By Glenn Fawcett
When asked about the future, Afsana tells us soberly, “I want to study at college but it's 25 km from here. I will just take it one step at a time. First I have to clear year 12.”
We can see a very bright future ahead for this inspiring young woman and aspire to help as much as possible.
Since we visited the charismatic Afsana in 2012, she has been busy inspiring other girls in her village to join the Blossom Bus and attend school, and the ripple effect of her efforts is highly evident. There are now six girls from this tiny, middle-of-nowhere village picturesquely sandwiched between ponds filled by underground aquifers and quarry stone for road and wall building.
All of the one- and two-room homes and in this otherwise minimalist setting feature exquisite hues of ochre and mottled green-grey sandstone and slate. I’m sure for the locals these materials are not at all inspiring, as they see their homes as simply an extension of the barren landscape. But for a visitor with an eye for aesthetics and enviro-friendly development, a settlement of single story dwellings blended into the landscape -- with not a single signboard or plastic wrapper in sight -- is the stuff of ecotopias.
Our first stop was to the single room home of year 8 girl Sarita, 16 years old from Hutchpuri Village where we also met her mother, older brother and his son. Her mother Jumna doesn’t know her age but her oldest son tells us the oldest daughter is 30, so we guess Jumna is around 45. Jumna tells us, “I’ve never been to school, not even for one day. We are poor and became even poorer when we had to sell our buffaloes to marry our daughter and lost the income from selling the milk. We have no land and I now fully understand the importance of education. Girls learn how to speak out and can also get a job and provide a decent income for the family.”
Sarita has three older sisters; one completed grade 5, another grade 6 and the third never went to school at all. Her father does not work and her older brother is married and provides $25 a month so the family has food to eat. Sarita was forced to drop out of school after finishing grade 7 a year ago and tells us, “my family is very poor and they asked me to drop out of school and stay at home. I was very sad and disappointed but could not argue with my parents at the time. During the past year however I’ve been inspired by Afsana. She is now in grade 10, the first from our village, and is very popular and inspiring. She seems very educated to us and speaks well. All the girls look up to her. Afsana lobbied for us to join the Blossom Bus too. I asked my family many times and they finally agreed to meet the driver and they were convinced it was important and that they should let me go back to school. Now I am very happy!”
She further tells us, “the primary school in my village is not good and teachers are not teaching well. I am now attending class 8 at Chaisa village high school some 5 km away. We leave at 7:30 am and start back at 2:30 pm. It only takes 20 minutes or so for the journey. I really enjoy studying, English and Hindi are my favorite subjects.” When asked about her future dreams she tells us with a faraway look in her eyes, “I want to go to college and study science.”
As we heard Sarita’s report about Afsana being much looked up to and an inspiration to the girls of Hutchpuri, I was delighted that we would be able to meet and catch up with her during our visit.
We gave our regards to an ornery camel as we entered pathways taking us further inside the village to where Afsana was waiting with her mother, her older sister and the sister’s daughter. We all lit up with delight at seeing each other but were surprised they were living in a lean-to and not in their pucca brick dwelling. It turns out the oldest boy has married and now dominates the main house with his wife and growing family while the rest of the ‘girls’ make do under a thatch roof with no walls. It’s kind of shocking to me but Suraj and Shyam Vir, our local staff, feel the location is good and cool during the summer months.
We launched in to our interview with Afsana and asked how she was progressing and what’s been happening with other girls in her community. She tells us she convinced four new girls to join the Blossom Bus and she herself has just completed her year 10 board exams and expects to progress to year 11 in this academic year. The results are not yet out but she tells us, “I expect to get a 1st division pass. I am top scorer of 16 girls and somewhere around the middle if you include the 64 boys at our class level.”