Schools in India are opening after 18 months of closure and the season of festivals brings hope of resuming business and work for many families devasted by the pandemic and lockdowns.  However, hopes of returning to school for many children in India have been tempered by the realities of the pandemic.  With their parents losing paid work or worse, dying from COVID-19, children and especially girls, must sacrifice their education to contribute to the family income by entering the workforce and/ or marrying early. 

Sadly, the last couple of decades of progress in education for girls, poor, and rural children across India is waning while child labor, child marriage, and child trafficking are all on the rise. An article in the LA Times tells the story of Patole, a 17-year-old girl who was previously in school but due to her father’s death from COVID-19, she will now join her mother as a migrant worker harvesting sugar cane this fall.  Despite child labor being technically illegal, Patole is one of millions of child-laborers, according to the author David Pierson “She and millions of other school-age rural children are in danger of becoming a lost generation — locked out of the classroom for so long that they tumble into lives of deprivation and struggle that previously doomed their parents.”  An article in the East Asia Forum by Monika Chaudhary highlights the regression of progress for girls education in India which had made great strides as of 2018. “The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the critical progress that has been achieved. Up to 10 million girls are at risk of dropping out of secondary school due to the pandemic.” The impact on rural children is far worse and most do not have access to internet and online learning.

Patole’s father and mother supported her education, and desired for her to one day escape the poverty they have always known.  The communities YGB supports in West Bengal, Mysore and Chamarajanagara, Karanataka have many of the same hopes and face the same challenges as Patole and her family– namely economic devastation, lack of access to remote learning and technology, and generational gender and socio-economic discrimination in education access. 

YGB’s founder Kayoko Mitsumatsu talked to NGO Partner Prajna Neelgund, of Deenabandhu Trust in Karnataka about this crisis.  Prajna shared the devastating impact of school closures on the local underserved children who do not have access to online learning.  Beginning with the basics of losing access to nutritious school meals, and a secure place during the day, not to mention loss of basic reading, writing, math and social skills. Prajna being in touch with the teachers, children and parents believes we need to support the teachers so they can gather in community with proper support and learn new skills to help the children “mend the learning loss”.  Also, we must motivate the families to send the children, especially the girls, back to school, now that they may have begun to contribute to the needs of the household again.  Watch the entire conversation with Prajna on Instagram Live.

INVESTING IN WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES AND GIRLS’ EDUCATION

YGB and our NGO partners work together to interrupt this cycle of poverty by empowering 1600 mothers and children in rural areas. By providing microloans for businesses for mothers and funds for primary education for their children, children can stay in school while parents have the support they need to build a self-sustaining business.  YGB also funds scholarships for higher education for hundreds of teens, with many already obtaining their college degrees and becoming leaders that are re-investing in their communities as they achieve their goals. 

For over 14 years, YGB’s SISTER AID PROGRAM has empowered women toward self-sufficiency while also supporting their children to obtain primary education.  In addition, YGB supports higher education scholarships for hundreds of teens through the SHE PROGRAM.  Throughout the pandemic YGB supported food assistance and community outreach to ensure that parents understand the importance of keeping children in school through remote or home learning. 

Many girls were able to remain in school thanks to these efforts, as well as access to technology and I phones that the girls shared to keep on track as much as possible.  The full circle of giving has been such an evident blessing during the pandemic.  The older SHE Students not only struggled to maintain their own studies but also volunteered to help the younger students in the villages who could not access online learning to continue with their primary education.

WATCH SISTER AID DOCUMENTARY

WATCH SHE PROGRAM DOCUMENTARY, SANJUYARA’S JOURNEY