In Rotary year 2020–21, our club members spontaneously decided to take up a project to empower girls because it is common knowledge that even after 73 years of Independence, the birth of a girl child is not welcomed in many Indian homes. Quite often she is neglected from birth and faces discrimination, humiliation, and oppression all through; be it in her education or healthcare,” says Kriti Makhija, secretary (20–21) of Rotary Club of Delhi South, RID 3011.
Keeping in mind the kind of barriers that girls from lower-middle classes encounter, even when it comes to primary education, and adhering to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, “and to further our commitment to the education and independence of women of tomorrow, we launched a project tiled Beti ko Shiksha aur Samman. The project had the objective to give scholarships to 200 girls from underprivileged families,” she says.
The scheme involves paying the monthly fees of around ₹1,000 per child for 200 girls from marginalised families to ensure they remain in school and achieve their full potential.
This project was the brainchild of Anil K Agarwal, who was then the club’s president-elect. RC Delhi South has 64 members and is in its 53rd year, being the second oldest Rotary club in Delhi. “I’m proud to tell you that almost 40 per cent of leadership positions in our club are held by women,” Kriti beams.
When the details of this project were discussed with club members, they embraced the project enthusiastically, and “in the very first year of the project, we received an overwhelming response from our members and donors, who are mostly their friends and family members.”
A whopping amount of ₹32.76 lakh poured in; “enough to provide scholarships to 273 children, which was above our target of 200,” smiles Kriti. She says the club members worked tirelessly to get the money required from their circle of friends, family and acquaintances. “The solidarity amongst the members, who worked together closely for this community welfare project to empower girls from needy families was exemplary,” adds Agarwal.
To identify the right students, who were not exactly poor, but came from lower-middle class families, at the same time ensuring that the candidates were bright and keen to pursue a quality education, the club drew up a plan. “The girls we selected do not actually come from slums, they are above the poverty line, and are already in school, but faced the danger of being pulled out because their family were under financial pressure and struggling to pay their fees. They were actually interested in keeping their daughters in school and money was the only criterion between the girls and a quality education,” she adds.
The scheme itself had clear guidelines; the beneficiaries had to have merit and a decent academic performance record, be from Class 6 to 8, and score consistently at least 65 per cent in their results. “Or else, they should have extraordinary talent in fields such as arts, sports, music etc. And the family income of the student should not exceed ₹20,000 a month,” says Agarwal, the club president.
The girls selected for scholarships were from NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Committee) schools, and the Rotarians reached out to the NDMC to identify 200 meritorious girl students from the NDMC schools in the locality.
Once the 200 girls were identified from about 23 NDMC schools, the club started paying the monthly fee of ₹1,000 from Jan 2021.
What is admirable is this project is both long-drawn and sustainable. “We have decided that once we pick a girl for scholarship, we will see her through high school,” says Kriti. To ensure that the child continues to do well in her class, once the Covid restrictions are lifted, a group of Rotarians who form the core committee of this project, will meet the beneficiaries at regular intervals and monitor their progress. “We will receive the quarterly report card of every student supported by us, so we can track their progress and support them with any intervention, where required. We will also remain in touch with their teachers to identify their needs and progress.”
Both Agarwal and Kriti are passionate about their project and want it to be a sustainable one, with the objective of seeing the girl complete her schooling. So will the brighter ones be helped through college also, I ask Kriti.
“We have not yet thought about that. In the second leg, we want to get those who reach high school, some counselling for vocational training so that they can be financially independent. But yes, in the near future we might come up with a project where we could support a much smaller number of really talented girls through college or a vocational training course,’ she responds.
Incidentally, both Agarwal and Kriti have really worked hard for the Beti Siksha project, and raised almost 80 per cent of the funds finally put together. “We are happy to note that with our support, their needs such as Wi-Fi for online classes, books, course materials, stationary etc are being met,” says Agarwal.
As a girl child education goes beyond schooling and towards making her independent and empowered, the club members also realised the importance of imparting knowledge and skills “to compete in the labour market; learn socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to a changing world; make decisions about their own lives; and contribute to their communities and the world.”
Towards this goal, in RY 21–22 the club plans to implement another layer of support… career counselling for girl students from 10th–12th classes to guide them in choosing and planning their future — either further education or choosing their area of work. “We are also evaluating the possibility of tying up with institutions to get psychometric testing done for girl students to be able to identify their core strengths and areas of interest,” she added.
The gung-ho core committee members of this project plan to expand it to include 500 or more girl students in 2021–22. “This will empower the young girls to get proper education, know, understand and avail government schemes/benefits which are available but often go begging because of lack of awareness.”
Through this project the hope is a spiral-down effect — late marriage and hence prevention of motherhood at a young and tender age, better nutrition and healthcare, few children, and overall empowerment of women.