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"I am Illiterate but My Children Should Be Able to Read"

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anchal artisans children indiaDuring the month of August, we are overwhelmed with “Back to School” messaging. “Buy these notebooks and you will learn more.” “Wear these shoes so you will be the coolest kid in school.” Once you sift through all of the commercialism, we arrive at the importance of the return to learning. I cannot help but think of our artisans’ education or rather lack of opportunity to learn.

The level of education our artisans complete varies, but majority were forced to drop out of school in 5th to 7th grade, some earlier. The reasons for ending their education predominately relate to poverty, cultural conditions, or even sexual assault.

Simply put, a girl’s education in an impoverished family in India is often not a priority. The economic situation can factor into the decision-making, but conservative cultural attitudes still hold true. The main goal is to find daughters a suitable husband to marry. In many cases, this arrangement happens between the ages of 13 to 18. After asking countless artisans, there is a clear overlap of when girls drop out of school and when they marry. This time is also when some women are forced to enter the sex trade.

Though many of our artisans admit to being illiterate, they feel strongly about insuring that their children are not. When I ask artisans what their dreams are for the future, it is usually the same, they always speak about their children. Sunnitta shared, “I am illiterate but my children should be able to read.” Shakuntela’s dream is to see that all her children are well educated enough to stand on their own feet.

Anchal’s program gives these women an opportunity to financially support their children’s future, but also their own. With such little exposure to the possibilities of continuing their education, when asked, they generally have no desires or interests to further pursue. They are conditioned to believe they are only useful for their bodies as objects.

However, once you open the door of possibilities you can see some internal interest and excitement. Not only does Anchal teach the women new skills, we feel strongly about providing opportunities to learn in other formats.

By no means are our educational workshops comparable to a formal education, but they do open the door for future learning and realizations that blossom into empowerment. After a discussion about basic women’s rights, one artisan commented, “I never thought we had rights!” Can you imagine not even realizing that as a woman, you had no rights as a human being?

Educational workshops offer additional training in design, leadership, financial planning, art, entrepreneurship, women’s health, and emotional/stress management. Some examples include: Team Building, How to Budget My New Income, Communication Skills, Setting Priorities, Financial Literacy, Women’s Rights, and Yoga. A new respectable income combined with educational workshops provides artisans with additional skills, information, and confidence for a more independent and self-sufficient future.

-Colleen

If you are interested in supporting an artisan workshop, a donation of $150 pays for a workshop leader, workshop materials, tea, and a stipend for artisans in attendance. You can learn more here.

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