World Pulse

INDIA: The ‘Yes’ That Changed Our Lives

Lulabi Pattanayak
Posted July 8, 2015 from India

“These young girls made me realize that learning is a joyous experience.

Before I met a group of young girls in a government funded NGO in my neighborhood, I had hardly questioned the world around me. I had heard that the NGO was doing great work and I was curious to interact with the young girls. My first interaction with these girls put a big question mark on my assumptions!

Most of the girls were engaged in Kantha stitching, a type of Bengali embroidery. I assumed that since they were working, they must be literate. I asked one young girl, “What do you do in the evening? Do you watch TV or read books?”

The young girl angrily replied, “We do not have TV. Most of us are illiterate, how can we read books?”

“There are programs for you, you can learn,” I told them. “Learning has no age.”

She asked me, “Who wants us to learn, our family or your government? These programs are nothing but sheer mockery. Who would teach us? You?”

For a moment I was quiet. I had no choice but to say yes.

I told them, “I can teach you, but you have to decide what you want to learn.” To my utter surprise, they all together said, “We want to learn English.” They did not know how to write the regional language, Bengali, yet wanted to learn English! I did not know how to react, yet I promised to teach them beginning the very next day.

The head of the NGO tried to convince me that these girls were worthless; he told me I would only waste my time if I got into this kind of venture. As I listened to him, my heart could not ignore the twinkle in the girls’ eyes and their eagerness to relive life. I did not know how I would teach the girls without basic amenities, but I declined to yield.

I was taken aback to learn that all these girls were staying in a “distress home” because they were deserted by family members. These girls had no means of livelihood, no shelter, nothing to eat. To have two meals a day they were forced to do Kantha stitch for more than eight to ten hours every day. It only fetched them four hundred rupees per month (a little over $6 US). Their beds were crammed in one room, with barely any space to cook. The verandah was the only space available for our lessons, but this could not deter us from learning.

The first day is still fresh in my mind. I did not know how to start, but before introductions were over, we all were friends. Together we set our rules and decided on the subjects that we would study.

We went through my old notebooks and books on different subjects. I collected a few books from my neighborhood. Lack of resources never detered their interest.

In addition to English, they learned Bengali, mathematics, and science. Sitting on the floor, writing on the floor, we explored the world of the known and unknown. We transitioned smoothly from alphabets to words to sentences. I did not feel for a moment the fact that most of them were first generation learners.

Of course, some were very good in studies, they excelled; some were slow learners; some had interest in science, some in mathematics. Yet, all of us were learning in that small verandah.

After a few months, the girls showed such amazing progress that they wanted to organize a cultural gathering. They planned everything, from writing the invitation cards, to decorating the place, to creating the program. To my surprise, they wrote poetry and essays in Bengali; some tried in English. Some performed dance—all without taking anybody’s help. That evening they showed everyone they were not worthless girls, but human beings with potential, who deserve respect.

Within a week, the head of the NGO allotted a classroom with blackboard, books, pens, and notebooks for them. The girls rejoiced; they had everything they wanted.

After that, our learning was no longer restricted to the classroom and notebooks. I helped a few of the girls to sit for an examination to procure certificates for better jobs. I watched many girls decided to leave “home” to pursue their studies; some opted for vocational training in leather work, some in food processing. Gradually, the number of girls doing Kantha stitch started dropping.

The NGO administration was unhappy, but could not stop these girls from pursuing their dreams. Seeing girls preparing to leave, the NGO too began to provide them jobs.

I asked some of the girls why they were leaving the home where they stayed for years. What they said still echoes in my mind: “We no more need this ‘home’; we know what we want. You made us feel we deserve respect. Your simple ‘yes’ enabled us to read and write; it made us feel that education is the wind beneath our wings. Thank you for making us realize that.” I was spellbound!

In the years since, I have reunited with a few of the girls while traveling; their beaming smiles tell me everything.

I do not know how much they learned due to my interventions, but I learned every day. Being a student of economics, I hardly had the opportunity to explore the world of education; these young girls made me realize that learning is a joyous experience.

I am grateful to these girls, who made me understand subtle nuances of education and empowerment. It was all possible because I listened to my heart that day.


About This Story
This story was written for the World Pulse and No CeilingsPath to Participation Initiative. With this initiative, we crowdsourced stories from World Pulse's global community to helpturnNo Ceilings: The Full Participation Reportinto a blueprint for action on the ground.Click hereto browse through the126 submissions we received from over 30 countries.

Comments 15

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libudsuroy
Jul 09, 2015
Jul 09, 2015

You have shown us how education can be the path to full participation in community life for both the teacher and those who she teaches. I salute you for mothering the minds of those orphans and homeless girls. I salute themt for their hunger and passion, their tenacity and courage to explore  other worlds where they might found homes of their own. By teaching them the rudiments, you empowered them. Do you still teach in informal settings? Are you in touch with other women educators exploring other settings to open girls’ minds and widen the possibilities of their futures?

Naomi Kinyanjui
Jul 13, 2015
Jul 13, 2015

Lulabi, your story is amazing, very captivating. Its amazing in this day and age that numerous young girls around the workd in developing nations struggle to get an education. Some simply need that opportunity to help their minds understand that achieving of their dreams will begin with them conceptualising the dreams. I love how you explain that you didnt know how to start but the point is you started. Its easy to make assumptions about education and empowerment issues.

