On a roof in a slum on the outskirts of Patna, India, something incredible is happening…
Twenty women are learning to read and write for the first time. They listen intently to their teacher with admiration and respect. Her name is Munni*, and she’s a 16-year-old girl.
Empowering women with words
“Everything we have learnt has been taught by Munni,” says Radha, 22. “I came here to study and to learn how to write my name.” “I could not read anything, so we used to go to Munni and other people and asked them to read for us,” says Sangeeta, 24, and Munni’s newest student.
Their situation is not unusual. These young women belong to one of India’s most marginalised communities – known as Musahars. They face discrimination at every turn and live in extremely poor conditions. Many girls here are married young and never step foot in a classroom.
Munni thought she would be no different. Her father and grandfather arranged for her to be married when she was just 13. But her mum had different ideas.
“We spend our lives without education and doing small jobs, but my daughter will not do that,” says Munni’s mother. Despite intense pressure, she stood firm. “I fought with my family and decided that my children will study.”
Alongside Munni’s mother, our Community Workers encouraged her grandfather to call off the marriage and send her to school. Thanks to the support of committed people like you, she was able to visit our Children’s Group, where she learned about crucial matters like malnutrition and first aid.
Munni finds her purpose
It lit a spark in Munni. “Since I started concentrating on my studies I look around and see many illiterate people. I thought, I will study; I will be able to help them and teach them.”
While balancing school and housework, Munni set up classes where local women learn to read, write and speak for themselves. She became a community activist.
“If we have education, then we must give it to those women or our brothers and sisters who are illiterate,” she explains.
We supplied Munni with paper, pencils and all the support she needed to get started. At first nobody took her seriously. Then she convinced four women – including her mum – to attend her class.
“Now the women believe me. It means my reputation has grown between them after learning to read. In the beginning only four ladies come for reading, but slowly the number increased and now 20 ladies come to me for teaching!”says Munni. “I started teaching them the basic alphabet. They’ve all learned to write their name.”
More than words
But she also teaches the women about money, health, and vaccinations. Together with classes run by Save the Children, Munni’s helping them to gain vital knowledge, grow in confidence and support one another in future.
Now she has the respect of the entire community, and has her sights set on becoming a doctor, so she can help the poorest people here.
Munni has started a ripple on a roof in this slum, on the outskirts of Patna. Every single day she inspires girls like her to take their place in the classroom. And nobody sees that more clearly than her proud mum. “Other kids think that if they will study, they can become like Munni.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities