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Aarti Naik: “I never gave up”

Aarti Naik: “I never gave up”

How a school dropout became a leading advocate of girls’ education

Image above: Mumbai radio station, Fever 104, awards Aarti Naik 'Fever Super Mumbaikar' in recognition of her work with Sakhi for Girls Education

Nine years ago, Queen’s Young Leader, Aarti Naik was a slum-based school dropout girl, without any hope of continuing her education. Today, she is happy and proud to call herself a change maker. She tells Leading Change her story.

In my life when I was a school drop-out girl, there was no one to support and guide me. So I became a ‘Sakhi’ for girls’ education. ‘Sakhi’ means ‘a female of girls’ who inspires, guides and supports other girls. 

Now I am creating safe, quality learning spaces for my slum-based girls.

Girls learning at Sakhi

In 2008, I started my girls’ education work with five girls from my slum area. Now more than 300 girls are benefitting from my slum-based educational activities. 

My mission in life is that every girl should be able to continue her school education confidently with quality learning.   

My story 

I have been staying in the slum area of Mulund, Mumbai in India since my birth.

Nine years ago, there was no hope to continue my education because of my family’s poor condition, lack of proper guidance at home and in my community, and the poor focus on quality education at school. I failed in 10th standard – exams taken at ages 14 to 16 in India.

My parents insisted I stay at home. I strongly wanted to continue my education but due to the poor condition of my parents, I decided to work and to continue my education. Hence I did not give up, but at the initial stage, it was a very hard time for me to move ahead confidently and come out from such challenging situation. 

I was not aware of any work in the outside world, so I started to prepare ladies’ chains at home. Some women neighbours were doing the same thing, so they helped me to get work. Every day I used to get nine rupees for my work. 

I worked for three years continuously. Then I started my education with the help of my three-year earnings and some money from my parents. After three years, I passed the 10th standard exam. 

While I was studying, many thoughts came to my mind that whatever difficulties I had faced during my education, every slum-based girl will face the same situation. Because these slum girls also go to the same school and in my slum area, there is not a supportive environment for girls’ education.

Girls drawing logo on floor

There is a lack of awareness about the education of children, especially for the girl child. These girls are facing so many socio-economic problems to continue their education. Based on my own school life experiences, I realised that slum girls lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, so they fail to cope with their formal school.  

Starting up

I felt that something should be done for slum girls’ education. But who would do it? The answer came to mind – “Yes! I Can!”

But there was not any support for me to help my slum girls.

My struggle started at home to get permission from my parents. I started to talk with my friends. One day one lady from our slum told me about Ashoka`s Youth Venture. It was the turning point. Ashoka`s Youth Venture provided me with a Changemaker Fellowship. I got new identity that “I am Changemaker!” And also I got financial help for one year.

They built my confidence that “Yes! I can dream it! I can do it!”

With the help of their continuous capacity building workshop, initially I started to conduct basic educational capacity building classes of primary school girls. Then gradually during August 2008, I started my social venture “Sakhi”.

The major purpose was to create safe and quality learning spaces for my slum-based girls in their own areas – to build basic educational capacities with a special focus on literacy and numeracy skills and life skills.

Self-defence workshop for girls

Self defence workshop with Anjusha Chaughule

This would provide them with an opportunity to express their views and to solve their academic and personal problems. Every slum-based girl will be able to continue her schooling confidently with quality learning.

Initially it was very difficult for me to convince the parents of slum girls. They showed ignorance to send their girl child to participate in different capacity building activities. Then I started to meet personally with the girls’ parents, especially with mothers. I talked with them about my activities, such as to provide opportunities to talk in public, to solve the problems of daily study, to discuss problems individually with each girl, to build their confidence through small group activities.

I informed them about the current worse situation of girls due to lack of education. I pointed out that due to school dropout and lack of education, their mothers could not get good jobs and had to work as labour. Gradually parents started to send their girls to participate in project activities.

Meeting with girls and mothers

Aarti meeting with girls and mothers

When I started my venture, there were only five to six slum girls, and parents were not allowing sending their girls to my daily basic educational capacity building classes. On the other side, my parents wanted to stop my educational activities with slum girls at home. I could not get any financial support to educate my slum girls for two years. Every day there was a new challenge for me.

But I never gave up.

Sakhi for Girls Education 

Sakhi’s mission is to create quality learning spaces at the community level, so that every girl in the slums of Mumbai will get an opportunity to continue her education with confidence.

Initially, these slum girls were struggling to read and write. Their vocabulary level was poor. Their confidence and motivation to learn was very low. Therefore they were not able to participate actively in their school’s daily class activities.

The availability of basic English textbooks has improved their vocabulary levels tremendously and they are now able to read and write effectively, while continuing to attend school and improving their learning further.

And today more than 300 girls have access to a girls’ learning space inside their own slum community.

Paper flowers made by the girls

"Sakhi’s mission is to create quality learning spaces at the community level, so that every girl in the slums of Mumbai will get an opportunity to continue her education with confidence."

Aarti Naik