Success Stories

  • Making Learning Fun and Safe

    The Senpur Primary School in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, has some 63 students and four teachers. Located in a tiny village, the facilities would not necessarily inspire children to come to school every single day. Happily though, that is not the case in this small school. It boasts of cheerful and committed students and teachers who work together to make learning safe and fun.

  • The Little Banker

    Thirteen-year old Sarita lives in Rajasthan, India. A keen and bright student, she spends most of her time at the local government school in her village of Madia. She is currently in the eighth grade but reads at a higher level. Some day, she plans to obtain a Master's degree and become a successful entrepreneur. Remarkably, she made these plans in the past year alone.

  • Running Out of Luck

    Approximately 40,000 children, most of them girls, have disappeared from Jharkhand, sold and forced to work in brothels, factories and homes. Rubi was one of those unfortunate children to experience these horrors.

    Rubi's parents struggled with daily wage jobs they managed to get, but that was only during the harvest season. During the dry season, life was coarse, leading her to drop out of school, the one aspect of life that was still exciting.

  • A Sisterhood of Change

    Kanchan begins her day at six o'clock, gently rousing her family as light filters in through the makeshift curtains of their small, thatched home. They have only ever lived along the banks of rivers, beels and fields in Kali Kajari - a little known water locked village far removed from the bustling cityscapes of Assam.

  • Making History

    Sai wants to be a police officer when she graduates. The oldest of seven sisters, she has plenty of experience maintaining law and order at home. She is an exceptional role model not only to her younger siblings but her entire neighbourhood too. This is her story.

    Growing up, Sai was unlike anyone in her community. She possessed an uncanny desire and ability for learning and spent most of her childhood questioning everything.

  • The Brightest Contendor

    Neela is the pride and joy of her family. She has overcome great odds, most within her own home and community, to achieve the success she has today. This is her story.

    In a faraway village in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh is a modest little home with an unusual marking by the door. In every other way it is nondescript, cheerfully similar to other neatly lined homes in the area.

    In it live 15 year old Neela and her parents, a close-knit family that stands firmly together in the face of adversity although this wasn't always the case.

  • Taking the First Steps Towards Literacy

    In the middle of a tribal community where families tend to fields for a living, is a small centre for children with barely any facilities. But it exists. And, it has a teacher and students with aspirations.

    Plan India and its partner CYSD (Centre for Youth and Social Development) operate a Shishu Bikas Kendra (Child Development Centre) for children from the local tribal community of Keonjhar in Odisha. With no semblance of a school visible for miles, this centre is the only means to a pre-school education for the twenty one children in attendance.

  • Breaking the Mould

    Mahima was the sole bread earner for a family of four. In a small village in Ambedkar Nagar, she worked as a daily wage labourer, toiling through the day barely able to tolerate the heat and exhaustion. Her job was all the more unbearable because on some days, she earned Rs. 75, on others, nothing.

    Men, who did the same work as her, for the same amount of time, with the same amount of effort, were being paid twice as much. Even putting in a late shift did not yield a better pay. The disparity in wage bothered her deeply.

  • A Lawyer in Training

    Karan was once a painfully shy young boy from an underprivileged migrant family in Delhi. In the last six years, his life has completely turned around. Here's how.

    Karan was born to loving parents in the densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh. His father was a struggling artist who worked day and night to put food on the table, while his mother, a homemaker, was a woman of quiet resolve. With the birth of little Karan, their expenses grew increasingly hard to manage so they moved to Delhi in search of a better life. Karan was three years old at the time.

  • A Girl of Iron Will

    At only 18, Mamta was the first girl in her family to have taken up a job. She is the pride and joy of her household, but her journey to becoming an independent young woman was rife with challenges. This is her story.

    Mamta is no ordinary girl. She may have come from humble beginnings, but she had big dreams and refused to take no for an answer. Growing up, this caused her no small measure of trouble.

  • From Scraps to School

    Namita wants to be a teacher when she grows up. For any 12 year old, this is a big ambition. For Namita, it is an absolute certainty. Having endured hardships well beyond her young age, Namita's story is one of hope and determination.

    Namita was born in Delhi. Her parents had moved to the city from Assam, compelled by hopes of rising above the abject poverty and property disputes with family back home. They didn't quite get what they came for.

  • The Girl on the Platform

    A routine round of a bustling railway station in Delhi led Plan India and partner SPYM to a nervous little girl begging on a platform. Her name was Ashida and she was five years old. Today, four years later, she is the life and joy of the shelter for children where she lives surrounded by friends and caregivers. This is her story.

  • Picking up the Pieces

    India is home to one of the largest child labourer population in the world. According to the Census of India 2011, more than 8 million children go to work rather than to school. New Delhi alone has more than 15,000 rag-pickers.

    Apart from living in inhospitable conditions, these children, along with their parents, work seven days a week, picking through garbage that is toxic in nature, a serious health hazard they are more than aware off. But they have to because their lives depend on it.

  • No More Red

    Meet Purvi. Her favourite colour is red. She wore it whenever she needed cheering up. At 12 years old, Purvi wore red a lot.

    Purvi lost her parents to HIV when she was quite young. Until then, she would lived a happy life, surrounded by loving family at home and a host of doting teachers at school. She was a bright young girl with immense potential, but this mattered very little after her parents' passing.

  • The Boys in the Brick Room

    It is reported that every year 100,000 children go missing. Lured by false promises, these children are forced in child labour, often times subjected to physical and mental abuse.

  • From Rags to Realising Dreams

    While living in a village in Odisha, Prem Pal and his wife Seema found it hard to support their two children, Mahima and Shekhar . With work hard to find and without a constant source of income, they had no choice but to relocate to New Delhi. With some members of their family already living in the city and working as rag pickers, they joined them in their line of work. But even so, they found it hard to make ends meet. This left Prem Pal and Seema with a decision no parents would want to make. Eventually they had to let their two children work alongside them in garbage dumps and godowns.

  • Growing from Strength to Strength

    At seventeen years of age, Jennifer is a young, vibrant, ambitious young girl living in Mangolpuri, Delhi. When she was sixteen - she was suffering from anaemia.

    Jennifer lives with her parents, four sisters and one brother in Delhi. Her father works as a tailor while her mother is a housewife. She tells us, her favourite subject is history and she likes listening to music, hanging out with her friends and spending time at the Health Information Clinic (HIC) run by Plan India in her community under the Young Health Programme (YHP).

  • Women of Substance

    Vijaya and Lalita are inseparable. Growing up together, getting married and raising families in a farming district in Odisha, their friendship has only deepened with time.

    Traditionally farmers, both women have done their community proud with their single-minded determination and innovation in integrating modern methods and technology with age-old farming practices. In fact, Vijaya and Lalita have become the village authority on successful farming, much to the pleasure of their supportive families.

  • I Can Still Be a Mother

    Being a mother is perhaps the hardest job in the world and one that most of us take for granted, yet the desire to be one is so strong amongst women. One such woman is Madhura. However, motherhood did not come easy for her.

  • A Girl Undeterred

    Jhanvi awoke in a hospital no longer able to read or write. The previous evening, she had accidentally fallen off the roof of her home in Delhi, suffering a traumatic brain injury that forever changed her life. This is a story of victory in the face of great odds. This is Jhanvi's story.

  • Hustle and Heart

    We've all heard how sports can change lives, but how many of you have had the privilege of witnessing this first hand? We at Plan India can proudly say we have! Meet Anjali, our first ever football prodigy.

  • Anita, the Water Warrior

    It is estimated that 45% of Delhi's population lives in slums (Delhi City Development Plan, Ministry of Urban Development) with as many as 2,679 household dwellings situated in Rangpuri Pahari.

    Among those living in this marginalised community is Anita, a middle-aged homemaker. She lives with her family of five in Shankar Camp. Her husband, Dilip, is a watchman and a part-time taxi driver earning roughly Rs. 6,000 a month.

  • Breaking Barriers

    In a tiny village in central Jharkhand, a flurry of activities has bystanders looking on and beaming with pride. The elders of the community have publicly resolved to end child marriage at the behest of its young girls. This is how it happened.

  • In Control of My Destiny

    "Everybody is precious and has their own values", says Meera, a spunky 17 year old member of a Safer Cities girls' club in Delhi. The youngest in a family of eight, she is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce from Delhi University.

    She is also the face of the Safer Cities Campaign and its considerable work in her locality, but was initially very hesitant to join. This was because she endured constant eve teasing when walking to and from school. So much so, she and her friends only ventured out of home when accompanied by family.

  • Scaling the heights of success

    Uttarkashi is home to 330,000 men, women and Mamta - one remarkably brave girl.

    Mamta lives in Bhankoli, Uttarkashi with her family. Her father passed away in 2002 while her mother has been unwell for a long time. The remote village she lives in is considered a disaster prone area. Life, at most times, has not been kind to her. It has been a constant struggle to make ends meet.

  • Kicking off a Movement

    This story spans eight years and the efforts of a group of tenacious young girls who challenged convention and forever changed the lives of an entire community.

    Dumardaga is a tiny village in the state of Jharkhand and has long subsisted on agriculture. Traditionally, most families come from a long line of farmers or agricultural labourers and maintain a somewhat provincial view of their daughters.

  • Not Limited by the Veil

    Jyoti was living a life that is all too common in Indian society. Although an educated woman, she was married off as soon as she turned 21 and spent her days being a housewife. Confined to her home under the conservative eyes of her in-laws, she was not even allowed to step out alone. When permitted, she had to cover her face with a veil. This veil distorted the view of a world she wished to be a part of so badly. She felt her education was going to waste and her abilities unfulfilled.

  • The proudest voice in her community

    Jyotika was one of the estimated 100,000 street children living in Delhi. Like the rest, her childhood was nothing but a struggle. She was born in the streets and from a small age was involved in rag picking along with her seven siblings and parents at the Nizamuddin Railway station. At night, she would sleep under a flyover with her family. When she was not rag picking, she would be begging near traffic lights and the station. Inevitably, she ended up missing out on going to school and other opportunities to develop.

  • Stronger than Iron Man

    Hamid (name changed) is a happy, active little boy. At six years old, he's the youngest in his family and doted on by his siblings and parents. Living in a low income group colony in Babarpur, Delhi, they are close-knit and can often be found teasing each other amid peals of laughter.

    Hamid's father is a construction worker and the sole breadwinner in his family. He works hard so they are well cared for, but it hasn't always been easy.

  • Learning to Live Again

    "I'm Shama. I used to live a happy life, a normal life like that of any other child. I would spend my days in school and play with my friends in the evenings.

    But the nights were an entirely different story. My father would get drunk every night and beat my mother. This went on for years until the day she decided she'd had enough and left us, leaving me alone with my father.

  • Advocating for Change

    Goushia is in Class VIII and lives in Andhra Pradesh. Plan India has helped her grow into a healthy and motivated young girl who has stayed in school. At thirteen, she is an inimitable advocate for sanitation behaviour change.

