"The girls before us are the first to have gone to college, much less graduate, not only in their families but in their entire communities."
Congratulations to Shadhika’s Class of 2018
By Kim Burnett, Shadhika President and CEO
July 13, 2018
Memories of yesterday’s event wake me up early. The silence of the early morning is filled with images of family, friends, and supporters who gathered to mark the graduation of Shadhika’s first class of college scholarship recipients at our partner site, Vacha, in Mumbai.
When we started planning this event, the graduates asked explicitly for an “American-style” graduation, with caps and gowns, something they’d seen on TV and in movies. In India, graduations are not generally marked with big events, but rather, are quiet rites of passage.
So there we were, in a rented hall with monsoon rains raging outside, the fans overhead struggling against the humidity. Over sixty people have come for the event – families of the four graduating girls, staff from Vacha, as well as the twelve other Vacha scholarship recipients from future classes with their parents.
The graduates were giddy in their caps and gowns as they received their graduation medals and certificates from Shadhika. A slide show captured pictures of their lives. Each young woman spoke – in the English they had mastered as part of their scholarship – of what they learned, their achievements, their challenges, and plans for the future. In many ways, it was like any other college graduation.
Until it wasn’t. The girls before us are the first to have gone to college, much less graduate, not only in their families but in their entire communities. Where they live, most families earn less than $2/ day. For them, college was only a dream growing up, an arranged marriage at age 16 or 18 a more certain reality. But now, through this college scholarship, the girls speak of their next dreams- to become a pharmacist, a banker, an accountant, a government officer.
We invite their parents up on stage to honor and acknowledge their commitment and courage to support their daughters’ education in the face of social pressures. Homemakers, bricklayers, domestic workers, rickshaw drivers, few of these parents went to school past grade six, if at all.
Unexpectedly, a father of one of the girls takes the mic. He speaks of the pressure and taunting his friends gave him when he agreed to send his daughter to college. He speaks of how he ignored them and supported his daughter, getting up as early as four in the morning to walk her to the train to go to school and picking her up at the end of the day to accompany her home. He gives an impassioned argument for the value of a girls’ education, the value of a girl getting a job and earning her own living. Not just for her, not just for her family, but for India and for his community.
As I turn from him and look at the audience, I see the other parents silently nod, several of them overcome by emotion. Yes, the young women in this program are brave and tenacious to be the first in their community to attain this milestone, but this whole room is filled with brave people.
This is how change gets made: by brave people standing up together to face injustice and discrimination. And, occasionally, coming together in ritual to honor and celebrate that bravery.
Congratulations to Shadhika’s Class of 2018.Read more