Uplabdhi Of ‘Teach Girls’ Took Us Into Her World Where The Dreams Of Slum Girls Come True
- IWB Post
- January 31, 2018
They say that teachers apart from parents in our lives help us walk the first steps.
Meet Uplabdhi Misha Chandola Scott, a woman who is changing the face of govt. education for the girls living in slums through her initiative Teach Girls. Today, she has about 80 students who vary in age. While there are students of age 3, there are also older women who still have the zeal to learn.
Before she began with the initiative, Uplabdhi used to teach at a private school, but she knew that she wanted to do something for the underprivileged. And, that’s how she and her husband Tyler Scott made up their minds to work towards educating girls from slum kids.
I got in touch with Uplabdhi and asked her what happened at the Slum by the side of the Rispana river.
Me: Paint us a word picture of your classroom.
Uplabdhi: My classroom has students from the age of 3 until the age of 50. We invite women who have never studied, and we divide them on the basis of how their brain works.
When they come to us, we first take a test, based on which we find out where they need to start. So yes, there have been 40-year-olds who have started from scratch. We teach them that you can learn something from everyone. They’re all teachers if they know something more than the other.
Me: In a recent interview, you had said that the main reason behind dropouts isn’t family pressure. Then what do you think compels students to quit school?
Uplabdhi: That’s true. The main issue that I have seen cropping up is the financial instability. Did you know that children until the 8th grade get free education? Do they suddenly get a lot of money after passing Class 8? No.
And that’s why most of the students who drop out from school do it after they finish class 8.
Another lingering reason has, of course, been societal pressure. Our students comprise 85% Muslims. So, as soon as the girl is in her mid-teens, they think of getting her married.
Also, even if the students are studying, the parents want them to complete their education, there’s one factor that sticks around. Teachers are biased towards bright students, and so the girls feel useless, some of them also think that they are not needed.
Me: How do you tackle hygiene problems in slums?
Uplabdhi: Well, hygiene is a big question mark. The slum is located on the bank of the Rispana river. The river is not flowing, as it has been blocked. So, it has basically become a garbage basin. It is a place where people go to do their business in the morning since not all homes have toilets.
You know unclean and standing water is the source of all diseases. Though we have been donated two water purifiers for the slum, there are still days when our girls don’t show up because they get sick every now and then.
I’ve taught my girls that they should bathe daily, brush their teeth every day, and so they have incorporated the habit religiously in their lives. So yeah, that’s a good thing.
Me: How is your method of teaching different from Govt. schools?
Uplabdhi: We focus on activity-based learning, provide additional books. We try to give them a wider exposure. Our way of admitting children to our school is also different. We don’t enroll them as per their age.
Me: One overheard conversation from the classroom?
Uplabdhi: I have this student Nikita. She is the most active student and takes charge. In fact, I’ve handed over many responsibilities to her. She tells everyone that if they want to become like her, they have to work harder. She tells them, “I organize everything so properly in the class, that’s why Misha Didi likes me, you should listen to me if you want her to like you.” It is so sweet of her!
Me: One habit you inherited from the students?
Uplabdhi: They are extremely content. Even if they earn Rs. 2,000 a day, they sleep soundly, after all, they are getting food to eat!
Me: A common issue that is faced by your girls in their homes?
Uplabdhi: Getting them married! In my slum, there is a woman who gets beaten up every day. If I tell her husband, the intensity decreases, but it still continues to happen. The problem is that the women don’t fight back. Until the time she is not willing to take an action, what, really, can I do?
Me: How do you engage students in extra-curricular activities?
Uplabdhi: Hahaha, they are always excited when something is not related to studies. My girls dance, they sing, they paint. Every Sunday, we do something apart from just the regular ‘padhai.’
For example, I know that Nikita will be a successful Yoga teacher one day. She recently won the state-level yoga competition, and now we are preparing her for the nationals.
We also have a few singers in the troupe and are soon organizing a charity concert for them.
Me: That is so incredible. Are there any success stories of the children that you would like to share with us?
Uplabdhi: The biggest success story is that today, these women can read and write. They read the newspaper every morning. My girls are scoring well on their exams. While someone got a 73%, one got a 69% and the other, 82%. They make me feel so proud.
Me: One thing you learned from the girls.
Uplabdhi: To obey. I was a rebel back in school, and it amazes me as to how obedient and respectful they are of their teachers. If there’s something else I want to learn from them, I think it would be perseverance.
Me: Apart from education, how do you empower the girls so that their mindsets evolve?
Uplabdhi: We provide life skills training to them. Now, there is no manual for it. But, we hold regular gender equality sessions, workshops on women’s rights, issues that surround women to create awareness amongst our girls.
If a girl forgets to bring her notebook, I never allow her to take a friend along. She needs to learn to go alone and bring her book back, alone. They have to be street smart, and more importantly, they have to be very strong.
Me: Tell us how your relationship with your husband has evolved since the two of you started working together?
Uplabdhi: When the idea came to our heads, we were only dating. While setting up the NGO, we decided to tie the knot. I have had his full support at every step, be it financially or emotionally.
It’s really funny since he cannot understand Hindi properly, he learns a few phrases from me and goes on to teach them to the children in English. It’s beautiful watching him bond with them.
Our love grew stronger, and we recognized how we are both pillars to each other.
This article was first published in May 2017.