Will Nur Jahan ever go back to school again?

“From tomorrow you can’t go to school!”, the statement was more than a body blow to Nur Jahan. It shattered her life completely. 

The school was four kilometres away and she had to travel through difficult earthen roads every day. Her friend, who was hardly 15 years and accompanied her to school every day, had been married in the last month and her parents were unwilling to let her go alone.   

But this isn’t just Nur Jahan’s story alone. This is the story of many children like her in the minority-dominant Dhubri district, especially girls, who are forced to drop out of school due to some social pretext or other. 

Dhubri has one of the highest school dropout rate in India. In fact, the Char areas (islets made by silt or sand deposits of the Brahmaputra River) in Dhubri have one of the lowest female literacy rates in the entire of South Asia. There are bewildering social taboos and structural barriers right from menstruation to the lack of sufficient infrastructure that prevents even the elementary education of girls in the area. 

To remedy this, SeSTA in collaboration with CRY, decided to work on the issues of Child Education and Protection, through the existing community institutions in the Chapor block of Dhubri district. This ongoing intervention is working in the 20 most remote and vulnerable villages of the block. There has been a large-scale awareness drive and School Management Committee (SMC) have been activated and trained. This has helped bring the community groups a step closer to understanding the governance and functioning of the schools. In each village, a ‘Children’s Collective’ group was formed. Children were given training on life skills and basic education.  Adolescents were provided training, by collaborating with the government departments, on digital skills, grassroots journalism, leadership and vocational skills. 

Somela Begum, a member of one adolescent group, says, “I could not continue my studies as I did not clear my class ten board exams. But I am happy that I have now learned new skills in tailoring and craft making. I can now look forward to starting something on my own.” 

Community Institutions like SHGs were used as a platform to educate the community. Street plays and workshops were held. Simultaneously, tracking child labour, child marriage and dropout cases in the villages was done in collaboration with the women SHGs and immediate counselling support was provided. 

Charitra Barman, a teenager who had dropped out, was given different training in the Activity Centre that has been set up in villages under this project. He learned skills of computer along with regular schooling subjects in the centre. Charitra was then admitted to Industrial Training Institute at Chapor where he is perusing electrical diploma. 

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In a difficult terrain and social demography, this program in the last one year, has been able to bring 193 children back to mainstream school. 45 students have been enrolled in various vocational skill courses like computer and electrician and 60 cases of child marriage were avoided. 

As Nur Jahan prepares so go to school, one can only hope, that with a better aware community and the necessary support system in place, she will one day fulfil her latent potential that her friend could not. 

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