At least two-thirds of uneducated children in the world today are girls. Without access to educational opportunities, girls are at a higher risk to become marginalized and exploited. She is more likely to marry early, to contract HIV and AIDS, and has a higher chance of dying during childhood than her educated female peers. She is also less likely to own land, get a decent job, have a say in society or break out of the crushing cycle of poverty.
A similar percentage (2/3) of illiterate adults in the world are women. Some of the reasons include extreme poverty, discrimination, culture, caregiving responsibilities and household duties. An uneducated woman often feels shame at being unable to write her name or help her children with homework. She can’t read documents and important paperwork. She feels isolated and does not have access to knowledge on nutrition or other health education that could greatly improve life for her family. She is vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
She Matters is CBM’s campaign to educate, equip and empower girls and women who have the potential to be the greatest influencers for change in their families and communities. One of the projects it supports is in India, among the Soura who live in Odisha State. In the early 1900s, tribal groups like the Soura were considered to be even lower than “untouchables” in the Indian social context at the time. Today they continue to live in remote, marginalized villages with limited access to government services, schools and health care facilities. Illiteracy rates are high. When children can attend school, it is most often the boys who are sent while girls remain behind at home to help with younger siblings, household chores and work in the fields. Tragically, they are often forced into early marriages with no other options available. Thanks to a literacy project supported by CBM, girls and women now have the chance to get an education. Part of this project includes health awareness campaigns and provision of seeds and training to start kitchen gardens for fresh fruit and vegetables.
Meet Ponina. She lives all the way over in India. Do you remember where that is? Let’s hear her story.
I live in a small village with only 23 houses. When I was younger, I saw some children in villages around us go to school. It made me so sad that I couldn’t go. Instead I had to work with my family in the fields. We grow rice and cashews. But two years ago, something wonderful happened. Some people from our church asked if we wanted to have literacy classes in our village. They would offer it in the evenings, after our work in the fields. You can imagine how excited I was to finally have the chance to study. Many others joined, mostly women, of all ages.
The oldest person in my class is our village mom. Everyone loves her! She is over 70 years old, but also wanted the chance to learn. She recently learned to sign her name. It was a big moment for her. She used to have to use her thumbprint (in ink) to sign her name, like on her pay card for the hours of work she does in other people’s fields. She said that she worried about getting cheated because she couldn’t read. Now she can read and count so she knows if she’s getting the right amount of pay. She now encourages all the children and adults in our village to get an education.
I am so happy to be able to recognize letters of the alphabet. My dream is to be able to read the Word of God for myself. Jesus is my hope. I believe that he will help me in all areas of my life. We are also learning how to have a healthier life and some have started gardens to grow fruit and vegetables. The church has also started tutoring classes to help children with their homework. The few schools we have in our area are very poor and the teachers don’t get paid well. Many of them do not come to class regularly to teach. It is hard to learn well in that environment. I also heard some people in our church talk about a dream they have to start a business among the villages. They would like to process all the cashews locally that we grow in our area. We would get a much fairer price for our crops, as well as have more local jobs to help people earn money to provide for their families. Our village has big dreams for the future.