Saturday, August 19, 2023

Shaping her own destiny: Rajmani poses from the fields of Bihar to the halls of APU, Bhopal

In Farda village, like in many other places in Munger, Bihar, a common issue exists. Many girls can't continue their schooling as expected and leave early. This happens because they're expected to manage household tasks, care for younger siblings, and follow a predetermined path of marrying and starting families at a young age, often before they even legally can. They have little time for school and lose interest in studying. There are no role models for them, and they lack the voice and choice to make decisions. Rajmani's life was no exception; after her 12th exams, she lacked aspirations, awaiting parental decisions, likely regarding her marriage. 

Partnering with Jeevika in 2019, i-Saksham identified potential young girls and women in remote Bihar districts, fostering them into change leaders through the 2-year-long Edu-leaders’ fellowship. Rajmani was among those who were identified by Jeevika for the i-Saksham edu-leaders cohort of 2019-21. Rajmani initially completed a year of in-person sessions, but when Covid hit, she adapted gracefully even through numerous personal challenges on top of mobility and digital access that were heavily censored or limited for girls. Despite this, Rajmani displayed resilience, venturing outside her comfort zone to support her village during crises, providing relief kits and medicines, building community rapport, and showcasing her determination for the overall well-being of the community. 

As soon as she completed her fellowship, Rajmani was inducted into the i-Saksham team as a peer mentor in 2021, to support the girls and other women in the new cohorts that followed and she proved her leadership in all that she was expected to do. She continued to learn and grow and completed two years as a peer mentor in i-Saksham guiding almost 10-12 girls directly.

" Losing my supportive mother just a week before my entrance exam was tough, but I showed grit as I had support from my i-Saksham peers who stood by me through thick and thin, and I cleared it to secure this place at Azim Premji University. My mother would have been proud like all my peers and colleagues. Despite living in the same neighborhood, many of my neighbors and relatives can't understand why I'm traveling so far for my master's. They continue to make remarks whereas their girls are inspired by this feat of mine and I am glad that often come and enquire about the fellowship and about higher studies too" on her recent selection to attend the two years fully paid Master's program at the Azim Premji University Bhopal, Rajmani shared.

On becoming a role model among her peers and her circle:

"The people in my village don't understand the difference between a quality education from a top university and studying in a local college without any quality teaching merely for the sake of getting a Master's degree certificate. Over the past three years, I've quietly inspired girls in my village through my actions. Many parents ask about me now, surprised at my transformation from someone who used to stumble in conversations to someone who speaks confidently and articulately. Now, I can put across my thoughts even with the community leaders without hesitation and they see me as one as well", Rajmani adds about the reaction in her village upon her selection and travel to another state for pursuing higher studies

Resilience, perseverance, and victory:

"Through hardships like Covid and personal loss, I found my safe haven in i-Saksham. When I felt low, I knew who to call for motivation—my peers, colleagues, and mentors. They're genuinely concerned about my growth. I've discovered my voice and the power to make my own choices. At the moment, I've decided to pursue a Master's degree at APU. This decision sets me apart as the first girl in my whole clan to pursue higher studies, and it's even more remarkable because I've secured a full scholarship!"

Rajmani's influence extended beyond her family. Her actions inspired her peers and changed the perception of her community. By stepping out of her village and actively participating in community work, she set herself apart. Her difference in behavior, her commitment to education, and her active engagement with her community began to shift the mindset of those around her. Her parents, once unsure about her education pursuits, started taking pride in whatever she does.  

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