I: The city on a hill and a lamp uncovered
A family breaks norms, defies traditions sets high standards for the Lebgere village, Koppal district.
We always believe that older people are the hardest to change. Age old traditions and deeply entrenched prejudices have a way of making them almost irreparably resistant to new ideas and perspectives. That is why, perhaps, the phrase “generation gap” emerged. But I beg to differ. Lakshmibai Yellajirao, is a 76-year-old grandmother of Akhila, who is one of our role model girls from Sphoorthi project- is a remarkable exception to this general belief. Here is why we think so:
Lakshmibai is a born inspiration. She is lying down on the cement platform inside their tiny home reading a newspaper when we step in. She is quick to welcome us and offers us milk to drink. As we start chatting, Lakshmibai relates that back in her childhood (70 years ago), she studied till fourth standard. It was a time when educating the girl child was unheard of in rural Koppal. “Standard 4 those days was like completing graduation”, she adds. She then proudly points to a discoloured certificate neatly framed hanging on the wall. “That’s mine”, she adds. She gets Akhila, her granddaughter to climb up and bring it down. We curiously watch. Akkamma, our Sphoorthi Project’s field officer, reads aloud the contents of the certificate. It dates back to 1989. The certificate honours Lakshmibai as a “Kalyaana Matey” (progressive mother) for choosing the family planning option after the birth of her two children. She is honoured for making a decision and inspiring other women in her village to adopt FP methods. We congratulate her.
Lakshmibai lives with her son and five grandchildren in Lebgeree village. Her son is a role model parent of Sphoorthi project. Her daughter in law is an ASHA worker. Lakshmibai says she loves to read the newspaper. In villages of Koppal, very few homes get newspapers. Her daughter-in-law adds, “we order newspapers only for my atte (mother in law). She religiously reads it and knows what’s happening in our country”.
She runs a small shop in her home which is the favourite stop for kids of the street who come running for mithais.
Lakshmibai has inspired her children and grandchildren to study, to travel and to “see the world”. “I could not do much for my children but our grandchildren today have the opportunity to. It is okay even if we go hungry but we must not deny them the opportunity to study and flourish”, she adds. She has been influencing families in her village and her community to send the girls to school. She adds that her focus is on SC/ST families. She feels they must come out of their shells and change!
As we continue talking, I realise that two of Lakshmibai’s granddaughters are graduates. One of them is preparing to study M. A.. When probed, we came to know that she is the only girl in the entire village who has managed to complete graduation. What a feat!
Lakshmibai’s son just returned from the Mangalore after an exposure from Sphoorthi project. The sessions were on education, gender equality and opportunities. He was so inspired by it that he returned with an admission application form for his son from one of the colleges in Mangalore. He chips into our conversation and shows us the form. “I want to send my son to Mangalore for his graduation. Its expensive for us but why should only the rich send their children. I want to show the village that even a poor man like me can educate his son outside.”
We are moved by the father’s dream. We try to encourage the children to be grateful for the opportunity and act responsibly towards such giving and inspiring parents. But words fall short.
Lakshmibai says, “What is life without education. It is only sitting and making rotis. Our girls deserve better”. We offer to leave but not before taking a family picture of this incredibly forward thinking family in this part of the world.
As a perfect climax to this meeting, we offer to drive Lakshmibai’s younger granddaughter to Koppal town where she has to appear for her final paper for BA. As we ride back, I cannot think of a better reason to be happy. Change happens. One family at a time, right here at Lebgere- Koppal! We salute you Lakshmibai.
II. It all begins with a thought!
Can self-perception be a game changer? Let’s listen from Sujatha Purad.
Sujatha while studying in standard 8 became irregular to school when her parents, both of whom are agricultural workers went to some other village for 3 months. She was living with her elder sister studying in standard 10th. It was during that time that Sujatha fell sick with Typhoid. The experience of sickness had gone beyond impacting her just physically but also socially and emotionally. Sujatha shrunk into a shell and felt that she was no good. Negative self-image and poor confidence about her own ability to study demotivated her from attending school. Even post her recovery from Typhoid, she continued to miss school. Sujatha did not appear for her final exams.
Sujatha’s negative thought pattern magnified her inabilities and she continued to feel insecure about herself. Sujatha felt she had reasons to believe that all other girls in her school were more intelligent than her. When the local community Shobha organizer visited her, Sujatha confided in her and shared that she wanted to join some other school. Shobha spent time with Sujatha and analysed the problem. Community outreach is all about understanding the real needs of the girls and adopting a sensitive child friendly way to communicate, convince and motivate girls to change negative ideas and thought patterns. Shobha’s efforts bore fruit. She was able to convince Sujatha that “I am dull” was just a thought and far from the truth. Shobha contacted Sujatha’s friends and promised her to offer all the support she could to help Sujatha write her exams. Shobha coordinated with the school teachers and garnered enough support for Sujatha to prepare for exams. Sujatha made it! She is back in school. She has joined 9th standard and no longer feels any lesser!
Important mental health habits—including coping, resilience, and good judgment—help adolescents achieve overall well being and set the stage for positive mental health in adulthood. However, approximately one in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental disorder, such as depression and/or anxiety disorders. Poor self-image is connected to this. It can be addressed through creation of spaces where girls can freely express and confide in someone they can trust. Sphoorthi project’s approach, girls’ groups and peer support attempts to do it so that girls like Sujatha need not despair for lack of help but bounce back to a full life.