In between monsoonal downpours, we pull up to a school in the small village of Samicha. Vikas Paliwal, the Rajsamand district manager, leads the way. Inside the small courtyard, students are playing an educational game, led by another Educate Girls employee. Amid the giggles, shrills, and silly antics is a purpose. By making learning fun, children will want to come to school—a key ingredient for student retention.
Upstairs, in a room with chipped walls and faded paint, a group of bright-faced girls sits in a circle. Known as a Bal Sabha, this group is facilitated by the Educate Girls program to empower young girls by providing a safe space to express themselves, communicate, and build confidence to take on life’s inevitable challenges. Elected into the group, each girl takes on a special role, ranging from addressing health concerns to welcoming new students in the school. This, Paliwal later explains, is instrumental in narrowing the gender gap and creating strong female leaders. While I visit with the students, Paliwal is downstairs meeting with the teachers and principals of the school, asking what he and his organization can do to better support them.
“If more girls are educated, their health, income levels, and overall livelihoods improve, bringing about social transformation in the process.”
But before beginning their work in schools, Educate Girls employees first visit every home in a district to identify unenrolled school-aged girls and do their best to convince families to send them to school, often citing India’s Right to Education Act that guarantees free education for every child. Unfortunately, they’re often met with resistance due to a variety of factors, including ingrained societal gender disparity, unawareness, cultural traditions, and dire situations of impoverished families. Nevertheless, Educate Girls is relentless. If the family isn’t swayed, Paliwal says that’s OK. They will just return in a few days to try again.
“It’s not construction work,” Paliwal says, explaining why his organization’s obstacles can be so difficult. “It’s a change of people’s mindset.”
During my visit, I witnessed innumerable acts of dedication, passion, and selflessness, all for the sake of providing opportunities and encouragement for girls to get an education. Since starting Rajsamand operations in 2014, Educate Girls has enrolled 29,000 students. The program is clearly making big changes, and this was just one of more than 12,000 schools impacted by the power of organization. If more girls are educated, their health, income levels, and overall livelihoods improve, bringing about social transformation in the process.
In late August, Cotopaxi ambassador James Roh traveled to Rajasthan, India, to visit Educate Girls and witness the program’s efforts in action. One of Cotopaxi’s grantees, Educate Girls mobilizes communities to take a stand against gender disparity, working directly with governments, schools, parents, village leaders, and community volunteers to ensure access to quality education.