(Edited by: Prashant Chauhan)
“At Yuwa School, we have girls who have fought to be in our school. Who have advocated for themselves, who have stood up to their families. They want to be there everyday and that’s why I believe that this distance education is going to be possible, because our students have the will to do it,” says Rose Thomson Gastler, the principal of the school as she talks about the decision to start the new session last week, despite the restrictions imposed due to the lockdown.
With the pandemic yet to reach its peak in India, having classes at the school was out of the question but the administration did not let that come in the way of starting the new session in the first week of June, as was originally planned.
Switching to the online module, however, was not as easy with almost none of the 95 girls owning a phone of their own.
The solution was simple – online classes and a fluid session.
"We have multiple students who are sharing the same device. We have some students who only have access to a mobile phone and late in the evening so we can’t say ‘Okay, from 9 to 10 we’re doing science’ because not all students are going to be able to keep a schedule like that. So, teachers send out the daily content and assignments in the morning and then give students the freedom to make their own schedule throughout the day,” says Rose.
With Jharkhand’s COVID-19 cases nearing 2,000, the school had the option to wait till things get better, but, as Rose says, it was important to get the girls back into their school routine for reasons other than just class load.
"YUWA represents almost like a second family. It’s a really important community for them that helps them to build up their sense of self and form ideas and plans about what they want to do about life. Whereas as home, they might be getting a different message that, ‘You’re a girl, your role is to become a wife and a mother and we would really rather see you get married after you finish 10th’,” she said.
"And so to get a girl to want to do something different and for her to believe she can do something different, it’s really important that you surround her with a community that reinforces these other ideas. If these girls suddenly don’t have that community or are in their homes 24 hours a day and are just back doing house work and field work, they are going to be rerouted back into this trap of a child marriage and being trapped into a cycle of poverty," she added.
Yuwa India was founded by Rose’s husband Franz Gastler in 2009 when he started by using football to bring young girls from the village together and help them gain confidence and self belief.
Over the years, Yuwa School has been a vital addition to their work with their first batch of students graduating this summer.
"This year we had our first graduating class from YUWA School and seven of those nine women have been given admission to universities in the US. One of them has been accepted to the Ashoka University in Delhi," said Gastler, while proudly talking about the girls they have all worked closely with for the last few years.
However, now with the pandemic, the road forward is proving to be a little tricky for the NGO with their main sponsor pulling out their commitment following the losses incurred during the nation-wide lockdown over the last few months.
"Funding is our biggest challenge right now. Our best partner had planned to give Rs 1.1 crore in funding this year now, all that funding has dried up. So, all of that 1.1 crore has been cancelled. We’re scrambling just to try to keep on paying our teachers salaries and keep on giving scholarships to our students," says Franz adding that they’re looking for help from all avenues to assist them take the girls’ journey forward.