"There are moments during such hard times when we [want to] give up[but] do not take steps backward; let us move forward."
“I won’t back off when it comes to my rights:” In conversation with Poonam, from the graduating class of 2022.
May 12, 2022Reading Time: 9 minutes
In May 2022 Poonam, a Shadhika Scholar at Milaan Foundation, will graduate from college. Poonam lives in a small city in Madhya Pradesh and commutes 4 hours each day to and from college. Poonam and her mother talk about the significance of her graduation, and all it took to get her to this point.
You’re completing your graduation this year. Reflecting back on your journey, what do you think has been your most important achievement? What have you overcome?
Poonam: This is the final year of my 3-year-long journey. I have scored well in my classes but my bigger achievement has been to be able to continue my education at all. [During the pandemic lockdown] the students who had access to phones could take online classes but the rest of us were missing out. But after receiving my [Shadhika] scholarship, not only did I start attending college classes again but I also covered the syllabus that I couldn’t cover earlier.
Another one of my biggest achievements was to be able to make a name for myself in college. This is my last year in college and I could’ve never imagined that I would get so much recognition from people around me. Officials in other villages are moved when I share my views at different campaigns and on various platforms. I’ve been able to form connections with different people, and I hope to be able to continue in this way and move forward in life. This is a big achievement for me – that people recognize and appreciate me for my work.
I lost faith once and I accepted failure. My heart was broken because we didn’t have a home to live in at that time and, because of my elder sister’s marriage, we took a loan. There was no income. My grandmother died and my father was not working so I was facing challenges to manage everything at one time. I was thinking about how could I continue my education. At that time, I was thinking I will try to get admission [to college]. At that time mom had surgery as well. So many things came around at the same time.
If we have the spirit to do something, no one can stop us. I got the Shadhika Scholarship and I managed everything without disturbing my parents. I got good support from the Scholarship. I had confidence and I did not lose hope.
Since I started my college and scholarship I have changed in many ways. I have learned how to travel independently from one city to the other and also take people around the city! Before I was very hesitant in speaking up, thinking that I would get scolded, but now I’m much more confident – I’m right when I’m right, and I won’t back off when it comes to my rights. I can confidently speak my mind now. I have also become a better listener and I can now understand people better.
Poonam’s graduation is an important and joyous occasion for you and the entire family. How do you feel about it?
Maya Bai: Very good! I’m very happy! I’m very happy that she’s moving forward in her life and that she’s taking steps in the right direction. I hope she continues to grow in the future too.
Everyone says that out of all my daughters, Poonam has made us the proudest. She’s made the entire family proud. Our hearts are swelling with pride. Everyone is happy for Poonam: our neighbors, people in the family, my daughters, and their husbands. Everyone is very happy! I want her to keep forging her way forward and keep doing well in life.
I try to motivate other mothers in the community to educate their daughters but they won’t. They say: “Look at the times we’re living in. What if our daughters do something to tarnish the family name?” But I motivate [my daughters] to move forward in life and fulfill their dreams.
For your journey ahead, what are you most excited about? And what is something that you’re apprehensive about?
Poonam: I’m very excited that I will complete my graduation this year! I’ve done well in all of my exams. I’m confident that I will graduate. I also think that after completing graduation, one has to really think about one’s future goals. I want to take confident strides towards my goals now. I want to become a professor after completing my Master’s Degree. Not only do I want to teach in a college, but I also want to positively influence the children in my family and become a good role model for them. I have studied and I know the value of education and, from that perspective, I want to be able to tell people to focus on their education.
For my higher education, I want to enroll in a university. I’m apprehensive about being able to bear my tuition cost and about living alone because I will have to go far away from home. I’m working with Milaan Foundation’s Girl Icon project and I earn a small amount of money. I don’t think I’ll be able to save up enough, even in a year to pay for [graduate school]. I contribute my earnings towards the family expenses. We don’t have a brother who will earn and give us money. Whatever money my father earns also goes towards [our home] expenses. I’ve only been able to study because of scholarships. I don’t think I’d have been able to complete my graduation had I not gotten the scholarship.
Through Poonam’s entire education journey, what makes you most proud of her?
Maya Bai Barman: I feel so happy that my daughter studied from 1st grade to graduation. Before I used to think: “I have five daughters. How will I manage everything?” I was afraid of that. By God’s grace, Poonam was doing well and she received a laptop. She was honored. I feel happy whenever she goes somewhere. She visited the forest department, village, Delhi and, mostly, I am glad that she visited cities. She used to always be at home, and being home for so long is not good. If you go out [of your comfort zone], your eyes open up to a wider vision [on independence and the world].
I always send her [to new places] with my heart open. In the world there are many types of people, so not every man in the world is the same or sees things from the same perspective. If Poonam is moving forward, don’t stop her. If she’s going somewhere, don’t stop her. I told my elder daughter that she was not able to complete her education so now she is managing her house after her marriage. Poonam is not yet married. She can go outside and understand everything and have a wider perspective. She can see the world, how this world works, how people behave. It’s possible to understand [all of that] when you go outside and see the world.
One of the most humbling experiences in life is recognizing those around you who supported you on the road to hard-earned success. What would you like to say to your mother as you graduate into a new stage of your life?
Poonam: Thank you! The biggest thank you to my mom was when I was going to go for the first training, my elder sister wanted me not to go. But I said: “No, I’m going to the training.” Without hesitating, my mom gave me permission. She believed in me, that my intention was good. I was excited and happy. When I returned home, I told [my mom] I am so happy [because] the trust she showed me was amazing. I felt like I could dance. If I did not have my mom to support me, I wouldn’t have been able to attend. Earlier I did not have much support from my father. But day by day, when people recognized me and my work and when I was doing well and achieving, he started supporting me. It’s only with my mom’s spirit that all of this has happened. So I am grateful to my mom. Many parents say ‘no’ to everything and they always say: “Your dad is not allowing this. Your brother is not allowing this, and how you will be traveling?” My mom also thinks about the expenses but never says no. She always gives money for all the expenses for traveling. If she doesn’t have it, she asks others and makes sure that I have money and everything I need. My mom always feels happy when she sends me to these places and says: “Go and live your life.”
What kind of advice would you like to give the young scholars and their mothers?
Maya Bai Barman: I would like to say to them, raise your daughters well, educate them, focus and support your daughters, let them live their life, and let them widen their vision.
Poonam: I want to tell the young scholars that if they give up thinking that they will be able to study, then at least go ahead once and give it another try. Go and achieve your dream because if we go to achieve something, then there are thousands of people who will come to support us. Be determined to achieve your dreams and never give up. There are moments during such hard times when we [want to] give up[but] do not take steps backward; let us move forward. We don’t have to live in reels, we have to live in reality and be the hero of our own life. All I want to say is that girls should think and go ahead and not look back.
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