When You Educate a Girl…

For most girls in the slums of Pune, India, the idea that they could become a teacher or a public officer or a computer engineer — or that they could choose when, if and who to marry — is a huge shift in thought. And it’s happening right now in the one-room community center of Holt’s legacy partner BSSK.

At a summer camp in the central India town of Pune, teens and pre-teens from a nearby slum sit cross-legged on the floor in groups of 4 or 5. Each group receives a question written in Marathi on a little slip of paper. The question is to be read aloud and discussed.

“When do you want to marry?” is the question put to one group of girls.

One 12-year-old girl in a collared shirt and jeans says she will marry when her parents want her to and when they find a good boy for her. “When I become a teacher and financially independent,” says a reed-thin 13-year-old with tiny hoop earrings and a long braid down her back. Another girl — 14 and serious — says she doesn’t want to marry at all. Her father is very dominating, she says, and her mother has no say. This girl wants to be an administrative officer in the public service once she finishes school.

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This 12-year-old girl says she will marry when her parents decide it’s the right time and they find a suitable match for her.

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