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Economically challenged girls carve their way to success

Farzana with her family

By Samia Siddiqui,

We often look at famous people to seek inspiration and admire them as our heroes. However, in reality, the real heroes are ordinary people emerging from the least likely places. Setting an example for many, the economically deprived girls from Aligarh have made us swell up with pride.

For the majority of underprivileged girls receiving education remains a distant dream as hardly any of them gets the opportunity of attending school. However, overcoming all sorts of odds, girls at Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center (ILHC) have defied stereotypes to pass high school examination with first division.

Hailing from the impoverished background, Farzana Khan, Alina Ahmad, Farheen Khan, Mantasha Haneef, Sumbul Khaleeq, Neha Rais, Preeti Kumar, Shazia Shuaib, Muskan Wajid, and Fareeha Masroor have pushed their limits to reach their goals. The stories of unrelenting struggle and hard work of these young girls are an inspiration for many.

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The story of Farzana Khan, a slum dweller, and daughter of a rickshaw-puller and a housemaid is heart-wrenching, yet inspiring. Her family migrated to Aligarh from Saharsa, Bihar in search of better living some 15 years back. Her father earns 50-100 rupees daily, and mother earns 1800 rupees monthly from the three houses.

The family lives in a jhuggi in a low-lying vacant plot which remains submerged in water during monsoons. This season is a curse for them as during heavy rains in the past few weeks, nothing could be cooked and children were fed only with some buns and roti. A few days back, a teacher at Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center found out Farzana’s high school report card in her school bag. Teacher scolded her that this is such an important document which must be kept safely at home. On this, she told that in monsoons, rainwater has clogged her jhuggi and she has no safe place to keep her report card, and that’s why she always carries it in her school bag.

In the beginning, Farzana used to sleep in the school. When teachers inquired about it, she told that she can’t sleep at home because there is no electricity at home and further mosquitoes won’t let her sleep. But she feels peaceful in school and thus easily falls asleep.

Looking at the family’s condition, some good Samaritans have now given them a solar charging light and fan. However, when it’s cloudy or raining, the battery becomes useless as it cannot be charged.

At such a tender age, Farzana is doing much more than any other normal kid. After returning, tired from the school, she helps her mother who is a housemaid and surprisingly, her day doesn’t end here. After all the work, she makes sure to do self-study. Sharing her story, she said, “Being a girl, it is presumed that I will cook and clean, and eventually when the time will come, get married. In the beginning, I wasn’t good at studies, but with the support and guidance of teachers, I developed an interest and now I want to continue my studies.”

They are a family of six members and Farzana’s other three younger sisters are studying in the neighboring government school. Her12- year old sister who goes to school in the morning is a babysitter in the evening for a one-year-old child in the neighborhood. In return for this, she is not paid but is allowed to get water from their tap.

Farzana’s mother wants to teach her daughters and doesn’t want to marry them at an early age like she herself was married. Life has taught her that by marrying them at an early age they will only produce more children and live in difficulties like she herself faced. She wants to break that cycle and liberate her daughters from the conventional system.

Despite these bleak circumstances, Farzana has passed high school with distinction and education has made her smarter. Teachers at ILHC told that she is a hardworking and well-behaved girl. Her sparkling eyes are full of dreams for a bright future and her face glows when she is praised for her achievement.

The success of these young girls owes to Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center, situated near AMU post office. In the year 1997, late Dr. Jameela Majid Siddiqui embarked on a mission to provide education to deprived girls of the society in addition to making them self-reliant. With this vision, she established the Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center which not only offers free female education but also provides various vocational courses.

Mrs. Sabiha Naaz Lari, Coordinator, Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center, is taking forward this mission of female education. She told that the center prepares these girls to appear for AMU private women candidate examinations and this year, 14 girls appeared in the high-school examination of which 6 passed the exam with first division, 3 with second division and 1 with the third division, with distinctions. “Sponsored by Ladies Club AMU, the center is providing free books without any tuition fees from Nursery to class X. The center also sponsors girls with good performance for further studies. At present, 250 girls are enrolled here. Notably, this English-medium school is teaching the same course taught in Aligarh Muslim University schools,” she said.

Teachers at ILHC with students

In spite of the difficulties in their lives, these girls do not want poverty to derail their dreams. Another such inspiring story is of Farheen Khan, daughter of a painter who despite her grim financial circumstances scored first division with three distinctions in the high school exam. Her father belongs to Aligarh and mother is from Mathura.

Her father once fell off during whitewashing a wall, and his hand’s bone got fractured. The bone was mal-aligned and now he paints with one hand only. Moreover, he gets unemployed during monsoons as there no painting work in this season. They are a family of five with 3 daughters and a son. They live in a one-room apartment in Firdaus Nagar-B, Aligarh which has no electricity and water. For water, they depend on government tanker which often remains empty for weeks.

“There is no electricity in my house and at night the street lamp post is the only source of light. Studying in the dim light did not bother me because I know education is the only ray of hope to light our lives. My dream is to continue my studies and become a teacher in future,” said Farheen Khan.

Another obstacle in her life is her physical appearance. Farheen and her sisters are good-looking. Though they all wear an abaya, still it is difficult for them to come to school alone. It’s the duty of their parents to drop and pick them up from school.

Living with reduced means, some of these girls also work along with their studies to make their ends meet. Mantasha Haneef, who has passed the high school exam with first division, is an applique worker. Likewise, after attending classes Neha Rais works in a lock factory.

Ismat Literacy & Handicrafts Center is remarkable as girls who once studied here are today teaching other girls at this center. At present 4 teachers are taking high school classes – Sadia Usman, Razia Khanam, Tabassum Ahmad, and Yasmeen Yamin. Yasmin herself was a student at ILHC and now she is pursuing her graduation from AMU Distance Education. Likewise, Razia Khanam completed computer and beautician courses from ILHC and is now pursuing M.A from Aligarh Muslim University.

The success of these girls has not only motivated them and their families but has also served as an example and inspiration to others. It also evokes a sense of responsibility in each one of us to lend a helping hand to such deprived children of the society who only need a little support and a platform to show their caliber.

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