our morning by sipping our chai at 8:30 a.m. in the Educate Girls guesthouse before hopping first on a rickshaw to Falna and then boarding a bus to Sanderao. With Meena leading us, our entire morning was timed such that the bus left right after we boarded it; the impeccable timing and the practiced ease with which she navigated India’s multiple transportation systems is something that I admired in a country where rarely anything leaves or arrives at its designated time.
Since Sanderao is only about 35 kilometers away, our bus ride was quite short, and before we knew it we were walking across the village towards the school. Once we entered, we were ushered into a room where Eliana was able to interview several teachers for her research. In the meantime, I accompanied Ali to help her conduct interviews for her research project: to determine if there is a link between student aspirations and their school performance. Luckily, these questions were relatively simple and I was happy to be able to use my basic Hindi skills to act as a translator between Ali and the students. I believe this is what made the experience so much more meaningful for me – instead of being reliant on a translator to understand the responses of the students, I was able to directly connect what their words and tone to their facial expressions and body language to see the full picture.
The responses to our questions across classrooms were almost shocking in their differences. We first visited a 5th grade classroom where the students were extremely shy. When we asked them,”
(In the future, what work do you want to do?)”, every single girl except one hesitated. It took quite a bit of coaxing in order to hear whispery soft voices answer with a profession and some did not answer at all. Ali and I found it most interesting that even though most students could eventually name a profession, most of them did not know why they wanted to be that profession. However, one girl responded right away in a strong voice, staring directly at me with her hands folded neatly in her lap, “ I want to work in the police so that I can secure my country and protect my people”.
It was interesting to then visit 3rd grade next as most of the students would barely speak at all – Ali and I considered it a great success when one student told us her name, that she was doing fine, and that she really liked her teacher. In a strong contrast, when we interviewed the 7th and 8th graders, they could not wait to be spoken to. The first girl we spoke to, Latha, was clearly the leader of the two clans and took her position very seriously, quieting the children when they got too excited and finding alternate Hindi words if we could not understand the first ones the other children spoke.
After a few hours of speaking with the students, I was able to better understand the mission of Educate Girls through the students’ words and their actions.