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Kavita: Fighting ignorance and superstition to stay in education

Kavita is a bright child from a very poor family and in so many ways epitomises the type of children we are trying to help. She is ambitious for education but unfortunately her parents do not recognise the importance of educating girls.
Kavita has earned a place in Class 11 at Project Mala to take bio sciences, but as her family rely heavily on her to help with household chores, they decided to take her out and register her in a local school, where the school day is shorter and would give Kavita more time to help with household tasks; cooking, cleaning, washing and working in the fields. Her father is a diabetic and Kavita is the youngest of her siblings and expected to support her mother.
Kavita was devastated. Children from this community have enormous respect for their parents and it is very hard for girls to speak up in the face of opposition, but Kavita was in such despair that she stopped eating. She told her parents that she would not eat again until they agreed to allow her to continue her studies at Project Mala school. When they realised that she was serious, they reconsidered and Kavita will return to Guria with the rest of her class when school reopens and the school staff will try to convince her parents to allow her as much time as possible for study.
Mujehra school, which Kavita attended, was opened in 1997 to serve a community about 20 kilometres from our main school at Guria. The district where the school was built was known to be in particular need of a good school, as it had long had a terrible reputation in the area for poverty, drunkenness, domestic violence and outright banditry. Kusum, a good friend of PM, who lived nearby said: "I’m afraid Mujehra was known to be a village of baddies: no-one wanted to go there after dark. Once, when we were driving past, we were attacked by villagers throwing large rocks. Our windscreen was broken, but we didn’t dare stop”. 

Many of the pupils who come to Mujehra school still struggle to attain the same academic standards as their peers, just a short distance away, at Guria school. Families in the catchment area demonstrate a high level of superstition, illiteracy and a low regard for education. There is a great deal of drunkenness and unemployment and women do not fare well in an environment where they are not valued, nurtured or cared for and their opinions count for nothing.
Kavita stood out from her very first day in class 1, a bright girl, always willing to raise her hand and try to answer questions in class. Like most girls from her community she was shy, but her laughing eyes revealed a keen sense of humour, and she was quietly determined.

Very soon she had established her position as the most able girl in her class and, when she took the entrance exam for middle school in Guria, she scored the second highest mark from Mujehra school and took a coveted place in Class 6. Here she found that she was working at a much higher level and with a cohort of very bright students. Added to this, the Mujehra pupils had to set out early to catch the school bus and arrived back at Mujehra an hour after the end of the school day.

During school exams Kavita had the chance to stay in the boarding hostel at Guria and study with the boarders. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to be away from home for long and when she had a minor illness, they convinced themselves that the boarding hostel was not healthy for her. Kavita continued to work hard at school, however, and at the end of middle school passed the entrance exam for class 9 ranking 15th in her class at Guria out of a set of more than 40 students.
In senior school the workload increases as the students start to study seriously for the Board examinations at the end of class 10 (the UK equivalent would be GCSEs). Kavita had set her heart on pursuing a career in medicine, as a doctor or nurse, and she knew that to do this she would need the best possible exam results to enable her to go on to university. The teachers recognised Kavita’s ability, but could see that she was struggling to keep her place in class and to do well in tests. Pupils at this level need to study before and after school to learn the material on which they will be tested and Kavita was finding it difficult to get the time to study when so much was demanded of her at home. She would work late at night and find that she was sometimes too tired to concentrate in lessons. Click the picture to see a short (2 min) film of Kavita explaining her problem.
Kavita has always been a delight to teach and eager to take any chance to learn, discuss and practise her English out of class time. She is a gentle, polite girl and the stand she took against her parents must have taken great courage. She deserves a chance to pursue her dreams.
Written by Anne Gilmour
Trustee and Teaching Adviser
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Robin Garland MBE
Project Mala
01904 341004