As a teacher at Project Nanhi Kali, Shobha Gehlot is an ardent promoter of education in her village.
The right support at the right time can change a person’s life. The story of 20-year-old Shobha Gehlot, one of Project Nanhi Kali’s most vibrant and enterprising teachers in Madhya Pradesh, is an excellent example of this.
Project Nanhi Kali, which works with school-going economically disadvantaged children, believes that children have the right to go to school and learn, regardless of who they are and where they live. Shobha, who was born into an economically disadvantaged family lives with her parents and two siblings and has been associated with the project since she was a little girl. From a student at Nanhi Kali at the age of eight in 2008, to a teacher today, Shobha has come a long way.
Life in Shobha’s tribal community in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh is harsh. Her village is patriarchal to the extreme and women suffer from almost total subjugation. They are compelled to stay at home. Education and autonomy are still a distant dream for most girls there and attending school would require girls to break multiple social and cultural mores.
However, Shobha’s father, a teacher himself, understood the importance of education for a girl child. He was aware that education would bring informed choices and a change for family, community and the nation. He built her confidence and became a strong advocate for his daughter’s education -- even when she faced severe resistance from village elders. Once Project Nanhi Kali came to her village, Shobha was enrolled in class 3.
The Nanhi Kali team conducts an extensive process of ‘profiling’ (enrolment), wherein they identify areas and government schools in which girls from marginalised communities live and study. Once schools are identified and Nanhi Kalis are selected by the team, the girls come to Academic Support Centres after school hours for academic support classes. These Academic Support Centres are run within the school premises with the permission of school authorities.
The classes are conducted by ‘Community Associates’ who are selected from within the community with a vision that they would be the local resource to act as friends and mentors to the children. At the same time, they would create community interest and take proactive action for quality education.
Shobha was provided with daily academic support at Nanhi Kali Academic Support Centre. Over the years, she has acquired vital skills to deal with the day-to-day challenges that could hinder her ability to continue school. Mentorship paired with life skills sessions helped her progress with her education. More support came in the form of school supplies that included a school bag, shoes, socks, notebooks, stationery, undergarments and feminine hygiene material to help her attend school with dignity.
Within just a few months, her academic performance improved dramatically. Eventually, Shobha went on to successfully complete Class 10. Today, her father Bhawarsingh Gehlot says with pride, “It gives me immense joy to see Shobha doing well for herself and contributing towards the welfare of other girls in our community. She also supports our family financially. I am grateful that Project Nanhi Kali decided to work in a small village like ours and change the lives of so many girls.”
Shobha too is grateful to her teachers who were her role models. They instilled a sense of confidence in her throughout her schooling. Shobha has now developed a vision for her future. “In our village, the childhood of a girl is spent in learning household chores. But after becoming a Community Associate (tutor) of Project Nanhi Kali, I have set an example for the villagers that a girl can study and get a job in her village if she is determined,” she says.
Currently, in her final year of diploma, she also works as a teacher at the Nanhi Kali project in her village. After her classes in the morning, she takes a long bus ride to the government college every day. The commute takes over four hours, but her spirit remains undeterred in the face of these obstacles. She is determined to complete her diploma, become financially independent and help every young woman forge her own path as she did.
About Nanhi Kali
Shobha is one of 450,000 girls in India whose life has been transformed through Project Nanhi Kali. Project Nanhi Kali, a part of the K. C. Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET), is an innovative academic support programme that keeps marginalised girls in school till they pass Class 10. The programme is an example of how Mahindra CSR drives positive change in the lives of its stakeholders and communities.
Started in 1996 by Anand Mahindra, Project Nanhi Kali is a national girl child sponsorship program, which supports the education of underprivileged girl children in India. Designed to support economically and socially disadvantaged girls to complete 10 years of schooling, the project has transformed the lives of more than 450,000 girls across 14 states over the past 2 decades. Underprivileged girls from low-income urban, rural and tribal families, who enrolled in government schools, are selected to receive support from Project Nanhi Kali.
Project Nanhi Kali provides every girl 360-degree support including daily afterschool academic support and annual school supplies kit comprising of a school bag, stationery, pullover/raincoat and feminine hygiene material to enable them to attend school with dignity. The project has partnered with leading EdTech organization, Educational Initiatives to provide every girl with access to a personalized, digital learning platform called Mindspark. This AI powered software enables girls to learn English, Maths and their Local Language from Grade 1-10, and additionally Science from Grade 6-10. The software is pre-loaded onto digital tablets, allowing access to quality education even in remote rural/tribal parts of India where connectivity is a challenge. Further, to promote holistic development, a professionally designed sports curriculum has been integrated into the intervention, providing girls with the opportunity to regularly participate in sports and fitness activities.
These interventions have resulted in the consistent improvement of learning outcomes amongst girls from underserved communities. Project Nanhi Kali has also achieved a high retention rate of 90%, with less than 10% of the girls dropping out of the program. Jointly managed by K.C. Mahindra Education Trust and Naandi Foundation, Project Nanhi Kali currently supports over 170,000 girls through more than 6,700 Academic Support Centres, in over 4000 government schools across 21 districts in 9 states. The number of girls supported by the project has steadily increased from 1,700 in 2001 to 3,600 in 2004, to 50,000 in 2009 to 100,000 in 2015, 120,000 in 2016 to over 153,000 in 2019.