  • Making Teachers of Young Girls

    Few stories are as fulfilling as that of Reena, who entered the Plan India programme at nine and has since grown into a determined young woman and inspiration for many fledgling minds.

  • From Bikaner to Border Security

    Anandi (name changed), lives with her parents and three siblings in a marginalised remote community in Bikaner, Rajasthan.

  • Bridging the gap - Story of Priyanka

    Priyanka, aged 18, is a young girl born and brought up in the remote village of Kumulabahali, Keonjhar district, Odisha. She is an active member of the 'Sahid Udam Singh Sisu Sangha' in her village.

  • My happy days are back

    Plan India, in partnership with Metso (Finland based company) have been working in remote villages of Alwar, Rajasthan implementing its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme to great effect. One of the key involvements of the programme is teaching adolescent girls about personal hygiene.

  • Staying healthy and happy

    Krishna, a one and half year child had only been immunised for BCG at birth.

  • Setting an example for others

    Meera, aged 32 years, mother of triplets, was linked to Parent Development Programme (PDP).

  • Child's Play

    Nanu and her husband Ramnivas are residence of Rajasthan and both are members of the Parent Development Programme (PDP) group.

  • Supporting your child

    Seema, a native resident of Chhattisgarh had two children after which she had a family planning operation.

  • Fight of Meeratun

    Thirty-eight-year-old Meeratun was a bitter woman. As a child, she was only allowed to study up to standard five, following which she was literally forced to live inside the house.

  • Touching the Sky

    Poonam is all of 38-years-old. But she had to struggle for more than 18 years to enable her two daughters to continue their education.

  • Realising self potential

    Anuradha is a member of Pragathi Self Help Group (SHG) formed under the project - Banking on Change.

  • A life of her own

    Jyoti is a very simple and soft spoken girl belonging to a not so well to do family consisting of her mother, father, younger brother and 2 sisters.

  • Mother Rules out Early Marriage for Sonika

    Pratham Singh and Sarita Devi are residents of Village Kyark, at Bhatwari Cluster of Bhatwari Block of District Uttarkashi.

  • Mother's Support Helps Rekha to Continue Education

    "I am Rekha, a 20-year-old girl from village Aikhola in Uttarakhand state. I am fulfilling my dream of becoming an educated individual.

  • Krishna's Journey to the National Level Badminton Team

    Krishna was 14-years-old when she joined the national badminton team in the under 18 category.

  • Radha the Torch Bearer

    One can clearly see the love, admiration and respect reflected in Deepika's eyes when she proudly talks of her mother, Radha, saying, "Maa is the best in the world.

  • Road to a better future

    Nisha resides in one of the resettlement colonies in Delhi. There are 5 members in her family.

  • Working for her family

    Pooja Devi lives in Dungri village in Gairsain block of Chamoli district with her two children - one boy and one girl.

  • Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers

    M. Devi resides in Madanpur Khadar and is a beneficiary of the Plan-CASP project as a sponsored family.

  • Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers

    Sunita stays in Madanpur Khadar and works in an early childhood care centre. She lives with her parents along with two brothers and one sister.

  • Metso's school toilet project in rural India empowers thousands

    Chourety Basi School is located at the end of a track road in a middle of rural Rajasthan in India.

  • Working for a better livelihood

    Alka is a very enthusiastic and bright girl living in the Mangolpuri area of West Delhi.

  • Light at the end of the tunnel

    Devki Devi is a married woman who stays in Pajiyana village in Gairsain block of Chamoli district.

  • Supporting a livelihood

    Anuradha lives in Badarpur. Most of the residents in her area are migrants from different parts of the country.

  • Education challenges for children

    Kalingapatnam is an island village in the back waters in Kaviti Mandal of Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh which is about 4km from the main land village Panchayat

  • Working for an education

    Manjula has three daughters. Navya is the eldest of all. Four years ago her father committed suicide considering it bad fate to be a father of three daughters.

  • Seema wants to study first, not marry

    Sixteen-year-old Seema from Sadanandpur village in Odisha is the fifth child of her parents who belong to the Munda scheduled tribe community

  • Combating Child Labour

    Farida belongs to a minority Muslim community. There are eight members in her family- father, mother, 3 sisters and 2 brothers

  • Health Information Centre helps young boy

    An adolescent named Deepak, was identified by Plan in Metro Vihar, Holambi Kalan, Delhi. Deepak, aged 19 years, has been an alcohol dependent for the past few years.

  • Bridging the gap

    Priyanka, aged 18, is a young girl born and brought up in the remote village of Kumulabahali, Keonjhar district, Odisha.

  • Educated at any cost

    Gyan Kumari did not let the disability of her son and objections of her husband to get in the way of her daughter Urmila's education.

  • Vidyawati: A Story of grit over the odds

    This is a story about sheer grit triumphing over the odds. Vidyawati is a resident of Siswara village in Uttar Pradesh, located some 15 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow.

  • Hope prevails over despair for Anjana

    Residents of Village Bandrani, at Bhagirathi Cluster of Bhatwari Block of District Uttarkashi, Jayendra Singh and Pavitra Devi had all but given up hopes of their youngest daughter getting an education

  • I also want to go to school

    Aarti is 14 years old and is a special needs child (Deaf & Dumb). She has six members in her family.

  • Sunita's school

    Sunita studies in a Government Primary School in 5th grade. Her school is approximately 3 km away from her home and takes around 45 minutes for her to reach.

  • Fight for Education

    Parvati studies in class 10 in Dungargarh town in Bikaner district in Rajasthan.

  • Back to school

    Basanti is a 38 year old resident of Gojapathara village, Saharpada Block.

  • Empowerment through education

    Kajal's parents came to Mumbai 25 years ago. Her father made a life here baking and selling pao bread for the shops at suburban stations.

  • Girl's Empowerment through education and vocational training

    Mamta belongs to Bikaner District of Rajasthan. Her village is 65 km from the block and 145 km from the district headquarter.

  • Rajni's path to education

    Rajni's village has a primary school and a private senior secondary school. She was a sponsored child since 2001 and graduated in 2009.

  • Project Muskan

    Ten-year old Manisha has Rett's Syndrome with intellectual impairment. She lives with her parents and one younger sister

  • Ignorance to Awareness

    Born and brought up in Delhi, Ojas is a 10 year old boy with hearing impairment, who lives with his family which includes his parents and a younger brother of 3 years old

  • One small step to school, a giant leap for society!

    Chanda is eight years old and lives with her parents and three siblings at Shri Ram Nagar in North East Delhi in a rented accommodation.

  • Meena's story

    Meena is 14 years old and lives in Sangam Vihar, Delhi. She is suffering from Severe Mental Retardation with Cerebral Palsy.

  • Supporting a life

    Habid, a 10 years old boy, lives with his family consisting of parents and 2 siblings in Sonia Camp, a JJ Cluster in Delhi.

  • Sound of Success

    Seven year old Norin lives with her family in their own house in a resettlement colony in Delhi

  • One step at a time

    Fiza lives with her family in one of the project communities in North East Delhi. Her family includes 4 brothers, 3 sisters and father.

Making Learning Fun and Safe

The Senpur Primary School in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, has some 63 students and four teachers. Located in a tiny village, the facilities would not necessarily inspire children to come to school every single day. Happily though, that is not the case in this small school. It boasts of cheerful and committed students and teachers who work together to make learning safe and fun.

Senpur Primary was not always the pride of Ambedkar Nagar. A while ago, toilet facilities for students were sorely lacking. Girls especially did not regularly attend class due to poor hygiene conditions. The school had no safe drinking water or adequate grounds for the children to exercise. Worse still, open defecation was also practiced around the school. These untenable conditions led to a grave increase in the school's dropout rate over time. Both school and students had all but given up hope, that is, until a visit by Plan India's staff.

Upon learning of the lack of facilities at the school, Senpur Primary was selected to be part of the Support My School (SMS) project implemented by Plan India supported by Coca-Cola and NDTV. As part of the project, a strategic plan was laid out in consultation with the School Management Committee (SMC), school authorities and students. Shortly after, separate toilets were built for girls and boys, safe drinking water was made available and sports facilities were also provided for. Students were oriented on environment-friendly practices like tree plantation and rain water harvesting as well. Upon the complete and very welcome renovation of the school, its maintenance was handed over to the school authorities.

Since the SMS project, a number of positive changes have been seen at Senpur Primary. Among other things, the number of children enrolled in Class I increased from 58 to the current 63 and retention went up from 51% to 80%. Now, animated and packed SMC meetings take place at the school on a regular basis, the teachers are confident and most importantly, the children enjoy coming to school to study and play with their friends.

The Support My School project contributes to the lives of vulnerable children across the country, providing them holistic, quality education and the facilities to thrive.

The Little Banker

Thirteen-year old Sarita lives in Rajasthan, India. A keen and bright student, she spends most of her time at the local government school in her village of Madia. She is currently in the eighth grade but reads at a higher level. Some day, she plans to obtain a Master's degree and become a successful entrepreneur. Remarkably, she made these plans in the past year alone.

In the academic session 2015-16, Plan India began its Financial Education and Life Skills (FELS) programme in her school. This entails the democratic formation of children's clubs whose members meet regularly to discuss all manner of savings, social issues and solutions as well as sustainable ideas and business.

Curious, Sarita audited the first meeting and was instantly won over. She joined the FELS club as a member and has never missed a meeting since. Despite her interest, she was initially very shy, listening intently but rarely speaking. In the months that followed however, she imbibed the principles of saving and grew increasingly confident with every meeting. Now, she shares her ideas and opinions without hesitation and actively leads club activities.

During one such activity, her club was taken on an exposure visit to a nearby bank branch. There, they met with bank officials and understood how banking takes place, requisite protocols and transaction systems. The visit was punctuated by Sarita asking a host of insightful and practical questions, prompting the bank manager to offer his and his team's assistance should she or any of her fellow club members ever need it while banking.

Thrilled with all that she had learned, she rushed home and declared that she could visit the bank all by herself and help the family with any transactions henceforth. She began to work even harder at school and participated in club activities with even greater fervour.

One day, the family required money urgently but had no one literate to accompany them to the bank as was common practice. Suddenly, an idea struck Sarita's grandfather: his youngest grandchild knew how to read and write, knew all about banking and would be back from school later in a few hours. He waited patiently for her return and requested her to accompany him to the bank. She readily agreed.

Soon as they entered the bank, she was greeted with smiles and wishes. Making a beeline to the correct counter, she retrieved all the forms her grandfather would need, filling them out and gingerly assisting her grandfather to place his thumbprint (in place of a signature) on the sheet. Beaming with pride, he stood beside her in line and collected his money in a matter of minutes.

On their return home, her grandfather would not stop praising Sarita, her presence of mind and graceful poise. From now on nobody would ever have to ask another for help, he said, Sarita could teach them all.

Needless to say, this bolstered Sarita's confidence, which is why she stood for club elections in the new academic session 2016-17 and was chosen as President! She has many plans to take the club to new heights and engage in a number of awareness, savings and outreach activities within her community and beyond.

