By Manish Shroff, past president of the Rotary Club of Ankleshwar, India
Our Rotary club is surrounded by rural and tribal villages in the Bharuch District of Gujarat State, India. The literacy rate in these villages is low and dropout rates of students in primary schools are high, most particularly among girls. We wanted to do something about that.
We conducted a survey with the help of Pratham, an NGO working in the rural literacy field across India, to gauge the condition of education in several of these villages. The study found that many girls leave school after the primary level mainly because of the lack of secondary education nearby. Students have to travel further, and for various socio-economic reasons, this makes it more likely that girls will drop out after the primary level and not go on to grades 7 or 8.
Education is the only way for women to secure a better future for themselves and for their daughters. Although urbanization is increasing educational opportunities for women in urban areas, rural women still suffer from a lack of mobility and access to education. It is noteworthy that the performance of girls on state exams equals or exceeds that of boys on average.
Through the survey, we were able to identify girls and young women in rural areas who had not completed their secondary schooling. Our project supported an education center in Ankleshwar that serves as a central hub, and centers in six other villages where young women attend classes conducted by teachers who have received specialized training. We provide free educational material to the students, pay for exam fees, and offset some of the travel costs for the students.
We partnered with the Rotary Club of Ilminster, United Kingdom, Jhagadia Industries Association, and ONGC Ankleshwar on a Rotary Foundation global grant. We went door to door in 55 villages and convinced 130 young women to complete their secondary schooling. We organized meetings with parents to convince them to send the girls to the center in or near their villages. We work with the students continuously to keep them motivated. And we will be supporting some students after the secondary exam to pursue even higher education, such as nursing.
In June, the first 112 girls appeared for their written and practical exams at our examination center approved by the NIOS board. In December, another 100 girls passed the exam. These women are now in a better position to provide for their families and raise the quality of life in their communities. I can think of no better way to enhance Rotary’s public image and highlight the good that our Foundation continues to do throughout the world.