Giving a second chance to girl dropouts

Meera Panjwani with students of the ‘Second Chance’ project.
Meera Panjwani with students of the ‘Second Chance’ project.

In a heart-warming project, Rotary Club of Ankleshwar,  District 3060, is on a drive to identify girls and young women who have dropped out of schools for various reasons, and ensure that they complete their Class 10 and appear for the public examination.

A brainchild of PDG Ashok ­Panjwani, the project is being implemented under the leadership of his wife and past president of the club Meera Panjwani. “For various reasons, including financial ones, teenage girls drop out of schools and are not able to complete even Class 10 education,” says Meera. But many of them have nurtured a dream of completing at least their school education for long years. So “Second Chance”, as this project is named, gives them the opportunity to do just that.

Now in its third year the project is getting on a firmer footing, she adds. On how the girls/women are identified she says, “We have hired workers from the NGO Pratham to find these girls in the villages around Ankleshwar, and then we pay Pratham’s tutors to coach these girls and prepare them for the Class 10 public exam. The dropouts they have coached are from the age 15–30 years.”

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The first year, they found 106 of these dropouts and they were coached in six different centres in villages for which the club paid the rent. On their first attempt 80 of the 106 girls passed out and then another 30 girls emerged successful. The next year there were 56 students of whom 48 girls passed the exam, with three not appearing for it.

“But as this exercise of paying rent for the six different coaching centres was getting too expensive, we decided to get our own place and have now bought another hall adjacent to the women’s empowerment centre which we are presently running in our own premises.” An amount of  ₹27 lakh for this was raised through funds from the Rotarians of the club, ONGC and the Jhagadia Industries Association of which PDG Panjwani is the President.

The project itself is being implemented through funds raised by the club and a global grant. “It is quite expensive… we are in the third year and we have already spent ₹36 lakh, but we felt that we have to carry it out as we are providing a new hope, dignity and future to these girls and young women,” says Meera.

PDG Ashok Panjwani gives a certificate to a student as PRID Manoj Desai looks on.
PDG Ashok Panjwani gives a certificate to a student as PRID Manoj Desai looks on.

On the reasons for girls dropping out of school, she says these include parents “needing the girls to do household work, and sometimes the mothers, who work in homes, take them along to lighten their own burden.” Worse, many parents pull out the girls for early marriage and “we’ve had girls who have dropped out at Class 5, 7 or 9. Some of the parents were still reluctant to send the girls for coaching but as the girls were interested we’ve even paid the auto fare to bring them to the coaching centre,” adds Meera.

The outcome of this exercise has been rewarding. Many of the girls have expressed interest in further studies and are now being tutored for Class 11 and 12 lessons and five girls have gone for computer classes.

She adds that what is encouraging, apart from the enthusiasm, smiles and happiness on these girls’ faces is their never-say-die attitude. And “the girls, who failed, said no problem, we will try again!”

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