Running Out of Luck

Approximately 40,000 children, most of them girls, have disappeared from Jharkhand, sold and forced to work in brothels, factories and homes. Rubi was one of those unfortunate children to experience these horrors.

Rubi's parents struggled with daily wage jobs they managed to get, but that was only during the harvest season. During the dry season, life was coarse, leading her to drop out of school, the one aspect of life that was still exciting.

"I was walking around the village when a woman came up to me and promised me a good job in a brick factory. She said I would get food and would make enough money to save and send back to my parents as well. I had heard that sometimes children disappeared but I did not think it could happen to me. I knew working in a brick factory would be tough. Suffering from constant hunger, I thought it was the best option for me. I decided to go with the woman."

Together, along with another girl, they travelled to New Delhi where they were taken to a shady warehouse that was full of other girls, the youngest looked barely old enough to be teenagers. "I knew immediately I shouldn't be there. It is then I really began to fear for my life."

Along with the other girls, Rubi was starved, threatened, and beaten. Men working as guards raped them often. "I was hopeless when the men came to choose the girls. The prettier ones were taken first. I tried to mess up my face and cover it with tangled hair to look ugly, but it did not matter to them. I was soon bought by a man for Rs. 40,000 and sold to a family as domestic help."

Rubi's daily chores were to clean up, do the dishes and laundry and cook. She woke up at the break of dawn, went to bed at two in the morning and was never allowed to step out of the house. "I was miserable and I missed my home. I wanted to contact my family for help, but without a phone, I could do nothing."

Her ordeal came to an end when another domestic worker felt sorry for Rubi and lent her a cell phone. Rubi knew a woman from her village who worked for Plan India. She managed to call her and quickly explained the situation. Then on, she had to wait in hope.

And her hope was not in vain. The woman spoke to Jharkhand's child protection authorities who contacted the authorities in New Delhi. Soon, a police patrol arrived and rescued her and the other girls working there.

Finally, within a few days, Rubi was home. Her parents welcomed their daughter back with open arms. They knew most girls that ran away, ended up being victims of trafficking and the chances of them returning were extremely low. They knew they were lucky to have their daughter back and that's all that really mattered.

Rubi is now part of Plan India's project and will soon be able to return to school. She's been receiving psychological care as well to cope with her experience. It will take her time to fully get over the past, her eagerness to do so however, will no doubt help. "I don't like looking back to what happened to me, but I want to tell my story because it might save some other girl. I hope that no child has to experience the same," says Rubi.

(Name changed and representative image used)

A Sisterhood of Change

Kanchan begins her day at six o'clock, gently rousing her family as light filters in through the makeshift curtains of their small, thatched home. They have only ever lived along the banks of rivers, beels and fields in Kali Kajari - a little known water locked village far removed from the bustling cityscapes of Assam.

She spends the next couple of hours with her daughter-in-law in tow, whipping up delicious parcels of food for each family member atop a fire built with dry soil and dung just like her grandmother taught her. Precious little has changed since then despite the passage of time; Kali Kajari is yet to be reached by electricity.

When everyone has been lovingly dispatched about their day's business, Kanchan sets off on her own, navigating criss-crossing waterways and sinuous mud paths in a dilapidated wooden boat carrying over 30 people.

Perched precariously on the edge of the vessel, Kanchan doesn't bat an eyelid. Each lunging swell and dip goes unnoticed as she thinks ahead to her destination: a routine sector meeting in Jagi Bhakat Gaon (village) where she will meet with 150 fellow government-appointed Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) - local women trained to act as health educators and promoters in their communities, serving as conduits for the Indian National Health Mission.

Kanchan works with Plan India as part of the mission's response to a burgeoning nationwide HIV epidemic. She is a bridge between hard-to-reach communities and healthcare service providers.

Some time ago, Kanchan's children had come of age, leaving her with time on her hands and seeking fulfilment. Her amiable nature and analytical bent of mind endeared her to neighbours who nominated her to the position of the first ever ASHA in Kali Kajari.

This was not a responsibility she took lightly.

Come hail or high water - and both came in rapid abundance during wracking storms - Kanchan laboured through inordinate distances, inundated, barely-there roads and dangerous waterways, struggling medical facilities and viselike tradition that prevented many from entrusting their well-being to modern medicine.

The result has been nothing short of extraordinary. Her perseverance has led to countless healthier children, mothers and families not only in her community but adjoining villages too.

Now, they are on a first name basis with doctors they would earlier shrink from; mothers deliver their babies according to pre-determined birth plans in safe and hygienic hospitals; they undergo HIV testing and receive anti-retroviral therapy when necessary; they drink safer water and eat wholesome food so their children no longer succumb to diarrhoeal disease and malnutrition; they know their rights and aren't afraid to wield them.

Kanchan, with every determined step she has taken over the years, has irrevocably transformed the face of Kali Kajari and the lives of all its people.

"There are days I look up to find dark, rolling clouds as far as the eye can see. They herald the all-too familiar debilitating storms and all their disruptions. Women and children are especially at risk. Most people would cower in their homes then - not me and my ASHA sisters. When times are tough, we set to work knowing our communities need us. It's not always easy, but we're driven by purpose and that's what matters", she says.

This International Day of Rural Women, join Plan India as they celebrate and pledge to support these every day heroes and pioneers, their aspirations and infinite potential. Empowering rural women will end poverty and hunger, achieve food security and empower all women and girls across the world.

Making History

Sai wants to be a police officer when she graduates. The oldest of seven sisters, she has plenty of experience maintaining law and order at home. She is an exceptional role model not only to her younger siblings but her entire neighbourhood too. This is her story.

Growing up, Sai was unlike anyone in her community. She possessed an uncanny desire and ability for learning and spent most of her childhood questioning everything.

This went over well at home if not so much elsewhere. Her neighbours may have been frequently indignant, but her parents doted on Sai and treated her and her younger sisters with utmost care and affection.

They had limited means however; her father was a tailor and her mother a homemaker. The family lived in a tiny hamlet 150 kms from the district headquarters in Bikaner, Rajasthan.

This proved to be a problem when the girls started going to school. The one government school in their village taught classes up to the fifth grade after which only private schools operated in the area.

Government schools in remote areas simply lacked the resources to teach higher grades and this affected the completion of education, especially that of girls. Most hailed from conservative backgrounds and navigated long distances and familial objections just to learn.

Sai's parents could not afford private school fees and made the difficult decision to enrol her in a distant government-run residential school until the eighth grade, and then further away for the ninth grade in a school near her maternal grandmother's village. There, she lived with her grandmother, did household chores and spent every free moment pursuing her passion for learning.

Topping her class fuelled Sai's desire to study further. She worked hard and visited her family during breaks, regaling her gaggle of younger sisters with tales of school, careful to leave out bits about the difficult living conditions, inadequate classrooms and learning material.

During one of these visits home, Sai and the family had a visitor: a smart young lady, an outreach worker, who dropped in to tell them about Balika Shivir (education camp for girls), a long-term residential camp run by Plan India in partnership with NGO Urmul Setu in Lunkaransar about a hundred kilometres away.

The Shivir houses hundreds of girls from marginalised communities and provides them access to quality education, financial literacy and life skills through meticulously crafted coursework and practical sessions.

On hearing the outreach worker describe the Shivir, Sai was awestruck but her father, for the first time, had reservations. Could they trust strangers to properly look after their daughter? What if their parochial neighbours were right this time? One visit to the Shivir and heartfelt discussions with the teachers and girls living there set his mind at ease.

Sai was soon packed off in high spirits. Finally, she would be able to complete school! The Shivir provided girls a government-aligned education up to the 12th grade and imparted financial and life skills that would benefit them throughout their lives.

Sustainable, smart business practices and development, financial planning and management were a big part of their daily discussions but they were by no means the extent of them. The girls also participated in daily debates on social issues, frequently melding multiple perspectives and creating innovative solutions to gender inequity, early and forced marriage and poor civic infrastructure to name a few.

Sai not only continued her studies at the Shivir but thrived there.

She'd always been different, but now she is completely transformed. Self-assured and lightning-quick, she even designed a business model for her father yielding staggering results. All thanks to Sai, her father is now the most sought-after tailor in town. For the first time, the family has savings and bank accounts to boot.

Sai took her lessons to heart and on her first visit home from the Shivir, had opened her own bank account and separate accounts for her entire family too. The local bank was so impressed they requested her to come round and help other customers fill out their forms on especially busy days.

People took to the confident young woman teaching them in easy-to-understand terms, the processes of banking, saving, availing loans for business and planning for emergencies. Whenever she wants it, she has a standing offer from the bank, we're told.

Sai did her entire community proud when she aced the twelfth grade, scoring a commendable 75 percent and winning a Rs. 5,000 prize from the government for her achievements. She stowed it safely in her account to pay her way through college.

Now in her second year, she's studying harder than ever and wants to join the Indian Police Service of the Government of India. Sai will be the first graduate in her community.

"Today, women have touched the skies. Nothing is impossible so long as we hope and strive to reach our dreams. My favourite subject is history and I plan to make history myself", exclaims Sai.

The Brightest Contendor

Neela is the pride and joy of her family. She has overcome great odds, most within her own home and community, to achieve the success she has today. This is her story.

In a faraway village in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh is a modest little home with an unusual marking by the door. In every other way it is nondescript, cheerfully similar to other neatly lined homes in the area.

In it live 15 year old Neela and her parents, a close-knit family that stands firmly together in the face of adversity although this wasn't always the case.

Neela's father is a daily wage agricultural labourer who for many years adopted a customary gruffness when it came to his daughter. He, like generations before him, believed that a girl's place was in her home hidden behind closed doors and household chores. To his mind, educating a girl was a fruitless pursuit as she would eventually be married off anyway.

Over the years, this caused a growing rift between father and daughter. Neela was a playful and intelligent young girl with countless dreams and aspirations. A merit student at school, she intended to complete her education and make something of herself, if only her father would let her.

Still, all was not lost; she had some support in the form of her mother, a home maker, who had gently nudged her father into letting her stay in school this long.

As Neela grew older however, this became increasingly difficult. When she reached the ninth grade, he refused to see reason and finally took her out of school. Neela despaired, convinced that her ambitions were doomed to remain unfulfilled.

That is until Plan India began education and empowerment through sports programmes in her village.

For months on end, they went from door to door, talking at length with communities and breaking down age-old misconceptions. They discussed gender, education, discrimination, the economy and a host of polarising subjects. Before long, they had enlisted the support of the Panchayat (village level administration) who stood with them and even introduced them to Neela's parents.

With persistent counselling and awareness sessions, Neela's father began to change his mind. He steadily grew more involved in programmes and has not looked back since.

Today, their village is an example of girls'; education and the benefits of sport for development and empowerment. Leading the charge is Neela's father.

In the past year, a growing number of girls including an overjoyed Neela have been re-enrolled in school. They are encouraged to study and play sports and equip themselves with the skills to build a bright future of their choosing.

