In 2010, a humble initiative was started in the Indian village of Sajoi in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, a product of the Minority Education for Growth and Advancement-Skills for Youth (MEGA-SkY) project. Sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and International Youth Foundation (IYF), the MEGA component focused on the educational and skills development of underprivileged children and youth, especially minority Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, and Rajasthan.
MEGA-SkY recently received national recognition from the Cable News Network-Indian Broadcasting Network (CNN-IBN 7).
During field visits and community mobilization efforts in Varanasi, the MEGA-SkY team met three young women, Tabassum Bano, Tarannum Bano, and Rubina Bano, each 18 years old. These young women expressed great concern over the fact that 90 percent of Muslim children in their village had never attended school. Further, there was no possibility of madrasa education as the only village madrasa had been closed for 17 years due to insufficient funding.
Along with a local partner, Human Welfare Association (HWA), EDC consulted community members and motivated youth volunteers to reopen the abandoned madrasa. Despite initial resistance from village elders, it became a learning center where Tabassum, Tarannum, and Rubina taught classes daily for five hours. They were joined by the volunteers, and in time, the community itself began to appreciate their selfless efforts and to cooperate with and extend support to them.
In the learning center’s first year, 75 children were mainstreamed into the nearby primary school. Additionally, volunteers encouraged 16-year-old girls who had never attended a school or madrasa to enroll in vocational training programs, and helped them to realize the importance of basic education. Volunteers also started adult education classes, along with cutting and tailoring classes.
Although USAID funding for MEGA-SkY ended in September 2011, volunteers have remained committed, and this year, they mainstreamed 150 more children into primary school. Thanks to their efforts, youth attending vocational training successfully passed their fifth board exam.
This April, in a spectacular ceremony held in Mumbai, CNN/IBN 7 honored the courage and commitment of these 24 volunteers with the CNN/IBN 7 Real Heroes 2012 Award. Among the recipients were Tabassum, Tarannum, and Rubina. These young women were jointly awarded a cash prize, and IBN 7 has made a special documentary of their work. EDC wholeheartedly congratulates Tabassum, Tarannum, and Rubina for taking a small but determined step that has made them role models, not only for their village but for all youth.
Today, EDC India continues its efforts to scale up MEGA-SkY interventions in partnership with the government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other agencies.
To view the CNN/IBN Real Heroes ceremony online, please visit http://ibnlive.in.com/shows/Real-Heroes.html.