Giving Girls a Chance to Shine

Adoptive mom Kari Grossman and her daughter, Shanti, recently traveled on Holt’s inaugural heritage tour of India. Here, Kari shares about their visit with schoolgirls in the educational sponsorship program that they help to support through one of Holt’s long-time partners in India, Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT). This story originally appeared on Kari’s blog, “Be the Change Network.”

In preparation for this trip, Shanti had been talking about how to help other kids in India. We looked at different programs for the underprivileged and settled on the idea of supporting education, especially for girls. In many poor Indian families, girls’ education is still discriminated against.  As it happens, the orphanage that cared for Shanti in her first two years, Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT), now has an educational sponsorship program that helps girls from low-income families who are vulnerable to dropping out to stay in school through high school graduation.

Shanti (left) with one of the schoolgirls she met on the India Heritage Tour. Educational sponsorship through VCT empowers girls who might otherwise drop out to finish high school.

Shanti turned 10 in April.  For her birthday party, she invited her entire 4th grade class to a performance of her Bharatnatyum dance troupe, having worked for months on a dance called Shabdum — a new and complicated number that tells the story of a mischievous little Krishna stealing butter from his mother.  She asked everyone to give money instead of presents and with over 70 people in attendance, she raised over $1,000. Each girl’s educational sponsorship costs about 6,000 rupees or about $100 per year.

Now here we were meeting the girls who would benefit from her efforts!  Mary Paul, the director of VCT, had arranged for a group of girls from the convent school where the sponsor recipients attend to visit us.  We expected to meet 10 girls and were surprised to find more that 30 of them seated and waiting for us on the rooftop patio of VCT.

The schoolgirls began the program, first the 8th graders in their yellow and white uniforms, then the 9th grade class in their blue and white, each singing what seemed like a prayer in the Karnatic language.  A group of older girls dressed in colorful kurtas followed with an upbeat bangra-style dance.

The girls observe as Shanti demonstrates a traditional Indian dance.

Then it was Shanti’s turn to share.  We attempted to explain who we are, where we come from and how she had raised money to support their education.  I’m not sure everyone understood — the white mom and Indian daughter was certainly a novelty.  Yet, the video of Shanti dancing two Bharatanyum numbers on the screen held everyone’s attention.  None of the girls had ever studied the ancient classical dance, but they all knew what it was and were impressed.  Where had she learned in it America?  We explained that we had an Indian dance teacher who had graduated from the University of Varanasi, famed for its Bharatnatyum performers.  We feel fortunate that one of them landed in Fort Collins, Colorado — not only because Shanti can learn the dance, but it connects us to her Indian heritage and to our local Indian community.  Her troupe often performs for the celebration of Indian festivals held by the Indian Association of Northern Colorado.

Mary Paul asked Shanti to teach the girls a few steps. She wasn’t quite prepared for that surprising request, but rose to the occasion — teaching the first series of arduous mudras (foot and hand gestures) that begin Shubdam.  That totally broke the ice.  Once we were finished, the conversation began.

“There were girls who wanted to be teachers and doctors, policewomen and TV anchors,” writes Kari. “I was pleased to see that they had been exposed to many options, believed in themselves, and were taught to make the most of an opportunity like this one.”

Some girls came up and asked Shanti formal questions, but most were too shy for that. Once we ended the program, though, the girls immediately grouped around all the members of our Holt heritage tour, each of whom had an Indian adoptee in their family, and began asking many questions. I was most impressed with their confidence. They stuck out their hands, introduced themselves and wanted to know everything.  There were girls who wanted to be teachers and doctors, policewomen and TV anchors. I was pleased to see that they had been exposed to many options, believed in themselves, and were taught to make the most of an opportunity like this one.  Every one in our group was touched and impressed by their ambitions.

Many of them signed their name to Shanti’s list of girls who want to correspond, even though none of them have email.  Mary Paul told us she would speak with the convent school director, the only person with access to the Internet, about setting something up to keep in touch. Since next year, Shanti will have to do an exhibition project in order to complete her IB school requirements before entering middle school, we’re hoping this will provide a bridge between her class and the girls — so everyone can learn the importance of giving girls in a traditionally sexist culture a chance to shine in their own right.

Kari Grossman | Fort Collins, Colorado

Click here to learn more about Holt heritage tours and other opportunities to travel with Holt.

To sponsor a girl’s education in India, contact Aanya Bricker.

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