Neela, in typical fashion, took it upon herself to ace her studies and extracurricular activities. Bolstered by her father's support, her innate athletic abilities shone through, bringing her to the attention of the school's Physical Education teacher.

With regular training, she has gone on to win a range of village, district and even state level tournaments. Her sport of choice? Boxing.

That mark by their door was made by her proud father in honour of her winning second place at the latest state level boxing competition.

It is a constant affirmation for tenth grader Neela, her family and community, of all the greatness a girl can achieve with a little help and encouragement.

"I am proud to represent girls and my state as a boxer. It is an honour I never dreamed I'd have. With my family by my side, I will continue to challenge myself, whether at school or in sport. It's not always easy, but I'll break barriers, one punch at a time."

Taking the First Steps Towards Literacy

In the middle of a tribal community where families tend to fields for a living, is a small centre for children with barely any facilities. But it exists. And, it has a teacher and students with aspirations.

Plan India and its partner CYSD (Centre for Youth and Social Development) operate a Shishu Bikas Kendra (Child Development Centre) for children from the local tribal community of Keonjhar in Odisha. With no semblance of a school visible for miles, this centre is the only means to a pre-school education for the twenty one children in attendance.

This is unlike any pre-school you could imagine. A small single floored building with two separate rooms, one a classroom, the other for storage. There are no chairs and tables for the students. They sit on mats on the floor. Class begins at 9:00 am and gets over at 12:00 pm. The children are between the ages of 3-6 years and Kaushalya, their only teacher, is 18 years.

A typical day starts with Kaushalya leading her students in prayer, followed eagerly by various activities meant to engage the children mentally and physically. They learn to read and write and draw with their limited supply of stationery. They're told stories and made to recite poems. For physical activity, their favourite part of the day, Kaushalya indulges them with a jump rope, some toys and whatever more is available.

Kaushalya was part of a workshop conducted by Plan India for teachers. Speaking about her students and life as a teacher, she says, "What I haven't learnt at school, I am learning here by teaching these children. Their parents are illiterate and for a long time it seemed, these children would follow the same path. Here, they get a chance at being educated. This is their first step towards a better future."

Parents from the community are thankful for this centre and the opportunity it provides their children with. As one of them said, "Before this centre, we would have to leave our children at home while we go to work. Being small, they would roam around the forest aimlessly, or sit at home. This was a cause of much tension for us. Now seeing them go to school, we know they are doing something productive and more importantly, they're safe."

As for the education their children are receiving, another parent commented, "When the children learn something new, they share it with us and in turn, we learn something new too! Being literate never meant anything in the community, but now we understand, for our children to be able to go on and get a good job and lead a better life, they should know how to read and write and we're happy to support them."

Here, neither the size of the building nor the number of children matter. It is the effort going into providing literacy for these marginalised children and helping them realise their potential that matters most. And for all it's worth, they've already succeeded.

Breaking the Mould

Mahima was the sole bread earner for a family of four. In a small village in Ambedkar Nagar, she worked as a daily wage labourer, toiling through the day barely able to tolerate the heat and exhaustion. Her job was all the more unbearable because on some days, she earned Rs. 75, on others, nothing.

Men, who did the same work as her, for the same amount of time, with the same amount of effort, were being paid twice as much. Even putting in a late shift did not yield a better pay. The disparity in wage bothered her deeply.

"Sometimes, I would be working till late at night, when my daughter would come to the field looking for me and asking for dinner. I had nothing to offer her. There was not much I could do because I needed this job", says Mahima.

It was during these trying times that Mahima heard about Samanta, a project run by Plan India and supported by the European Union, to tackle the issue of wage disparity and discrimination in the work place. She soon joined the women's collective where she spoke about her problems and realised she wasn't the only one.

Along with the rest of the women, Mahima now had a platform where she could raise her concerns and confront her employer. A meeting with the employer was scheduled but he downright refused to partake in it. For him, discussing wage disparity was a waste of time.

Mahima did not give up. She took up the issue with the Community based Vigilance Group (CBVG)-a part of Project Samanta. Mahima and the group approached officials of the Department of Labour and Employment.

A member of the department accompanied the group and counselled the employer on workplace laws, equal remuneration and the Minimum Wage Act. After several such meetings, finally, the employer agreed to pay equal wage and Mahima and the other women began receiving same wages as the men. Their work hours were reduced and they were even afforded breaks in between.

Mahima's determination was as strong as the houses she built every day and nothing, it seemed, could break it down. Since then, she has taken to sharing her experience with other women and helping resolve their issues. What makes her most happy is that she has now begun to save her money in a bank for her daughter's future.

"Growing up I was always told to remain silent on all occasions. Project Samanta has taught me to take a stand for what I believe in and that it is possible to make a difference. This is something I not only share with other women, but teach my daughter too", says a proud Mahima.

A Lawyer in Training

Karan was once a painfully shy young boy from an underprivileged migrant family in Delhi. In the last six years, his life has completely turned around. Here's how.

Karan was born to loving parents in the densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh. His father was a struggling artist who worked day and night to put food on the table, while his mother, a homemaker, was a woman of quiet resolve. With the birth of little Karan, their expenses grew increasingly hard to manage so they moved to Delhi in search of a better life. Karan was three years old at the time.

The bustling city offered Karan's family greater opportunities, but they came at a price. The three spent several weeks in limbo before moving to a street-based hutment in North Delhi. This was a far cry from their family home in the village but they were determined to make good on their promises to each other and little Karan.

His father took up work painting any and every surface available and money started to trickle in. By the time Karan was of age, the family had scraped together just enough to pay his tuition fees at a small, nondescript school nearby.

Karan was an intelligent young boy, but found himself flailing under the tenuous attention the school could just about manage to provide. He grew silent and withdrew, barely speaking to his parents and shying away from friends. He preferred keeping to himself over playing with children in his neighbourhood. What could I possibly have to say to them, he wondered.

One afternoon, there was a sharp rap on the door. Hearing this, Karan made his way deeper into the house. Much to his family's chagrin, he had developed the habit to avoid meeting people.

Through the corrugated metal walls, he heard a soft voice in conversation with his mother. Soon, she was calling out to him to join them. Filled with trepidation, he approached the door until he saw who stood behind it: a cheerful lady holding a stack of colourful books and a bag with stickers plastered across it. She resembled his teachers, he thought, only smiling.

In scant minutes she won him over, inviting him to attend a summer camp for children in the neighbourhood featuring a host of games and activities meant to challenge and engage them. To his mother's surprise, Karan agreed to go.

The lady was part of Plan India and local partner Nav Srishti's team, reaching out to vulnerable children and their communities to provide them access to quality education, protection, nutrition and health care.

Karan attended the summer camp along with a 100 other slum-dwelling children and has been a prominent fixture at every camp since. "At camp we learned many things, but my favourite was pottery. A sculpture I made was showcased during an exhibition shown in our neighbourhood. My parents were so proud and I was thrilled."

In time, Karan became more active and involved in programme activities, eventually earning a nomination to the Plan India-supported Child Media Club (CMC) in his neighbourhood. The CMC is a unique, community-based group comprised entirely of children, that routinely documents and reports goings on in their locality and publishes a yearly magazine to spread awareness on child rights, health, safety and development.

There, he honed his writing skills, churning out a number of articles and poetry that are remembered to this day by his now large circle of friends.

"In only a few years, I was named Sub-Editor and then Editor of the CMC", he says. "This is a big responsibility and one I earned because I learned to speak out. At age 14, I was training children, elders and even the police in my neighbourhood on issues facing children. It gave me great confidence and helped me believe in myself. Before Plan, I'd forgotten the sound of my own voice."

It has been six years since Plan India first met Karan. In this time, he has been exposed to science, art, films, self-defence and the law, among other things. He has been part of training workshops with the Juvenile Justice Board as well as the Child Welfare Committee, learning how at-risk children live and becoming a staunch advocate for their rights and well-being.

We asked him about his future plans. "I want to be a lawyer and do good. I want to help people and ensure justice for those nobody sees."

Words to live by, Karan.

A Girl of Iron Will

At only 18, Mamta was the first girl in her family to have taken up a job. She is the pride and joy of her household, but her journey to becoming an independent young woman was rife with challenges. This is her story.

Mamta is no ordinary girl. She may have come from humble beginnings, but she had big dreams and refused to take no for an answer. Growing up, this caused her no small measure of trouble.

Captive to a rather orthodox household, she spent most of her life on the receiving end of stern admonishments and dire warnings from parents who believed that a girl belonged at home. It didn't help that they harboured suspicious bordering on fearful views of the big city they lived in: Delhi.

For several decades, they had run a tiny ironing service in a shanty in the south of the city, holding as fast to their charcoal fired iron as they did the notions of generations before them.

Fortunately, Mamta was her own person and determined to make a life for herself. Still, her resolve faltered against the stubborn resistance and outright hostility of her parents, leaving her oftentimes more despondent than hopeful.

Then one day, a friend mentioned Plan India's Saksham project, a 360 degree initiative to empower youth with unique and personalised learning opportunities. Working with the youth, their families and prospective employers, Plan India provides life and market driven vocational skills and on-site capacity building.

Inspired by hope, Mamta made her way to the local Saksham centre and enlisted the help of its coordinators. It took some doing, but her parents began to see the merit in encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Mamta joined a retail management programme and within months, received a job offer at one of India's leading fashion retail houses. The news was met with great jubilation, until it was discovered that the position was in Gurgaon, a business hub all the way at the other end of the city. "What if she had to stay late at work", her parents wondered. "Who would ensure her safety on the way home?"

More than ever before, Mamta and the team had their work cut out for them. To convince her parents to let her take up the job, a clever solution was devised - Mamta would undertake her daily commute with other classmates who had also received job offers in and around Gurgaon.

With her parents' support, Mamta became the first girl in her entire family to have taken a job. Two years later, she is the highest earning member in her household and does her family proud every single day.

"As parents, we were initially very anxious about her being away from home for such long hours. We worried about her safety and how she would deal with the outside world. Looking back now, I am so glad we changed our minds. Mamta wants to achieve many big things and we are proud to support her", says her father.

A tenacious and driven professional, she also caught the attention of higher ups at her organisation. Says a senior HR professional at the firm, "Mamta is very talented and committed to her work. It is rare to see in a person so young. I am sure she will go very far."

Saksham aims to create an equitable and sustainable future led by informed and empowered youth just like Mamta.

"I was able to make something of myself after joining the programme. I now support myself and my parents, all while being the first girl in my family to start working! I have a long way to go before I achieve my dreams, but I know I will", says Mamta.

For more about Plan India's Saksham programme click here

From Scraps to School

Namita wants to be a teacher when she grows up. For any 12 year old, this is a big ambition. For Namita, it is an absolute certainty. Having endured hardships well beyond her young age, Namita's story is one of hope and determination.

Namita was born in Delhi. Her parents had moved to the city from Assam, compelled by hopes of rising above the abject poverty and property disputes with family back home. They didn't quite get what they came for.

With no qualifications or urban skills to ply, they found work rag picking and managed, barely, to make ends meet. With the birth of Namita and her siblings, moving back to Assam stopped being an option. A family of 11, Delhi was their best and possibly their only chance at survival.

As far back as she can remember, Namita was surrounded by waste. Living in a resettlement colony comprised entirely of rag pickers, there was little else in sight. Vast, veritable mountains of waste that she and her friends jumped about and played in. When they weren't sorting through them, that is.

Rag pickers start young. Namita was one among many girls in her neighbourhood who began sorting and recycling waste as soon as she could differentiate colours and materials. She worked all hours of the day to supplement her family's meagre income.

Around the time Namita turned six, Plan India and local partner CASP began implementing health, nutrition, education and protection programmes in her neighbourhood. The team was well received and in no time, had Namita, her siblings and all her friends enrolled in school, eating healthy and practicing good hygiene. By the time she was seven, Namita had her first tooth, hair brush, notebook and pencil and proudly carried them wherever she went!

"We never realised we were holding our children back. Until we met the team, we thought it made sense to have our kids work with us. But now they go to school and learn everything from numbers to the science behind recycling. They'll have far more success in life than they ever could rag picking", says Mala, Namita's mother.

Namita and Mala are some of the fiercest advocates for programmes run by Plan India and CASP. When a fire broke out in their neighbourhood consuming their homes and all their life's belongings, the team provided them with food, provisions and shelter until they got back on their feet.

"My mother ran screaming into our hut while it was engulfed in flames because my baby sister was inside. They're safe and healthy now because Plan India and CASP helped when nobody else did", Namita recalls.

An ambitious young girl, Namita wants to help her community by working with and teaching children. "I remember what I was like when I first joined the programme - always in tattered, mouldy clothes with dirt under my nails. I'd eat after sorting scraps and not even wash my hands. See how much I've changed", she says, twirling to demonstrate her spotless bag, uniform and braid.

"I want to learn so I can teach the kids in my community and all other underprivileged children everything I know."

Namita, Mala and the rest of their family have turned their lives around. They have many plans for their future and even more determination to see them through.

Says Namita with a flourish, "Every time a visitor from one of Plan's country offices comes by, I see another part of the world. Australia, Thailand, China, Japan... Someday, I'll go in person. But first, I'm off to finish school and to be the teacher my community needs. There's so much more to life than scraps!"

The Girl on the Platform

A routine round of a bustling railway station in Delhi led Plan India and partner SPYM to a nervous little girl begging on a platform. Her name was Ashida and she was five years old. Today, four years later, she is the life and joy of the shelter for children where she lives surrounded by friends and caregivers. This is her story.

Until she was five, Ashida lived in a makeshift hut of thrown-together blankets. Born to heroine addicted parents, little Ashida earned a living begging on a railway platform in Delhi. All day she'd follow strangers hoping for a handout, or wait listlessly, hoping her parents would show up to take her home. Most times, they did.

Then one day, Plan India and its partner SPYM found little Ashida at the station during their rounds. A fragile, doe-eyed waif in tattered clothing, she immediately caught their attention.

The team swung swiftly into action, identifying her parents and counselling them repeatedly to ensure Ashida received the care and support she needed. Eventually, they agreed together with the Delhi Child Welfare Committee, to place her in custody of the Plan India-SPYM shelter for children in difficult circumstances. This was four years ago.

Today, Ashida is one among 47 children at the shelter, most of whom are between five and fourteen years of age. She now goes to school, has learned to read and write, and even teaches the younger children how.

She is an avid artist and can boast of an enviable collection of papier mache flowers she has made all by herself.

An affectionate and thoughtful child, Ashida has won many friends in her time at the shelter. "All of us kids, the didis who look after us, the ones who visit us from Plan... We're one big, happy family."

Says seven-year old Ruhi and Ashida's closest friend, "She is the best at everything! Since she moved here, we always wait for her to start our evening lessons and games. She reads me my favourite stories."

Ashida may be shy on the first meeting, but it isn't long before she's talking up a storm and admonishing those who don't pay proper attention! This includes her parents.

With support from Plan India and SPYM, Ashida's father has been in a rehabilitation programme for three months and her mother is gainfully employed. They visit her from time to time and are proud of the bright young girl she has blossomed into.

"When I grow up, I will be a lawyer", she says with a confident nod. "That way, I can fight for the rights of children like me and make the world a better place."

At nine years old, Ashida lives her life with a joy, wisdom and determination well beyond her years. With a little help, who's to say the mountains she'll move and the journeys she'll take. Lucky for us, we get to go along for the ride.

Picking up the Pieces

India is home to one of the largest child labourer population in the world. According to the Census of India 2011, more than 8 million children go to work rather than to school. New Delhi alone has more than 15,000 rag-pickers.

Apart from living in inhospitable conditions, these children, along with their parents, work seven days a week, picking through garbage that is toxic in nature, a serious health hazard they are more than aware off. But they have to because their lives depend on it.

Among such children was Sanam (name changed). She has been a rag-picker since the age of 8.

"After my parents migrated to Delhi from Rajasthan, we thought our lives would change for the better. Struggling to overcome our financial situation, there was no other option but for me to join my parents and younger siblings in working at the godown."

"It was hard for me especially because I thought that after moving to Delhi, I would get the chance to go to school and college. Then I could get a job and provide a better life for my family. I struggled in the beginning to come to terms with this fact. But I never lost hope."

More than a year had passed and Sanam was still picking pieces of plastic from mounds of garbage. It was a meeting with a Plan India staff member from the Anti-Child Labour Project that would bring much needed change in her life. Staff members spent time talking and counselling the parents to send Sanam to school. The effort eventually paid off.

Sanam, along with her siblings, soon enrolled into the project and joined the Knowledge Enhancement Centre. Along with the other children, she was given non-formal education. Not long after, one of her dreams was fulfilled when she was enrolled into a government school.

"She is so active in class. The changes we've seen in her over the years are truly remarkable. Initially, she was shy and hardly spoke to others, often keeping to herself. Now, she's the first to raise her hand to answer or ask a question." - Vishal, Project Coordinator

Today, not only Sanam, but her parents have also given up rag-picking. They now live in a resettlement colony in New Delhi where they can see their children grow up in a safe environment.

"Sanam was always eager to go to school and would often cry when, instead, she had to go to work. As a mother, it was hard for me to see her like this. Thankfully, now my children can look forward to a bright future. And as for Sanam, this is the happiest she's ever been and that's more than enough for me." Nadeema, Sanam's mother.

No More Red

Meet Purvi. Her favourite colour is red. She wore it whenever she needed cheering up. At 12 years old, Purvi wore red a lot.

Purvi lost her parents to HIV when she was quite young. Until then, she would lived a happy life, surrounded by loving family at home and a host of doting teachers at school. She was a bright young girl with immense potential, but this mattered very little after her parents' passing.

When no one else volunteered their assistance, her maternal aunt took her in. Unfortunately, the financial strain of keeping her in school was more than she could bear, so she took Purvi to work with her instead.

Every morning, little Purvi would wake at the crack of dawn, finish her household chores then set off for the cotton fields with her aunt where they worked as agricultural labour. They'd walk from field to field, going as far as ten kilometres in search of work.

Some nights Purvi cried herself to sleep, her head throbbing and bones aching from toiling in the scorching sun all day. She longed to go back to school and frequently implored of her aunt to let her. She did not relent; the family lacked the resources to be able to pay her tuition fees and support themselves. Purvi and her aunt were the sole breadwinners since her uncle was differently abled and rarely found work.

Then one day, Purvi and her aunt were met by a smiling young lady at their doorstep. A member of the Plan India and Mahita (local partner) outreach team, she took a keen interest in Purvi and her family and routinely stopped by, sometimes with her team, to get to know them better.

Purvi was subdued, but her eyes lit up at the mention of school and her wistfulness was evident. The team deliberated on a plan of action: they set about convincing her aunt to send Purvi to school, while supplementing the family income through livelihood support.

Her aunt was provided with a fridge she used to store and sell cold drinks and milk to the entire village. They also helped utilise the earnings to repair her uncle's broken-down flour mill which now fetches them an additional income.

Best of all, Purvi is now back in school and pursuing her passion for education with a vengeance. Inspired by the team, she leads Plan India sponsored adolescent girls' groups that educate young girls on their rights, and has even managed to get three girls enrolled in school!

"Education opens doors to a better life. I want all girls to have the opportunities I do, so I walk onto the fields where I used to work and convince girls' families to let them come to school and learn with me", says Purvi.

Her aunt chimes in, "We are grateful to Plan India for strengthening our family and supporting us to do the right thing. Now we are gainfully employed and Purvi gets to be a kid again. What a kid though - I am so proud of everything she does for our community. I know she'll be a big success one day."

"I haven't worn red for a long time and I don't plan to either", Purvi cheekily exclaims.

The Boys in the Brick Room

It is reported that every year 100,000 children go missing. Lured by false promises, these children are forced in child labour, often times subjected to physical and mental abuse.

A few years ago, seven such boys, minors at the time, ran away from home with a man known as Bhola who promised them new clothes, mobile phones and a better life. Little did they know, he would take them to Kathmandu and sell them to the owner of a brick manufacturing plant. A far cry from the luxurious life they were promised, they were in fact locked up in a run-down building for months where they were physically and mentally tortured and with very little food and water provided to them. Furthermore, they were forced into hours of excruciating manual labour at brick manufacturing plant.

Finally, as part of the Missing Child Alert (MCA) project, Plan India and its partner Gram Niyojan Kendra, were able to find and rescue these children and reunite them with their families in Bairach, Uttar Pradesh. Through the project, the team worked extensively with the police in India and Nepal as well as the Child Welfare Committee of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, whose members were trained by Plan India, to repatriate the boys and ensure they received proper care and treatment.

Long after their return, the boys battled memories of their captivity. However, with the help of Plan India, they were provided constant counselling and were re-enrolled into school with their books and stationary provided for by the MCA project.

Now, they can be found playing on school grounds, sharing meals and fun stories. They go to school regularly and plan to continue their studies so they can be successful young men when they grow up.

Shankar, who was only 12 years old at the time of his ordeal tells us, "We were young and easy prey for such men. I wish no other child to have to go through what we did. Thankfully, I was rescued in time and am now back with my family. I hope my ordeal acts as a reminder to others to be wary of the dangers lurking around."

From Rags to Realising Dreams

While living in a village in Odisha, Prem Pal and his wife Seema found it hard to support their two children, Mahima and Shekhar . With work hard to find and without a constant source of income, they had no choice but to relocate to New Delhi. With some members of their family already living in the city and working as rag pickers, they joined them in their line of work. But even so, they found it hard to make ends meet. This left Prem Pal and Seema with a decision no parents would want to make. Eventually they had to let their two children work alongside them in garbage dumps and godowns. The future for this family looked bleak and the prospect of a brighter tomorrow was nowhere on the horizon.

