Day 43: The Girl Child
Dausa to Chhokarwara Kalan, 60km
There are 110,000 young girls whose lives could be made better because of this run. Those girls, who would otherwise be locked in poverty, could grow up to be engineers, doctors or someday even the Prime Minister.
“Today is International Women’s Day and on this day and, indeed, everyday since I started this run in Kanyakumari on 26 January right through to March 30 by supporting girls’ education,” Pat said.
Today one of our vehicles broke down, sheep and camels had brought traffic to a standstill, Pat changed his shoes after another 1000km and we’ve been forced to slow Pat down because he keeps finishing ahead of schedule. But while having two of our crew stranded is always good fun, we wanted to talk about something else which was happening around the world at the time – International Women’s Day.
Pat has said over and over, almost at every press conference he’s done since landing in India: “If you educate the girl you educate the mother; if you educate the mother, you educate the family. If you educate the family, you educate the nation.”
“What we need to do is reflect on the same equality right across the board,” Pat said today.
“Throughout the world and at this point in time, many nations don’t see women as equals and don’t give them the same opportunities.”
There is no society or civilisation in history which has not benefitted from the empowerment of women. As the gap between men and women close a society becomes more educated, more peaceful and as recent research conducted in Australia demonstrates, more prosperous too.
When he chose run in support of the Nanhi Kali project (which translates to Little Flower) he drew on his experience as a federal minister with an education portfolio. Nanhi Kali was an ideal charity for Pat to support, not because he favoured girls over boys or because the needs of males are unimportant but as a man who had to be both the father and mother for his own children, he had an intimate understanding of how imperative the maternal presence is in a family.
Nanhi Kali is an institution which has produced results. Through the academic and material support they have given their girls throughout India, there has been a steady growth in attendance and results. The drop-out rate for girls after 10th grade is also reduced from a staggering 50% to 10% and most of the girls continue their education at college or university. Nanhi Kali-supported schools maintain an 83% average attendance among their students and have raised the pass percentage among their students on the board exams to 78% up from 66%. The results are remarkable, especially when it is taken into account that many of these girls are first generation students.
Take for example, the story of third-grader Utkarsha who attended a government primary school in Chakan. Her father is deaf and mute and her mother is partially blind, which made her extremely reserved and a target for bullying. Not only did the foundation assist her with her schooling, but through community outreach programs they were able to provide counselling sessions for Utkarsha and communicate with her classmates to be more supportive and accommodating. Utkarsha’s academic performance and attendance improved and she began taking part in extra-curricular activities. Perhaps most importantly, however, she does not shy away from talking about her parents and her problems.
Many of the Nanhi Kali girls also go on to pursue leadership roles such as teaching and civil service positions in the government and military.
“India is no stranger to women in leadership roles – one of their earliest Prime Ministers was a woman and so there’s no reason they shouldn't be back in education,” Pat said.
“My role is to raise funds for the Nanhi Kali foundation and girls’ education and I’m counting on the rest of the world to support me in this mission – particularly those back in Australia.”