Divya is helping girls to start school

Writer: Grieteke Meerman

To get more girls from her village into school, Divya (23) is teaching the youngest of them how to read and write. It’s a way of showing the parents their daughters’ potential, so that these girls can still get the education they are entitled to.

In the village in which Divya lives very few girls receive education, which is not helped by the fact that the nearest school is 20 kilometres away. To improve this situation she volunteered for a government programme in the region, but on suggesting to the school management that she might give extra lessons she was told that this was something a woman could not do on her own. “For the first time I realised that, as a woman, you are not really taken seriously. This made me even more determined to improve the education of little girls, despite the obvious resistance.”

Crafty ruse

To make parents understand how important it is that their daughters get an education, she has come up with a crafty ruse. “I visit the girls at home, where I give them a bit of tuition in reading and writing. Then I say to the parents that their daughter must be quite clever because she can already read and write. Just imagine if she went to school! There are already seven local girls at school who wouldn’t have otherwise been there.” One for one, she continues, these girls have really come out of their shell. “The first time I saw them they were very shy, but now they are not afraid to stand up for themselves.”

It was thanks to the programme making education more accessible to the girls in her village that Divya came into contact with the Girls Advocacy Alliance, a programme being implemented by Plan International Nederland, Terre des Hommes, Defence for Children – ECPAT and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By supporting local partner organisations and strengthening networks, the Alliance aims to make short shrift of child marriages, child trafficking and violence against girls and young women. The objective is to combat economic exclusion by improving access to education. To this end, Divya has joined a youth lobbying group as a youth advocate. She is fighting to attain equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women. Together with other girls, she is receiving training in how to influence rule-making and deep-seated misconceptions.

Five child marriages stopped

Divya is also active in the struggle against child marriages; in fact she has already been instrumental in stopping five such marriages in her village. She managed this by exerting pressure on the girls’ parents. “My main focus when doing all this is to explain the potential health risks of a child marriage. Malnutrition and infant disability are common among babies born to very young mothers because their bodies are just not ready for childbirth. I also caution the parents about the likelihood of their daughters being subjected to abuse in the marriage.”

Divya has two sisters herself and she receives a lot of support from her parents. “My parents never received an education. They are illiterate, but smart enough to realise that education is the key to a child’s future. They are happy, but their lack of education severely limits them in terms of economic and social development.” Her father also has a debilitating illness, and for some time now she has had to work to help her family make ends meet. However, she is determined that this will not prevent her from completing her education, from home, and realising her dream of becoming a teacher.