While visiting a godown, Plan India's staff working met with the couple and learnt about their situation. After a few counseling sessions and constant encouragement, they agreed to send Mahima and Shekhar to a Knowledge Enhancement Centre (KEC) and they themselves joined a Parents Advocacy Group as part of a Anti Child Labour Project. Through their involvement in the KEC, the children learnt to communicate in Hindi and English and within just six months of joining the centre, they were enrolled in a government school with learning material provided for by Plan India to aid them with their studies. Prem Pal and his family were finally able to at least dream of a better life for their children.

With such facilities being provided to the family, the couple were eager to make the most of the opportunity. Prem Pal and Seema quit working as rag pickers and soon started working in a small facility run by a grassroots NGO supported by Plan India. Here, they were able to earn sufficient income to support the family wihtout having to take drastic measures. They were more than happy to leave their past lives behind and start afresh and it fills them with pride to see their children going to school with the prospect of a better future lying ahead of them.

"It's difficult to say how long we could have kept working as rag pickers, especially with our children working beside us. Now, we don't think about the past because the future is so bright and that's where we want to be", says Prem Pal.

Growing from Strength to Strength

At seventeen years of age, Jennifer is a young, vibrant, ambitious young girl living in Mangolpuri, Delhi. When she was sixteen - she was suffering from anaemia.

Jennifer lives with her parents, four sisters and one brother in Delhi. Her father works as a tailor while her mother is a housewife. She tells us, her favourite subject is history and she likes listening to music, hanging out with her friends and spending time at the Health Information Clinic (HIC) run by Plan India in her community under the Young Health Programme (YHP).

Initially, she was a shy unambitious girl, afraid and scared to talk to others and did not give much thought to her health, particularly, her eating habits. Then one day, she heard about the HIC from a friend. Jennifer learned about the training's provided at the centre, along with information on health, cleanliness, etc. Hearing about this got her excited and so she joined the HIC. While there, she attended peer educator training, poster making classes, took part in anti-tobacco rallies and other engaging activities. But all was not well.

Jennifer was suffering from health issues. She used to eat 1-2 rotis (homemade bread) a day without any meals in between. She was later diagnosed with anaemia (a low amount of red blood cells in the body) and became weak, barely being able to leave her home or go to school. Lonely and struggling to come to terms with her ailment, Jennifer was beginning to become isolated from the outside world. She stopped attending the YHP and very rarely would meet her friends. Her parents and siblings were growing more and more concerned about her as the days went by.

It was her association with YHP that helped her fight back against her illness.

When the YHP staff heard about Jennifer's condition, they immediately intervened and had her admitted to a hospital. On admission, she underwent a blood transfusion operation. The operation successful and over time, Jennifer was able to regain her health and get back to full fitness.

For a young girl like Jennifer to go through such an ordeal was certainly scary. This experience not only made her healthier but braver. She continues to visit the HIC regularly and take part in the various activities. She even shares all her knowledge with her family and friends and has encouraged her sisters to join the YHP as well.

Speaking about her ambitions, Jennifer says she would like to be a teacher one day and with the support of her family, she will definitely succeed in her ambitions. She tells us, "I never really cared about my health earlier. But since then, I have become more aware. Even my mother is more conscious about mine and my whole family's health and well-being now".

Women of Substance

Vijaya and Lalita are inseparable. Growing up together, getting married and raising families in a farming district in Odisha, their friendship has only deepened with time.

Traditionally farmers, both women have done their community proud with their single-minded determination and innovation in integrating modern methods and technology with age-old farming practices. In fact, Vijaya and Lalita have become the village authority on successful farming, much to the pleasure of their supportive families.

This began a few years ago, when Plan India and its partner Centre for Youth and Social Development began facilitating women's Self Help Groups (SHG) in their community, to encourage women empowerment. Through the SHGs, women came together to address common issues in a safe, friendly environment. They received guidance, financial literacy, micro-enterprise and advocacy training so they could build sustainable livelihoods and transact with authorities.

Like everybody, Vijaya and Lalita wanted to provide for their children and ensure they had opportunities to succeed. What set the duo apart however, was their innate ability to lead and inspire confidence among those mothers that hadn't found their voices.

One such instance occurred when the SHG decided to enquire into government-issue agricultural schemes as a potential investment. Vijaya and Lalita were nominated to visit the Block Horticulture Office (BHO) and gather relevant information. They returned with great news: the government had introduced a scheme with high subsidies to encourage potato cultivation.

Following detailed discussions with BHO officials and group members, the SHG decided to cultivate potatoes on three acres of their land and invest INR 32,000 on seed, irrigation and fencing. The government, in turn, would provide support amounting to INR 156,000 in cash and kind (offering technical assistance, supplementary seed, fertiliser and pesticide).

With dreams in their eyes, Vijaya and Lalita got to work, confident that they would pay their children's college fees with money from the best potato yield the village had ever seen.

Unfortunately, things got off to a faltering start. The women were charged a substantially higher rate than agreed upon, for the purchase of seeds and only when pressed did the BHO agree to reimburse their expenses. Moreover, the SHG was asked to create a private bank account to which the subsidy would be routed - a highly unusual request.

Determined to see their investment through, the women persisted with Vijaya and Lalita leading the charge.

Their efforts were sadly in vain. The yield was poor in both quality and quantity and to their horror, the BHO claimed no responsibility. Instead, they schemed with the bank to transfer large sums of money from the SHG account to unknown "suppliers".

The women needed answers and visited the BHO repeatedly to get them, without effect.

Vijaya and Lalita set on a course of action, systematically organising demonstrations at the BHO, leading mass rallies, interfacing with local community collectives and media, as well as petitioning civil administration, local ministers and even the Agriculture and Chief Minister until they were heard.

This show of strength was unprecedented and led to a district level enquiry and suspension of officials involved in the money-making racket. Because of their grit and determination, they overhauled a corrupt system and made it accountable. What's more, the SHG retrieved every last penny spent and then some! The BHO now implements schemes effectively, with several communities benefitting from them.

Vijaya and Lalita's skills did not go unnoticed. They were soon nominated to be part of a district school management committee to ensure that children and their communities could have a promising future.

"We're proud to have stuck up for ourselves and our families. You can imagine it wasn't easy to go against such powerful people, but as equally powerful women and mothers, there was no other way", they say.

When asked about their mothers' incredible fight, the children respond, "We are inspired by the courage and confidence our mothers showed. Even when our fathers worried, they were rock steady and determined to get justice. They are our heroes. In fact, they're everybody's heroes and this makes us very proud."

I Can Still Be a Mother

Being a mother is perhaps the hardest job in the world and one that most of us take for granted, yet the desire to be one is so strong amongst women. One such woman is Madhura. However, motherhood did not come easy for her.

Today, Madhura is the mother of a healthy young boy. But to get to where she is, she had to go down a path not many can fathom. In 2010, Madhura got married to Jagan in a small village in Odisha. Jagan often fell sick for long periods of time and none of the medication he took or treatment he underwent made him better. Weakened and unable to work, he returned to his village where he consulted the local doctor who advised him to get an HIV test done. Both, husband and wife did so and the results left the young couple completely devastated. Madhura tested HIV+ and Jagan was HIV+ and suffering from Tuberculosis as well.

Young and eager to start her own family, Madhura was heartbroken on hearing the news, her dreams of having children shattered. Understanding fully well the situation the young couple was in, a counsellor at the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre put them in contact with Plan India's HEART (HIV prevention, Early diagnosis among pregnant women And Reducing HIV infection Through safe delivery and breast feeding practices) Project.

After several counselling sessions, Madhura began to hope that one day she could still be a mother, despite her condition. The couple registered at the Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) Centre and both started their treatment. The cost of the treatment and constant check-ups was an additional burden the couple were struggling to overcome. Madhura was appointed as an Outreach Worker with Aruna, a grassroots NGO working alongside Plan India on the project, where she was able to earn enough money to sustain a living with her husband.

Not long after, Madhura and Jagan decided to have a baby. They were well aware of the risks and complications that could arise from their decision but because of the treatment they were being given at the ART Centre, they were hopeful.

Madhura received all the care, support and medical assistance she needed from the project. On December 3, 2012, she gave birth to a healthy boy. But there was a gruelling 18 month wait before Madhura would know if her son was HIV+ or not. Timely visits to Madhura and the baby were made by Plan India's project staff members for Early Infant Diagnosis and Co-trimoxazole Preventive Therapy was also given to the baby. Staff members provided constant support to the new mother, guiding her through the 18 month wait. Eventually in June 2014, an antibody test was conducted on the boy and the test came back negative. Madhura's son did not have HIV. Overjoyed and relieved, the hardship she had endured finally had a positive ending.

"I see how much joy it brings my wife, to be a mother and caring for our son, especially after the ordeal we have been through. This Mother's Day (May 8), I want to thank Madhura for being the strength in my life and an amazing mother!" says Jagan.

A Girl Undeterred

Jhanvi awoke in a hospital no longer able to read or write. The previous evening, she had accidentally fallen off the roof of her home in Delhi, suffering a traumatic brain injury that forever changed her life. This is a story of victory in the face of great odds. This is Jhanvi's story.

As a little girl, Jhanvi was everybody's favourite. A veritable ray of sunshine, she was good natured, incredibly bright and took it upon herself to teach everybody in her neighbourhood (no matter their age) what she learned at school. "If Jhanvi was around, you'd know it", says an elderly neighbour, affectionately.

"But things changed after the accident. She barely spoke at all, far from bursting into our homes to tell us about her day."

While playing with her friends on the roof of her home, Jhanvi slipped and fell, suffering a traumatic brain injury that rendered her an invalid for many long months, and bereft of her most precious skill - her ability to read and write.

Heartbroken, she coped as best as she could. She took to staying home and helped her mother with chores, refusing to go to school for fear that she'd disappoint herself and her teachers. "The doctors told us that while she needed time to recover, her abilities may have been permanently impaired. This made her retreat even further into her shell", her father recalls.

Then one day, a young woman stopped by to speak with Jhanvi and her family. She was a learning facilitator at a recently established Digital Learning Centre supported by Plan India and Ericsson.

There, she said, Jhanvi could be among friends and catch up at her own pace, on all the learning she'd missed. What's more, she could do this in the comfort of her own backyard. The Centre was designed such that the girls in the neighbourhood could visit without worrying for their safety and traveling long distances. Jhanvi would have a chance to build her own future, armed with an education. It took a bit of convincing, but she eventually relented and there was no looking back.

"The first time I went to the Centre, I was so nervous I thought everyone could hear my heart pounding through my chest! What would the others say? But then I go in and there's this sea of smiling faces in front of me and on screen!"

What Jhanvi saw was a class in session, with over 500 girls across Delhi and the National Capital Region, simulcast using cutting edge technology provided by Ericsson. The interactive learning modules being utilised were specially developed for the centres by Plan India (across multiple grades, on core subjects such as science, math and the English language).

