Study Hall Educational Foundation Success Stories

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Success Story - Poonam


Poonam

From a crying 3-year-old to a role model at 17

This is an inspiring story of valour and persistence, and how a little bit of help at the right time can shape leaders like Poonam who is a 17-year-old student, teacher and an activist from Shankarpur village in Lucknow (India).

Fighting for a spot in the class

Most of the girls remain undocumented and uncelebrated in India. As a result the time and date of their birth is often not known or cannot be recalled. Poonam remembers that she had to look for her date of birth in her father’s diary. 

The mystery of her date of birth began during the admission process in school. When asked, when did she first go to the school, she replied with a faint childish smile, “I started when I was very young. I was 3 years old and I used to cry constantly as I did not go to the same school as my brother. My parents got fed up and enrolled me in the same school as my brother. The school would not give me admission saying I was too young. I forced them to allow me to sit in the class, which they eventually did. Then I noticed that there was a ‘register for attendance’ and it did not have my name on it. Teachers would never call my name for the attendance. So I screamed and cried till they added me to the roll. I was 4 years old when I was officially admitted to primary school”. It was the first document that Poonam acquired that incidentally had her date of birth as July 15, 1999 the same as the date of issue the certificate.

Pulled out of school

When Poonam was 6 years old her father pulled her out of school. He told Poonam that he did not see the point of educating a girl. Undaunted, she continued to read her brother’s books. Poonam’s father was an alcoholic and nobody in the house would question him. She says that this would have been the status quo, had tragedy not struck her household.

Classroom calls!

Her father passed away due to liver failure when she was only 10. Her mother was forced to pull her older brother out of school in order to earn money to support the family. Unable to handle her daughter’s curiosity, her mother asked many people for advice. One friend of her father suggested that Poonam be enrolled in the government run free residential girls school, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV). KGBV offered admissions in grades 6, 7 and 8 with special preference given to girls that have dropped out of school.

Critical dialogue videos shape her personality

Poonam was excited to be back in school, but KGBV was vastly different in many ways compared to her last school. In particular she noticed a television in one of the classroom and later found out that the television was used to screen video lessons. These video lessons with the best practices were recorded and distributed by Digital Study Hall which is the outreach wing of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) located in Lucknow (India). She now had access to the best classrooms in the state with the best teachers.

For the next 3 years Poonam devoured all that the teachers could teach her both in the classroom and through the video lessons. Her teachers would often show videos that were not lessons from the books. These videos would show ‘critical dialogues’ with girls discussing topics such as dowry, right to education, and child marriage. The teacher at the KGBV would play these video discussions and then pause the video and ask the girls about their opinion. This was a very different and unique kind of a class. During the course of these dialogues it was clear to Poonam that she wanted to study further and live an independent life. A life that is free from poverty, subordination and exploitation.

Being best in class and wanting more

Poonam topped her grade each year and she wanted more, however her tenure at the KGBV was over. Upon return to her village Shankarpur she found herself in the same situation as before.

Her family could not afford to send her to the school. Her father’s land was in dispute and her mother and brother could not claim it. It was then that Poonam marched to the Sarpanch (head of the village) and claimed her lands. After a few weeks of turmoil and heated discusions Poonam was able to reach a settlement on the land.

With help of some saving Poonam’s family constructed two rooms on the land for storing the harvest. After the construction of the rooms there was no money left for the school fee. The only place Poonam could turn for help was the warden of her school Neelima. Soon after, Poonam made a trip back to her school and talked to her Neelima. She told Neelima about how she could not continue her education. Neelima consoled her and assured her that she will find funding for Poonam.

DSH aids Poonam's growth

Neelima had been part of the trainings organised by Digital Study Hall (DSH). These were trainings that enabled and equipped wardens of KGBV with video lessons and critical dialogues. Neelima called the DSH office and expressed the need of a scholarship for girls that dropout of KGBV.  

On graduating from class 12, her KGBV headmaster was so impressed by her potential that he begged DSH to assist her in continuing her education. Poonam was already beginning to inspire those around her!

DSH offered Poonam a position as an Non-formal Education Center (NEC) teacher. Her enthusiasm, energy and vision touched the DSH team.  She was offered a scholarship to go to college and continue her education. She is currently in her second year of her B.A. majoring in Education.

Parents of her students respect and admire her. Their children idolise her. She has built the aspirations of her entire community to the point that they dream of a better life, and realise how to achieve that life. Poonam explains that:

“They [the students of the NEC] will become doctors, they will become teachers. In the same way as I teach, they say ‘Ma’am, I will grow up and be just like you’, so I say to them that ‘You will have to keep studying hard to be like me’ and they reply ‘We will’.

“My job is to feed their dreams, as long as they study with me they can be anything they want.”

Poonam is a visionary. She is a dynamic leader. Poonam has a dream!

“I like to teach because at first I was not able to study, as the children are like me in the village I feel very sad when I see they are not going to school. These children are from the same background and they are unable to get an education.

“If I can teach them, then my village will grow. My village will become a Post, from a Post it will grow to a Block, from a Block it will become a City and from a City the whole Country.

“When the entire country has educated citizens, then how wonderful it would be!”

DSH and the Mona Foundation are sponsoring initiatives like the KGBV and NEC programs so that more role models like Poonam can inspire their communities.


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