Best wishes on your efforts.

Lulabi Pattanayak
Jul 16, 2015
Jul 16, 2015

Dear Nkinyanjui, My apologies for delay in replying as I am travelling in rural India, where there is major internet issue. Hence could not reply immediately. Thank you for your inspiring words, and appreciating my story. Nkinyanjui  still many girls all over the globe are unable to access to education, is a different discussion! But I believe girls are illiterate because their education is never taken into consideration seriously. Even if it is taken, decision is taken by somebody else parents or guardians or society. In case of my students no one wanted them to be literate, neither the employer nor parents. Moreover the government's mindless literacy programme never attracted them. I was a catalyst, I trusted them, understood their need, they did everything. Credit goes to them. Honestly I did not know how to start with them!! The rules together we made, pave the way for joyful learning. I learnt a lot from them, they are my true teachers, who helped me to explore other avenues of women, education and social development. Looking forward to interact further with you. In solidarity Lulabi +91-9891578267  

Chelsea Maricle
Jul 15, 2015
Jul 15, 2015

What a powerful account of what any one of us can do to educate those around us and open up a whole new world and life to them. I have great admiration for you Lulabi to embark on this accidental adventure! It is true that so much comes from life just by saying "yes." Thank you for sharing your inspirational story with all of us.

In gratitude,

Chelsea

Lulabi Pattanayak
Jul 17, 2015
Jul 17, 2015

Dear Chalsea Thank you very much for your inspiring words. Yes you are right this accidental 'Yes' not only changed their lives but it also changed my perspective towards life. These young girls taught me that, education can only empower - an individual, when educator have faith on his/her students that they would shine irrespective of caste, class, creed or sex. No one would remain illiterate, once curriculum is sensitively formulated. I believe these young girls motivated me to explore other issues relating to women and human rights.. I learnt so much from them. That's why today I always look forward for such opportunities where my intervention would bring changes in the lives of people around me. I am thrilled that, I am a member of World Pulse, where we all share similar interests. In solidarity. Lulabi Pattanayak Mob:+919891578267  

Kika Katchunga
Jul 17, 2015
Jul 17, 2015

Thank you sister, you do a great job in today's world is to be read and written without these being with a black eye gland but you have helps the girl lifted the black eye gland What God bless you. You're continuing to make more courageous as you were able to do. Hi and good luck with your projects

Lulabi Pattanayak
Jul 19, 2015
Jul 19, 2015

Dear Sylvie Thank you for your warm notes. I do not know whether I did a great job or not, but all credit goes to those young girls. They had great faith on me. I would not have been able to do anything without their support, tenacity and courage!! At that time they were young, I salute them for their ability to take such decision in spite of million hurdles. Your motivational words and good wishes would inspire me to explore more such avenues. Keep inspiring me with your warm words. In solidarity,

Lulabi Pattanayak +91-9891578267

Shilpa Balakrishnan
Jul 22, 2015
Jul 22, 2015

Great work dear sister...

In Kerala i didn't see anyone who oppose girls or children to go to school or to study  . I had this vague idea that it will be like this in the whole India. When i read this i realise that there are who does not see the light even in this open world. 

keep going. Wishes.

love

Shilpa.

Kristina M
Jul 23, 2015
Jul 23, 2015

Thank you for saying that "yes".  Reading this story, I cannot help but wonder how many other lives could change if there were more people who listened to their heart and said "Yes, I can help."

Maya Muñoz-Tobón
Jul 27, 2015
Jul 27, 2015

Dear Lulabi,

Thank you for sharing this powerful story. It shows how education is not a formal and structured path, but fluid and a desire in all of us. In addition, I appreciate how you show your humbleness and allowed these women to teach you as well. We all learn from each other and have something to give.

Maya

marvi maznani
Jul 29, 2015
Jul 29, 2015

What an inspiring story! you did a great job yes learning needs no age.... best of luck all Girls in future.. :) :)

diner
Aug 10, 2015
Aug 10, 2015

Thank you Dr, Lulabi for such an inspirational story and making a change. Education is vital for development and many women and children, especially in developing countries, lack the resources. I applaud you for your persistent in educating the women even when the NGO did not see them worthy of anything - you gave them a second chance in life.

rosemary_ntoipo
Aug 18, 2015
Aug 18, 2015

Dr. Lulabi,

Thanks for saying Yes, to the girls. What an amazing story. Despite all the challenges you kept the light on.Teaching is a very noble job that helps us change the world of others. That is when the yes to education makes the difference.  Congratulations and keep the education light on. Again, thanks.

Regards,

Rosemary

 

lauren5848
Aug 21, 2015
Aug 21, 2015

Dr. Lulabi, 

Thank you for your work to empower girls through education. Your attention and devotion toward embracing different types of learning/knowledge is incredibly inspiring. Your story is one that displays that one can learn with even the smallest amount of resources if they have the support that they need. You are doing wonderful things for girls and allowing them to expand the value within their minds.

Best,

Lauren

Ruchika Mehra
Aug 24, 2015
Aug 24, 2015

Dear Lulabi,

Your narration reminds me of this movie based on a novel "To Sir With Love". Only the setting is different, but you still managed to add meaning to the lives of these ladies. While they will have the skill of doing Kantha for life, but can dare to dream to do something else.

Congratulations.

Ruchika