It's only been six months since that fateful visit, but Jhanvi is slowly going back to her old self. She attends class regularly, is the first to share her thoughts and encourages everybody to come and learn - including her mother, whom she has brought to the Centre numerous times. Not only has she learned to read and write again, she's also back to sharing whatever she learns with the other kids in her neighbourhood.

"I want to be the best school teacher there ever lived", she says, smiling widely. As far as we're concerned, Jhanvi, you're already there.

Hustle and Heart

We've all heard how sports can change lives, but how many of you have had the privilege of witnessing this first hand? We at Plan India can proudly say we have! Meet Anjali, our first ever football prodigy.

Growing up in a small village in Jharkhand, Anjali stood apart amongst her siblings. Inquisitive and fiercely competitive, she acquired a reputation for being a precocious handful by age four. More so because of her fondness for football, an entirely male dominated sport in her home town. Still, her family was supportive and although they weren't well off, life was happy. That is until her father passed away unexpectedly. Anjali was 12 at the time. Her mother and siblings took up agricultural labour so they could support themselves and ensure Anjali, the youngest, stayed in school.

Over the years, Anjali found solace in football and began to dream of a career in it. She was a natural born coach and her enthusiasm was contagious. Several of her classmates caught the bug, practicing barefoot at school, gathering around a community television and on local grounds to watch matches and learn. The boys always had more opportunities in their village, but Anjali was determined to change that.

She and her friends formed the Dumardaga Football Club (DFC) - the first ever girls' club in Jharkhand - and in no time, were competing with and beating the boys! All this without an official coach or any support from their community.

This was because girls' safety was a grave issue there. Scores of young girls from their neighbourhood were abducted and trafficked into big cities and forced into exploitative labour. This made parents very nervous about their daughters being out alone. The DFC persisted though, and soon won the support of village elders who had seen them grow into more confident, hopeful and driven individuals through sport.

In 2006, Anjali graduated the tenth grade. She wanted to continue studying and as captain, take the DFC even further, but paying her tuition was difficult. So, she started working to earn and save enough to go back to school. Between work and helping out at home, she made it to football practice and it is testament to her dedication that she stayed the course. A year later, Anjali returned to school having saved enough to pay her fees up to the twelfth grade!

Plan India met Anjali on her first day back at school. The team had begun programmes to improve health, education and nutrition, especially among young girls in her village. Outreach and training initiatives ensured that every last community member had a stake in the work happening around them. Slowly but surely, a change started to happen.

What the girls lacked before, Plan India made up for with support. Local schools were refurbished and revitalised so children had an environment to achieve their potential. Anjali's school was equipped with a brand new playground, state-of-the-art sports facilities and gear, water purifiers - the works! For the first time, the DFC also received coaching and insider tips from a programme manager who was a former football player.

The DFC thrived in this much-deserved attention and in a great moment of pride for everyone involved, Anjali became the first girl from her village to play for and captain the district level football team.

Today, seven girls from Anjali's village play for the Jharkhand state football team and every single one attributes their success to her.

"Anjali inspires us with her grit and unflinching determination. She paved the way for us and we're grateful that she continues to change lives back home", says one of the girls.

In case you're wondering, Anjali is working her way through college for a bachelor's degree in education and coaching the local girls' football team!

Says Anjali, "If there's one thing I tell my students, it's to chase their dreams. There's nothing you can't do with a little hustle and heart."

Anita, the Water Warrior

It is estimated that 45% of Delhi's population lives in slums (Delhi City Development Plan, Ministry of Urban Development) with as many as 2,679 household dwellings situated in Rangpuri Pahari.

Among those living in this marginalised community is Anita, a middle-aged homemaker. She lives with her family of five in Shankar Camp. Her husband, Dilip, is a watchman and a part-time taxi driver earning roughly Rs. 6,000 a month.

Anita recalls that earlier they used to fill water for drinking and other purposes from a hand pump situated close by. A motor was later installed at the community bore well and all families fetched water from there.

"There used to be long queues of people who would come to fetch water directly from the bore wells. Families with more containers would take longer time which eventually would result in fights with others. Women were often eve-teased when they came to fetch water as well. Me and other women in the camp then decided that the bore well water should reach every household without having to fight for it", Anita tells us.

Together, led by Anita, the ladies of Rangpuri Pahadi collected a sum of Rs. 1,500 from each household and got pipelines with motors installed in homes to draw water from the bore well.

However, this was not the end of their troubles.

The water they received was dirty and of poor quality. The families used this same water for drinking. Anita and the others always knew that there was something wrong with it and could feel it every time they drank this water.

"I got stones in my gall-bladder. At that time, I did not know it was because of the water I had been drinking for the past 20 years", says Anita. It was only when field workers and community mediators from Plan India conducted a training session on water hygiene, did she realise how contaminated the water really was. She knew she had to do something, for the sake of her family and others.

Whilst attending a workshop conducted by Plan India as part of the Healthy Futures Project, Anita, among many others, got to know that diseases like jaundice, typhoid, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach infections, joint pains, which are common cases in their area, were all caused by the water they were drinking. Through the project and Anita's assistance, the water problem of Rangpuri Pahadi started to slowly dissolve away.

"Earlier, people would at most filter water using a cotton cloth when somebody in the family would get sick. Now, after the awareness campaigns that included puppet shows, plays, community meetings etc., people started using a cotton cloth filter, boiling their water or keeping water bottles in sunlight on a daily basis. Some people even had water filters at home", says Anita. "At first, a few of us brought these filters. After filtering water for the first time itself we noticed the difference. The water was light. It tasted different. It tasted better", she tells us.

Plan India and Basic Water Needs (project collaborator) also brought forward income generation opportunities for the community members. Self Help Groups (SHGs) of entrepreneurs were formed and trained to take filters to communities at nominal prices. Anita jumped at the opportunity and is now a successful entrepreneur of the Healthy Future Self Help Group. She blushes as she shyly admits that she has sold the maximum number of filters in her SHG.

Anita, earlier only a home-maker, has found a new sense of purpose to her life. Fondly, amongst her peers, she is known as the Water Warrior and is connected to all members of her SHG where in monthly meetings they share their experiences, challenges and targets. She wishes more women and men take up this cause in order to extend their reach. "The community is much more aware than they were before. But there still is a lot of work left", she says.

She wishes to see every household in Rangpuri Pahari have water filters and hopes that no one suffers from any water borne disease. And she surely seems determined to realise her dream.

Breaking Barriers

In a tiny village in central Jharkhand, a flurry of activities has bystanders looking on and beaming with pride. The elders of the community have publicly resolved to end child marriage at the behest of its young girls. This is how it happened.

Seventeen year old Kiran and her friends spent most of their lives in the shadows. Often neglected in favour of their brothers, they saw many girls married and confined to their homes as children. They didn't dream of studying or working as their elders felt it would keep them from their duties as homemakers. Their village in Jharkhand was as conservative as it was small.

A few years ago, Plan India began to work there, implementing programmes on girls' education, protection, nutrition and health. It wasn't always easy, but outreach grew stronger with time, gradually influencing and bringing larger community groups together. Families like Kiran's joined the programme in hopes of providing a better life for their children.

As part of Plan India's programmes, adolescent girls' clubs were formed, in which Kiran actively participated. The clubs were safe spaces for young girls to share their thoughts and experiences; to engage with their peers on issues they faced individually or collectively; and receive training on how to tackle the same.

A pressing concern soon emerged. Forced early marriage beset too many girls in their community. Kiran and her friends were determined to put an end to it, and promptly began advocating with their neighbours on everything from equality and gender discrimination, to the need for education so their daughters could go on to build better lives for themselves.

It came to Kiran's attention during these activities that a 16 year old girl was forcibly taken out of school by her parents, and was being married off against her will. Armed with iron resolve and information, Kiran and her friends approached the girl's parents time and again. It is to their credit that they persisted, although their words fell on deaf ears. The parents refused to see reason and forbid the girls from speaking to their daughter and entering their home.

All the girls' club members gathered. "They won't listen. How do we ensure she has a chance at a life of her own?" A bright idea struck. Together, they approached the Block Development Officer (BDO) employed by the government to ensure village level administration is carried out effectively. Their tenacity moved him to take immediate action and stop the wedding.

With routine counselling to her parents by Kiran, the girls' clubs and a supportive BDO, the girl has since been re-enrolled in school and now has a meaningful say in decisions that affect her life. This resonated with the entire village, and culminated in an announcement being made by the elders, in full view of a growing number of supporters, that no underage girl in their community would ever be forced to marry again. Kiran and her friends have given 957 young girls in their village and all future generations a new lease on life.

"This is only the beginning", says Kiran, smiling broadly.

In Control of My Destiny

"Everybody is precious and has their own values", says Meera, a spunky 17 year old member of a Safer Cities girls' club in Delhi. The youngest in a family of eight, she is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce from Delhi University.

She is also the face of the Safer Cities Campaign and its considerable work in her locality, but was initially very hesitant to join. This was because she endured constant eve teasing when walking to and from school. So much so, she and her friends only ventured out of home when accompanied by family.

All this changed when Meera attended a meeting organised by Plan India on gender equality and girl friendly public spaces. Struck by the immense possibilities that lay ahead, she became a member of the Pahal ("Initiative") girls club and was soon leading community activities and safety assessments, in addition to advocating with adult stakeholders and government officials to address issues faced by girls in her community. With Meera at the helm, street lights and CCTV cameras have been installed in her locality, security guards have been positioned outside local schools and local leaders have been roped into programme implementation.

Needless to say, Meera has been integral to the visibility and success of Safer Cities in Delhi. Her sphere of influence has only widened with time, but began with her father, an electric rickshaw driver who is now also associated with the programme. With Meera's encouragement, he participated in a sensitisation workshop for informal transport staff and it is with great pride that she speaks of the marked change in his attitude towards girls since then.

Now, he is an avid promoter of girls' rights and counsels other drivers on the need to ensure the safety of female passengers. As part of the Safer Cities campaign, his rickshaw was one of the first to be selected as a "safe space" for girls and women in Delhi. The campaign aims to create spaces - be it in public transport or the homes of supporters - for girls and women across the city to seek shelter in times of distress.

What's more, as a result of Meera and his encouragement, Meera's mother too is part of the community level child protection committee that leads discourse on gender equality and parents' responsibilities regarding child rights.

Galvanised by Meera, a powerful and self-assured champion of change, her entire family and community have made great strides towards building a safer city for girls.

"Because of the BIAAG programme, I have learned many things and grown from strength to strength. I want to change and better my community and I am proud to say we have begun to see a difference because of our work. Now, girls and boys in my community - starting from their homes - are treated equally. What better way to ensure inclusive development than to equip both girls and boys with the skills to change the world?"

Scaling the heights of success

Uttarkashi is home to 330,000 men, women and Mamta - one remarkably brave girl.

Mamta lives in Bhankoli, Uttarkashi with her family. Her father passed away in 2002 while her mother has been unwell for a long time. The remote village she lives in is considered a disaster prone area. Life, at most times, has not been kind to her. It has been a constant struggle to make ends meet.

