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How two teachers in India are helping poor girls stay in school


Nashik, India – Aarti Ambore, 17, says she saw her childhood slip away when her father died suddenly of a heart attack in September 2021.

Gajanan, her father, was a laborer and the only earning member of their family of five. He was only 47.

Aarti’s mother, Vandana, 39, lived in a slum in India’s western state of Maharashtra and started working as a domestic helper to make ends meet.

“Our financial situation became precarious after the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020,” Vandana told Al Jazeera. “It became difficult to keep our three children in school. After my husband died, I was on my own.”

Vandana earned somewhere between $75 and $80 a month — not enough to provide for the family.

A few months after Gajanan’s death, she married off her eldest daughter. Ambore, who was 15 at the time and in ninth grade, was next. It didn’t matter that she was one of the brightest students in her class.

“I didn’t want to drop out of school,” said Ambore. “But my mother was helpless. We struggled to get even two meals a day. I had no hope.”

Aarti Ambore with her mother Vandana (Parth MN/Al Jazeera)

However, about two months before Gajanan’s death, Kunda Bachhav, 40, and Vaishali Bhamre, 45, teachers at a municipal school in Nashik town of Aarti, began to notice the effect of school closures during the coronavirus lockdown.

“Our school meets the eighth standard,” Bachhav told Al Jazeera. “We realized that several students from poor families left the education system after leaving our school. Most of them were girls.”

The statewide data corroborates Bachhav’s anecdotal observations.

According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra for 2022-23 (pdf), girls’ enrollment in secondary (ninth and 10th grades) and upper secondary (11th and 12th) studies fell from 46.5 percent in the pre-pandemic year 2019-20 to 31 percent in 2021-22.

The overall high school dropout rate in the state increased from 6.4 percent to 10.7 percent during the same period.

To limit the damage at a local level, Bachhav and Bhamre started the Karmadan Foundation in August 2021.

India Nasik
Vaishali Bhamre, right, with some of the girls their foundation has helped (Parth MN/Al Jazeera)

“We took responsibility for five girls between us to get things going,” Bachhav said.

“We then reached out to potential donors through social media and several notable people came forward. In less than two years, we managed to help 80 girls in Nashik to stay in or go back to school. We hope to increase that number as more and more people come forward to help.

Ambore was one of them.

The Karmadan Foundation paid $100 of her 10th grade school fees just as her mother was considering dropping out of her education. After she passed her board exams, the foundation helped her gain admission to a Bachelor of Arts degree at a Nashik University.

“My tuition fees and expenses for books and stationery are all taken care of,” said Ambore. “I will take full advantage of this opportunity. It was hard to see girls around me drop out of school and get married. I thought my fate was sealed.”

‘Girls have started dreaming again’

Ambore currently works in a photography studio while pursuing a college degree. “I just want to make sure my mom quits being a domestic worker,” she said.

Heramb Kulkarni, an educationist from Maharashtra, said significant progress has been made in primary school enrollment.

“But the problems arise for girl students after eighth grade,” he added. “The post-COVID dropouts are especially visible in impoverished neighborhoods. Girls who have dropped out go to work or are married off.”

India Nasik Teachers
Aarti Ambore and her mother Vandana, third and fourth from left, with Kunda Bachhav and Vaishali Bhamre at a school in Nashik (Parth MN/Al Jazeera)

Aarti Bhise, 17, had started working as a domestic helper for her mother, Sagarbai, 40, after finishing eighth grade.

“I was devastated when I had to drop out of school,” she said. “I thought about the class and my classmates while doing the dishes at other people’s homes.”

Bhise’s father, Sunil, died in 2009. Sagarbai kept the family afloat by working as a domestic worker. However, after the lockdown, Sagarbai’s income completely stopped and she could not afford to keep Bhise in school.

“Fortunately, Ms. Kunda has taken note of our situation,” she said. “I filled out a form that allows students to appear directly before the 10th Standard Board of Examiners. The following year I was here at a university for a Bachelor of Commerce degree.”

Bhise smiles from ear to ear while talking about college. She enjoys every minute. Inspired by her teachers, she wants to emulate their work when she grows up.

“Just as my teachers helped me through a difficult time, I want to become a teacher and help marginalized students,” she said.

“Students take education for granted. But some of us are realizing its real value. And we want to pass on the same values ​​to the next generation.”

Almost all the girls that the Karmadan Foundation has helped, want to give something back to society. Someone wants to become a lawyer to fight for marginalized people, someone wants to become a police officer to ensure justice, and someone wants to join the government.

Ambore is the most ambitious of them all. “I want to be a politician,” she said.

Her reasons are clear. “The roads are being cleared for a politician’s visit,” Ambore said. “I want that kind of power so that I can help more and more people from poor families.”

However, Bachhav, proudly listening to Ambore, doesn’t care much about the end result.

“Girls have started dreaming again,” she said. “For now, that’s all that matters.”


Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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