Anjum knows how hard it is to be an uneducated woman in India. Because that’s her mother’s story.
Anjum’s father died four years ago, leaving her mother to raise Anjum and her four younger siblings. But Anjum’s mother can’t even read or write.
Anjum and her siblings didn’t go to school. They couldn’t afford it. Thankfully, three years ago Holt donors started paying for them all to attend school.
But then, Anjum became in danger of dropping out again.
Three Years Ago…
When we first met Anjum, her deep, dark eyes were some of the saddest we’d ever seen.
They contrasted starkly with her youthful face and her vibrant yellow sari. But she had good reason to look so sad. The past year had been the most difficult of her life.
Anjum’s father’s job had been a dangerous one. He was a river diver. In the Yamuna, the most polluted river in all of India, he dove below the surface to collect metals — copper, silver, gold if he was lucky. But one day, his foot got caught and he drowned.
The family — Anjum, her mother, her sister and two little brothers — continued to live in a disheveled, makeshift home on the banks of the river. Their living environment was so polluted that Anjum and her siblings contracted typhoid.
Despite her grief over losing her husband, Anjum’s mother, Shabnam, knew she’d have to find a way to provide for her children. They needed food, clean water, education and a safer place to live. But on her own, achieving this would be nearly impossible.
Because she was illiterate.
Life as an Uneducated Woman in India
Without the ability to read or write, how would Shabnam find a job that could support her children? Shabnam was a widow, a mother of five, and lived in a Muslim community that had very traditional and restrictive views on women. There were very few opportunities for her to find work outside the home.
But Shabnam’s situation is heartbreakingly common. Many women in India are uneducated.
Walking through the slum neighborhood near their home, Holt social workers — educated women themselves — are often asked by illiterate mothers for help.
“Can you read my child’s homework instructions?” “Can you read this package?” “How much of this cold medicine does my child need?”
When you can’t read, even the most ordinary tasks become difficult.
Holt Donors as a Safety Net
Thankfully, for Shabnam and her family there was a safety net — Holt donors. Anjum connected with Holt’s local partner organization in Delhi, and they began to give her the help she needed to care for her children. Soon, all of their greatest needs were met.
They moved to a safer building, got medical care, and the children began going to school.
Anjum’s eyes, once grief-stricken and despondent, lit up when we placed a stack of school supplies in her hand — her very own paper and pencils and even a compass for math.
Anjum proudly stated, “I want to be a teacher.”
And now that she was going to school herself, this bright future was possible.
But three years later, at the beginning of this last school year, Anjum’s dream was once again threatened…
Forced to Drop Out of School
Now 16 years old, Shabnam had been thriving in school for several years. She only had two years of high school left before she hoped to go to a university. But when back-to-school time came in October, she feared she would have to drop out…
Anjum just completed tenth grade, which is as far as her current school went. She would have to be admitted to a different school for eleventh and twelfth grade in order to finish her education.
The process was simple. She just needed a certificate of admission from her old school in order to enroll in her new one. But they wouldn’t give her the certificate.
“Her mother visited the school many times to get the certificate, but the principle refused to meet her,” says a social worker from Holt’s partner organization in Delhi. “Despite multiple efforts, she could not get her certificate. The school authorities were deliberately pushing her away from regular schooling.”
The exact reason for this is unclear. But there are many possibilities: Anjum’s family lives in poverty, she has no father, they are Muslim, her mother is uneducated… These are all reasons that a school may have denied her readmittance.
Though she tried, Shabnam could do nothing about it. Anjum began to feel hopeless.
They needed an advocate. Anjum’s education and future depended on it.
And thankfully they had one. Holt’s partner organization jumped into action on their behalf.
“We took out time to visit the school and work with the school to arrange for the required documentation,” their social worker says.
Though it took some time, they were successful.
“Anjum’s fear [of being uneducated] almost become a reality,” says SSG. But now she is super happy and excited to get back to a normal routine of school life!”
Thanks to Holt’s donors and their on-the-ground advocates in India, Shabnam is surviving as an educated woman in India. Life is difficult, but her children’s are receiving the food, safe living situation and education that they need.
But after she graduates, Anjum’s life will be different than her mother’s.
She’ll be able to advocate for herself in a way that her mother cannot. She can work as a teacher or in another profession and earn an income to be self-sufficient. She’ll be able to take care of her mother and her future family.
All because she will be an educated woman in India.