Digital Bridges Built #InvestInWomen

After a two-year gap, I returned to my village to visit my aging parents in 2021. The shadow of COVID-19 loomed large, with its crisis far from over. The virus continued to ensnare people, leaving trails of illness and grief in its wake. The lockdown’s grip, though loosened, had not fully released us. With all the lingering restrictions, life persisted, a test of our resilience in the face of ongoing adversity.

Girls bore the brunt of education going online

Sadly, educational institutions, once bustling with life, now stood eerily silent, their doors closed, their classrooms empty. The digital divide became palpable as only a handful of children, nestled in remote villages, accessed education through the dim glow of online classes. Tragically, this privilege was not universal, not available in my village.

It was the girls, the aspiring young minds, who bore the brunt of this disparity. In homes where a single smartphone was the only window to a world of knowledge, it was invariably handed to the boys, leaving their sisters to languish in the shadows of forgotten dreams. Household chores became their new curriculum, as the hope of academic pursuit faded into a distant memory. Not one family had the luxury of a personal computer, let alone a laptop, in my village. The bitter truth that some girls surrendered their educational aspirations forever. It was a stark reminder of a world where opportunities are not just scarce but selectively bestowed.

Before I share my story, allow me to paint a picture of my village, a place where the echoes of tradition still resonate amid modern challenges.

My village, hidden from the city’s hustle, epitomizes scarcity and simplicity, which masks a struggle beneath. It’s a place of joyous children, yet their path to education is challenging from the start. Lacking even an elementary school, and certainly no college. The only source of formal education is a single government high school.

In their tender years, the children of my village are homeschooled, their minds kindled with knowledge within the four walls of their humble abodes. As they grow, they step into high school, their first and only encounter with institutional education before they are of age to venture into the wider world for college.

The nearest city to my village, Darbhanga, is recognized as a center for pursuing higher education. Despite being only 52 kilometers away, the journey is considerably complicated due to the poor condition of the transportation system. What should ideally be a two-hour trip often extends to over three hours, becoming an exhausting endeavor. This situation was further aggravated by the restrictions introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the travel not only longer but also more perilous.

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For the girls of my village, this journey is not just measured in kilometers, but in the weight of societal norms and familial responsibilities. Pursuing college education is a dream tangled in the complexity of needing a male family member’s accompaniment for the daily commute—a necessity rooted in concern, yet steeped in deep-seated gender biases. Our men, primarily farmers, are the custodians of our fields, their presence vital under the relentless sun. To ask them to forsake their duties for the entirety of a day is a request few families can afford, and even fewer are willing to consider for their daughters.

This reality casts a long shadow over the aspirations of our young girls. Post tenth grade, their path to further education becomes not just a road less traveled, but a road nearly impossible to tread. This is a silent battle, fought in the heart of every girl who dares to dream beyond the confines of our village—a battle for the right to learn, to grow, and to soar.

In my village, I observed a profound contrast. There I was with my two teenage daughters, each equipped with the latest gadgets and a wealth of books, symbolic of their privileged access to education. In stark contrast, I saw village girls wandering around, their hands and minds empty of the educational resources so abruptly snatched away by the COVID-19 pandemic. This scene deeply saddened me, highlighting the cruel reality that mere location and timing could create such vast differences in the lives of these young village girls compared to my own daughters.

However, hope and unity found a way. My daughters began inviting the village girls to our home, transforming it into a communal classroom. They shared their laptops and smartphones, orchestrating learning sessions throughout the day: some in the morning’s freshness, others in the afternoon, and a few in the calm of the evening. This arrangement blossomed without complaint, fueled by a shared desire for knowledge.

The journey was more than just the sharing of technology; it was a vivid display of the universal yearning for education. Witnessing these girls come together in their pursuit of learning was heartening. It became a vivid illustration of resilience and optimism, a hope for a future where education is accessible to all, irrespective of their gender.

In that defining moment, a resolve ignited within me – a commitment to make a difference, no matter the scale. The thought that even a single girl’s educational journey could be uplifted by my actions was profoundly motivating. Determined to turn this vision into reality, I bought five Chromebooks and a curated selection of books spanning mathematics, science, and English literature, catering to grades 2 through 9.

In my village, like in many others, there exists a communal space known as the Dallan in most houses. My house also has one. This large, welcoming room adjacent to the main house serves as the village’s heartbeat. Here, conversations flow from the mundane to the profound – discussions on crops, debates on politics, and current affairs. It is a place where the pulse of the village is felt.

With a deep sense of purpose, I approached my father with a request that would transform a part of our Dallan. I envisioned it not just as a space for communal dialogue, but as a beacon of learning and opportunity. Under his approval, I set to work, creating a dedicated computer room for the village girls. I meticulously interconnected the Chromebooks with the internet through a router and WiFi, turning this traditional space into a hub of digital learning. This initiative was more than just providing tools; it was about breaking barriers and building bridges towards a future where education is accessible to every girl, transforming the Dallan into a crucible of knowledge and empowerment.

Tears welled in my eyes each day as I watched village girls enter our Dallan, eager to use the internet for their online classes. With only five Chromebooks at my disposal, it felt like a mere drop in the ocean. Yet, these girls shared the resources with remarkable determination, taking turns to complete their schoolwork. Their fervent desire for education, for discovering something new each day, was truly inspiring.

The girls’ enthusiasm for learning inspired me to expand our resources. I transformed three large shelves, previously used by my parents to store seeds and farming tools, into a mini-library beside the Chromebooks in the Dallan. I bought a collection of books on various subjects and enlisted my father, an avid reader himself, as the librarian. He meticulously recorded each book borrowed by the girls in a register.

Additionally, I taught some of the older girls essential technical skills. They learned to troubleshoot network and WiFi issues, download apps, and use basic Microsoft Office tools such as Google Docs and Excel. They were quick learners, eagerly absorbing every bit of knowledge I shared, hungry for more.

Two months flew by, marking the end of my vacation and the reopening of my daughters’ school. It was time for me to return to the USA. I left with a heart full of dual satisfaction: the joy of time spent with my aging parents and the fulfillment of contributing to my community, especially those often overlooked by society.

The smiles on those young faces were easy to bring, yet so powerful and inspiring. That inspiration hasn’t faded; even after three years, I continue to support the computer and book library for girls in my village. Every couple of months, I send a package of books through Amazon.in. And whenever I visit, one of my suitcases is packed with interesting, handpicked books unavailable in India. This simple act has blossomed into not just a duty, but a passion that fills me with immense joy.

Inspired by my dedication, others in the community have stepped forward to enrich our village library. Affluent families have generously donated books and crucial supplies like whiteboards and notebooks. Additionally, knowledgeable young men have volunteered, offering their expertise to assist the girls with computer-related challenges, further nurturing this growing hub of learning and empowerment.

Each book opened and every challenge conquered mark a step towards a brighter future for these girls and my village.

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About the Author

Sharda Mishra

I am a photographer and an avid reader. I am not a writer but I like to give words to my emotions. I love to cook and hike. I believe in humor and its impact read more...

25 Posts | 29,532 Views

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