Case Study – Zama

Zama is a first-generation learner from a marginalized household in Nuh, rural Haryana. She goes to school without any breaks to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. This dream arose when she went to consult a doctor a few years ago. Her siblings and classmates are the ones she always talks to about her dreams and wishes. One day in school, she shared with her friends that she aspired to become a
doctor and serve those in her community who are poor and disadvantaged. However, she wrongly believed that only men could become doctors, as she had only seen male doctors around her. According to her, this dream was either distant or impossible. Despite her admiration for this profession, she never believed she could become one. According to All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE, 2020) data, the enrolment of women in institutions of national significance that provide professional programs, including IITs (engineering), AIIMS (medicine), or SPA (architecture), has remained static at 23.5% across years.

“Girls should study more and complete their education so they can teach
others and help in establishing equality in society.”

Zama, 8th std, KGBV Nuh

Zama is a 9th grade student at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) in Nuh, Haryana. Being the youngest child in her family, she receives support from her parents, two brothers, and an elder sister attending the same school. Her brothers are in different schools far from their place. She frequently talks about what she has learned at school with her mother and sister, who are always at home. Although, she never has the chance to interact with her father because he works outside the village and goes to work everyday, he is a constant support and supports her in her studies.

Girls around Zama face lots of issues and restrictions in attending school and continuing their education. She said, “A few parents will not allow their girls to study further due to financial constraints and get them married.” As per the National Family and Health Survey (2015-16), only 10 percent of females had completed 10-11 years of schooling. She really wants her friends and other girls in her village to study more and complete their education so they can teach others and help establish equality in society. Although her parents supported her in everything, she never knew her dream was achievable for a girl. As she thinks women in her village are not into this profession, she didn’t feel like asking her parents about this either.

SwaTaleem’s field team’s engagement was a real eye-opener for a girl like her. They ensure all the girls get awareness and the best opportunities. They provide better training and sessions on life skills and English on a weekly basis. They also put all their efforts into ensuring continued
education for all the girls. Zama attends all the sessions of the SwaTaleem team; she likes to learn every day with them and has learned so many things. One of her favorite periods in school is always sessions with SwaTaleem’s field team. According to her, all the facilitators are very friendly, making the sessions more engaging and interactive. They helped her understand the importance of education.

During one of the sessions on gender conducted by the SwaTaleem team, they shared the story of a female doctor and the struggles she faced because she was a woman. At this point, Zama realizes that she is thinking in the wrong direction. She understood that anyone with willpower and determination can become what they want. All other thoughts absorbed into her against this were just society’s norms and wrong beliefs that were forced into her life. She understood that girls are equal everywhere and can achieve what they want. SwaTaleem strongly believes that this small correction would make a huge change in her life. Zama considers this team as her role models, as they are women from the same village
and are now teaching in school. The experiences they shared were very new to her. This taught her, “If you decide to do something, everything is possible”. The field team helped her understand the importance of self-confidence and self- esteem through different activities and sessions in the chapters. This helped her to know more about self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision- making in her life. It is an effort to make girls believe in themselves and face their lives with courage.

As part of weekly sessions, field coordinators cover topics in English and different stories with moral lessons. English language is a constraint for most of the girls and the teachers in KGBVs. SwaTaleem’s team tries to accomplish tasks that focus on English through different activities. This helps girls learn new words and the spelling of the words from these activities. Zama recalls, “Susheela ma’am facilitated an activity where we (students) needed to assemble in a group according to the number of letters of the word she dictated. This was really fun, as we were into different groups and made new friends along with learning new words and spellings”. For Zama, learning new words and spelling the words from these activities was the most fascinating part. Infact, the impact assessment data showed that 39% of the girls like Zama, indicated that they were unable to read or comprehend English at the start of the program, which dropped to 13% by the end.

Field coordinators take the girls through different activities and segments where they are exposed to a wide range of situations. This helps girls learn a lot and take it up in their lives. Zama said, “One such example is Angry Akku (a chapter in their textbook); this chapter helped me understand we should control anger and never laugh at anyone when they are in difficult situations”. On the whole, there was a significant increase in self-esteem and sense of belonging to school among the girls after the program cycle concluded, and girls who wanted to attain a
college degree or more (a bachelor’s degree, a diploma, a postgraduate degree, or a PhD) went up from 36% to 41%.

Zama had a different outlook about her life, with confined dreams. Interactions with the SwaTaleem team motivated her and other girls to break the stereotypes and experience all that they wanted. They got opportunities to explore sports they were not even part of or experienced in. Zama never thought she would get an opportunity to participate in sports competitions, which she loved, but SwaTaleem’s interventions made it
happen. Co-curricular activities were very few or not regular, but now they are a major part of the school, as they have district and state-level competitions coming up called “Kasturba Sangam,” organized by SwaTaleem. With a wide range of opportunities and build-ups, she experienced wonderful support from the team in building her thoughts and ideologies. She never thought she could think about her ambitions and speak them out loud, as the girls in her village hardly finished their schooling. Here, she is trying to build her story with a strong foundation and immense support. Let’s wait and see if she can be the next role model from the small village called Nuh for the upcoming generations.

“Zama never thought she would get an opportunity to participate in sports competitions, which she loved, butSwaTaleem’s interventions made it happen.”


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