IT’S 2 PM and around 20 girls are huddled together on mats laid on the terrace of an unplastered three-storey building in Jaitpur phase-2, a village on the Delhi border near Noida, ready to study spoken English.
“English is a powerful language and I want to learn it thoroughly. I want to become an English teacher,” says Swaleha, 18, who is preparing for her Class XII exam in March.
Gulshan Khatoon, a 17-year-old Class VIII dropout now preparing for the Class XII exam, says her outlook has changed since coming here. “I want to become a journalist. And since coming here, I have started understanding news better. I now see how news channels sometimes divert attention from the real issues. If I become a journalist, I will try and change things,” she says.
Very soon, says Farida Khan, the woman behind this initiative, Swaleha, Gulshan and the other girls here will be “educated and independent”. Farida started Pehchaan in 2009 to help Muslim girls out of school get back to books. Since then, says the 51-year-old, this centre has helped scores of girls finish school education through open learning.
“Initially, there were just 3-4 girls, but now around 40 girls come here every year. My husband abandoned me over dowry a few years after our wedding. It was then that I realised how important it is to be educated and independent,” she says.
Nearby, the younger batch of girls preparing for their Class X exams is studying a history lesson on Mahatma Gandhi. “He was a great man. I wish we had more leaders like him today,” says Ayesha Saifi.
“I have been coming here for the last six months, and I can already notice the change. I can understand the syllabus better, I have gained in confidence and I can speak for myself. Earlier, I used to wait for someone to speak for me, generally my mother,” says Ayesha, who wants to become a teacher.
Zulfikar Khan, a shopkeeper in the village which is predominantly Muslim, says Farida’s initiative is “very important” for the community. “She is doing a great job helping women become independent,” he says.
Back on the terrace, 18-year-old Shabnam Khan draws gasps of admiration. “I want to become an air hostess. I have learnt here that girls can do anything. Look at the girls who have finished their education here. Some of them have become lawyers. Why can’t I become an air hostess?” she says.