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‘I walk with pride because of my daughter’

A non-profit organisation that focuses on education and literacy is helping to empower women and girls in Asia and Africa

Almost half of girls in India get married before they are 18. At 15, Kamla Bisht looked likely to become one of them. But when her father told her about a planned match, she went on a three-day hunger strike. Eventually, she was able to negotiate with her parents to continue her education, instead of getting married.

Now 24, Bisht has finished secondary school, become a nursery school teacher and gone on to receive a Gandhi Fellowship, a two-year leadership programme.

Today, her parents are fully supportive of her career. She was the first girl in her village to become a nursery school teacher. Now there are seven. Kamla’s mother, Neema Singh Bisht, (pictured above with Kamla), said: “I walk with pride because of my daughter.”

“I believe that life gives you challenges and opportunities,” added Bisht. “I choose opportunity and to challenge the barriers.”

Bisht was helped to stand up to her parents by a mentor at Room to Read, a non-profit organisation that focuses on girls’ education and children’s literacy in Asia and Africa. CEO Geetha Murali comes from a family in India in which child marriage was common just a generation ago. Her mother refused the same fate. “Kamla’s struggle might have been mine, if my mother had not questioned societal norms,” she said.

I see families completely alter the trajectories of their lives in a single generation

Inspired by her mother’s courage, Murali now oversees Room to Read’s life skills curriculum. It is designed to help girls be independent through skills like negotiation, decision-making and refusal. Essential to the programme are local women, who are hired as mentors and who help ensure that girls stay in school and are empowered to make their own decisions.

“Every time I get the chance to visit our programmes and see our work in action, I am inspired,” said Murali. “I see families completely alter the trajectories of their lives in a single generation.”

Image: Kamla Bisht and her mother, photographed by Room to Read

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