The Inspiring Journey of Aarti Naik, Changemaker
My name is Aarti Naik. I am a Young Girl Changemaker from Mulund, the western suburban slum area of Mumbai, India.
I have been living in the slum area of Mulund, Mumbai since my birth. In 2008, I was forced to drop out of school in 10th standard (grade), and I felt there was no hope for me to finish my education. Because of my family’s poverty, lack of proper guidance at home and in my community, and a poor focus on quality education at school, I failed my exams, and my parents then insisted I stay at home. I really wanted to keep learning but because we were poor, I had to work instead of continuing my education. In the end, I did not give up. But I had a very hard time to move forward confidently and overcome such a challenging situation.
I was not able to find any work in the outside world, so I started to craft ladies’ jewellery at home. Some women from the neighbourhood were making similar things, and they helped me get work. I was paid 9 rupees per day for my work (about 15 cents in U.S. dollars). After three years, I was able to use my savings and some money from my parents to finally pass the 10th standard exam. Now I am studying for a B.A. in Sociology from Open University.
During my studies, I realized that whatever difficulties I had faced during my education were also being experienced by other slum girls. Like me, they were attending local government-run schools where they were not receiving quality education. My slum area, like many others, does not offer a supportive environment for girls’ education. There is a lack of awareness about the importance of children’s education, but especially that of girls. Girls face so many socio-economic problems that they are often unable to complete their education. Looking back on my own school experiences, I knew that most slum girls lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, and therefore they fail to keep up with their formal schooling.
I felt that something had to be done for slum girls’ education. But who could do it? The answer came to me immediately — I can!
The Turning point in My Life
I quickly realized that I would have a difficult time finding any support to help the slum girls. As a slum girl myself, it was not easy to come out and state my support for other girls. My struggle started at home, when I had to get permission from my parents to work with slum girls. One of my friends from our slum suggested Ashoka’s Youth Venture to me. It was the turning point in my life.
Ashoka’s Youth Venture provided me with a Changemaker Fellowship which gave me a new identity — “I am a Changemaker!” I also received financial help for one year. They helped me build my confidence and I realized, that yes, I can dream it! And I can do it! With assistance from their continuous capacity building workshop, I began to conduct basic educational classes for girls of primary school age. In August 2008, I started my social venture SAKHI (a female friend of girls who inspires, guides, and supports other girls for a good cause) for Girls’ Education.
SAKHI for Girls Education
The purpose of Sakhi is to create safe and quality learning spaces for slum girls in their own area. Since 2008, I have been leading educational capacity-building classes for slum girls in 1st through 8th standard (grade). The main objective is to focus on literacy and numeracy skills plus building life skills, providing them an opportunity to express their views and to help solve their academic and personal problems. The hope is that every slum girl will able to continue her studies with confidence and receive quality education.
Initially it was very difficult for me to convince the parents of slum girls to let them come to my classes. They did not want to let their daughters participate in school activities that were different from what they knew. Then I started to meet the girls’ parents in person, especially their mothers. I discussed SAKHI’s activities with them, how they would provide opportunities for the girls to learn to speak in public and solve their problems with daily study. I described how I would discuss learning problems individually with each girl, and build their confidence through small group activities.
I explained to them how the lack of education negatively affects slum girls. I pointed out that their own mothers probably had to drop out of school and, as a result, could not get a good job and were forced into low-paying labor. This situation has, in turn, affected the quality and availability of their daughters’ education. Gradually, parents started to send their daughters to participate in SAKHI’s activities. When I started SAKHI, there were only six slum girls enrolled, because most parents did not allow their daughters to attend my daily classes. My own parents wanted to stop me from teaching slum girls in our home. I could not obtain any financial support to educate my slum girls for two years. Every day there was a new challenge for me, but I never gave up.
After three months, 23 girls enrolled in the classes of SAKHI for Girls’ Education. Since that time, I have been teaching daily reading and writing classes, providing girls with books, and encouraging girls to read, study, and build their confidence. With the support of donors like you, today I have a classroom for my Girls’ Learning Centre, and have launched the Girls’ Book Bank, Girls’ Livelihood School, and Girls’ Bank. Up to 100 girls take part in SAKHI’s programs, helping them succeed in school, and providing them with a strong start to their future careers.