Shadhika Shadhika

Summer 2015 Letter from the CEO

August 11, 2015

One morning in early May, I opened my email and saw the subject “RINKI.” My heart sank. Rinki is one of the 37 ‘Dalit’ (untouchable) girls from Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) that we have been supporting to attend middle school.

I had just seen Rinki and her mother during our March site visit and congratulated her for being one of the first 3 girls to graduate Grade 12 and we also had just awarded her a full scholarship to attend nursing school under our new College Scholarship program.

As I read the email, I began to cry. Rajan, the founder of BSS, explained that Rinki’s uncle had taken her from her home against her will and brought her to his village where she is being forced into marriage. Her parents are not fighting this decision. Rinki’s dreams of college are over.

I’ve known Rinki for three years. She is a smart, smiling girl and I know this is not what she wanted for her life. I weep for her and for all the hard work Rajan and her staff have done to keep Rinki in school. I despair for all of us at Shadhika who give so much to help girls like Rinki get a fair chance. For a minute I wondered what’s the point of all our work if it can all be taken away at the 11th hour?

But then I remember the other 10 girls from our projects in Mumbai, Kolkata, Varanasi, and Chennai who will be able to postpone marriage and go to college through our scholarship program. The fact that 10 out of the 11 girls to whom we awarded scholarships this year are actually getting to go to college is an accomplishment. In a country where 47% of women are married by the age of 18, we just beat the odds. And beating the odds is the first step to changing the odds.

I also take comfort in the fact if this had to happen to Rinki, it happened now at age 18 rather than when she was younger. Every extra year Rinki had in school means the outcomes for her and her children will be better than they might have been had she been forced to marry younger. That too, has changed the odds.

Of course, none of us expected this outcome for Rinki, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t making progress. Her story doesn’t take away from the real impact we are making on the lives of the hundreds of girls we are serving each day in our projects. The future of each girl we serve at Shadhika is better because of her involvement in the work we support.

There may be others like Rinki in the future and my heart will break for each one, but now there is a photo of Rinki above my desk – not to remind me of a girl we lost, but to remind me how urgent our mission is. And how every day, we are working to change the odds for the girls we serve.

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