In 1997, Mamta became associated with Plan India and Sri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) as a sponsored child. Through her association, she was able to involve herself in many activities and events that would help her flourish. After she completed her schooling, she enrolled in a training course on mountaineering. She went on to complete an Advance Adventure and a Search and Rescue courses in 2008 and 2010 from the Himalayan Adventure Institute and Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) respectively with Plan India's support.

Her life finally seemed to be coming together. After completion of the courses, she was employed as an instructor at the NIM. Till date, she has successfully conducted more than 50 training courses as an instructor. Her skills as a trainer shown through the brightest when one of her students - Arunima Sinha (a special needs girl) successfully climbed Mount Everest. Mamta has also run a physical fitness programme for 50 youths so that they can join the local police or Indian army.

But in 2013, her skills were put to the ultimate test. While leading a group of 40 children as part of a mountaineering course, disaster struck. A flash flood hit the area putting the lives of all in severe danger. But for Mamta skills, the likelihood of them surviving was bleak. Thankfully she was able to use her knowledge and experience and guide her group to safety. Even more remarkable, during the disaster, she was able to lend support to a further 5,000 people by relocating them to safer places.

Mamta's heroism has garnered much praise from all corners of India. Tennis superstar, Sania Mirza nominated her for a serial on Star Plus "Aaj ki Raat Hai Zindagi" with the legendary Amitabh Bachchan awarding her bravery.

Mamta continues to work with the NIM as an instructor and is also part of the Green People Organisation.

Says Mamta, "Where I am now and what I am doing is only because of the generous support of individual sponsors donors. I will always be thankful for this support throughout my life".

Kicking off a Movement

This story spans eight years and the efforts of a group of tenacious young girls who challenged convention and forever changed the lives of an entire community.

Dumardaga is a tiny village in the state of Jharkhand and has long subsisted on agriculture. Traditionally, most families come from a long line of farmers or agricultural labourers and maintain a somewhat provincial view of their daughters.

All this changed about eight years ago, when a group of free-thinking young girls got together at school and started to play football. "We would grown up watching our brothers and classmates play, but never could ourselves", they recall. "But once we began there was no stopping us. We played barefoot because we did not even have sports shoes."

The girls practiced religiously and soon formed a football team of their own: The Dumardaga Football Club. Other girls in the village went from watching from afar, to cheering at practice, to joining them. A movement had begun.

They started to compete with the boys' team - and beat them hollow! Despite this, the girls continued to face many obstacles: their school could provide no training, coach or kits and they were not allowed to register with any district authority or clubs. Undaunted, the girls played on, making sure to attend local matches and tournaments and catch others on the television.

Years went by and some of the older girls got married, but others readily took their place. As you would imagine, the club had become a bit of an institution by then.

When Plan India started the Support My School project with local partner CINI, NDTV and Coca-Cola at a little school in Dumardaga, things finally turned around. The project gave impetus to the girls' admirable dedication and passion.

Their school now provides them with fully functional toilets, drinking water, a well equipped sports ground, jerseys, nets and much deserved shoes! They represent their school at tournaments and have won a number of medals, contributing their winnings toward the activities of the club.

Recently, the girls were invited to Mumbai to be part of a live telethon broadcast by NDTV in partnership with Coca-Cola, Plan India and other agencies, to raise support for even more schools and children across the country. Aside from speaking of their incredible achievements and the need for more school-led Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes, the girls were able to teach popular film actor and event host Ranveer Singh a football trick or two!

These days, along with football practice, the girls never miss class or an opportunity to teach their friends about practicing safe personal and menstrual hygiene. They excel at school and are fine examples of commitment to those around them. Their families now stand by their path-breaking daughters and also routinely collect money to ensure the club continues and motivates young girls.

"Earlier, we worried about our girls, especially when they were out by themselves, playing. Because of the project, they have been able to chase their dreams. They will go on to change the world and it started with them changing us", says one proud father.

With every passing day the club gets stronger and young girls are emboldened to participate as active citizens affecting change. We are happy to be part of the Support My School campaign and its remarkable contribution to the lives of girls across Dumardaga and India.

Not Limited by the Veil

Jyoti was living a life that is all too common in Indian society. Although an educated woman, she was married off as soon as she turned 21 and spent her days being a housewife. Confined to her home under the conservative eyes of her in-laws, she was not even allowed to step out alone. When permitted, she had to cover her face with a veil. This veil distorted the view of a world she wished to be a part of so badly. She felt her education was going to waste and her abilities unfulfilled. Jyoti yearned to do so much more in life - she was determined to become an independent women with her own identity in addition to being a wife and mother to two children.

In the midst of her stagnated life, one day, she came to know about Plan India's Banking on Change (BOC) project. She tells us, "It was my mother who encouraged me to undertake some training and start saving".

Initially, she was a bit hesitant and scared of being part of the project. While meeting other women from the community, a Plan India Field Officer was introduced to her and counselled her on BOC. After a little encouragement, Jyoti agreed to give it a go, undertaking a training course and keenly participating in the activities. She was trained in stitching under the micro-enterprise service of the project. This enabled her to open her own boutique at home. Following this, Jyoti participated in financial literacy training and started working as a trainer of the same for SHGs.

Jyoti started to get more and more involved in the proceedings and was finally realising her potential. She went on to form her own women's group in the colony. She taught them all that she had learnt about saving and linking to banks, getting a loan to start work, etc. Jyoti would train 3-4 Self Help Groups (SHGs). Her involvement in this project and with the SHG turned out to be a lifesaver for her as it was during this time, her husband met with a serious accident which rendered him incapable to work for almost a year. She had to support her family and because of the training that she had undertaken, was able to make enough money to do so.

Even more, her hard work and determination to see other women from her community be successful, was noticed by all. Jyoti was soon elected the leader of a cluster, then the Federation Leader and inevitably became the President of the Sakhi Sangam Society for Social Change (an SHG).

She tells us, "In the beginning, it was difficult to convince women to join the group. But eventually, most of the women participated. One of the main aspects of the project was that by joining a group, it gave women financial independence and a chance to work for a living. This is what helped get women excited to be a part of the group".

As their leader, she wanted more for her colleagues. It was not just about giving them the means to a training and earning money. She wanted them to have the respect of the communities they lived in. She tells us, "A lack of confidence is a big problem among women here. There is also a problem with girls being born, harassment from boys, no real support from men and domestic violence. Through the groups, these issues are starting to get resolved and women have started reporting cases of domestic violence, etc. We speak to husbands and council them or refer them to the Family Counselling Centre". One of the biggest alterations she has noticed is the change in attitude of husbands and families for the better. This is encouraging not only to her but the women as well. It gives them the confidence to pursue their dreams.

As President, Jyoti proudly tells us, "Today, even illiterate women are inspired to be part of the SHGs. More than 10,000 women have been helped till now and the aim is to help an additional 15,000 women over the next three years. Some women are currently working in export houses and in catering, while 45 women are working as e-rickshaw drivers earning between INR 5,000-10,000 a month. Some women working as business correspondents earn between INR 20,000-25,000 per month. I am also working with Plan India in hopes to open crèches for working women and those involved in the project".

Jyoti is thankful for the facilities provided by Plan India and its NGO partner, Dr. A.V. Baliga Memorial Trust, to her and others. She is now a successful business woman who wishes to change the lives of as many women as possible. At the launch of Plan India's State of the Girl Child Report 2015, Jyoti was invited to be part of the panellists and speak on stage. "It is a testament to the effort put in by Plan India to have a woman come from behind a veil to being the voice of her community. I am certain that not just me, but thousands of more women will lead a better and successful life because of the project".

From being confined to her home to now being a spokesperson for SHGs and an advocate for women's rights, while still leading a happy married life, Jyoti has clearly demonstrated that a woman can indeed do it all!

The proudest voice in her community

Jyotika was one of the estimated 100,000 street children living in Delhi. Like the rest, her childhood was nothing but a struggle. She was born in the streets and from a small age was involved in rag picking along with her seven siblings and parents at the Nizamuddin Railway station. At night, she would sleep under a flyover with her family. When she was not rag picking, she would be begging near traffic lights and the station. Inevitably, she ended up missing out on going to school and other opportunities to develop.

It was during these bleak times and when all hope seemed lost, Jyotika came in contact with Plan India's project staff. This meeting would be the turning point in her life. After joining the Dreams on Wheels project, she was able to learn about various issues and get an education. With her confidence growing and the prospects of a brighter future, Jyotika pushed on and took every opportunity that came her way. Gradually, she became an active member and later a leader of Badhte Kadam - a federation of street and working children raising issues of child rights amongst communities.

Jyotika also became an active member of the Child Advisory Board. As a member, she is equally determined towards their commitment to ensure that children and young people have the opportunity to voice their opinion and influence decisions affecting their lives. She is now a radio jockey and hosts the "Baat Nanhe Dilon Ki" radio programme to bring child rights issues to a wider audience. She enjoys speaking and interviewing other children, sharing her ideas and opinions for building a better future for those in need of care and protection. One of the main topics of her talk show is girls' rights. This has encouraged members of her community to send their daughters to school and involve them in decision making.

Jyotika continues to be part of Badhte Kadam and has even managed to save up for her studies going forward. She is also helping her brothers and sisters in their education and advices her parents on important decisions.

In her own words, Jyotika tell us, "When I am older, I will become a civil worker and help those children who are struggling in life".

Stronger than Iron Man

Hamid (name changed) is a happy, active little boy. At six years old, he's the youngest in his family and doted on by his siblings and parents. Living in a low income group colony in Babarpur, Delhi, they are close-knit and can often be found teasing each other amid peals of laughter.

Hamid's father is a construction worker and the sole breadwinner in his family. He works hard so they are well cared for, but it hasn't always been easy.

Hamid was born prematurely at seven months and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He was unable to stand or walk, and muscle tightness in both his hands only restricted his movement further. Not knowing what to do, his parents grew more anxious every day.

Then, Hamid's mother heard about the Community Resource and Rehabilitation Centre run by Plan India and its local partner as part of Project Muskan in North East Delhi.

She immediately visited the centre and was relieved to find the staff friendly and well-informed, making quick work of an orientation on their services as well as an impromptu counselling session.

Assuaged of her fears and hopeful for the very first time, she resolved to get Hamid the help he needed. A treatment schedule was set upon and heartily approved of by the family.

Shortly after, he began therapy and was issued disability and rail concession certificates. He was enrolled in a nearby school, and registered for a number of welfare schemes. He'll soon receive a disability pension as well, which will go towards paying his tuition fees.

What's more, Hamid is the proud owner of a pair of AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis) that keep his joints in alignment, comprensate for muscle weakness and reduce pain. Much like his favourite superhero Iron Man and his suit of armour, Hamid puts on his AFO and is ready to take on the world!

The centre also trained his mother in basic therapy so they could exercise at home with Iron Man on the television. This paid off, and Hamid can now sit without support and even stand several minutes unassisted. He hopes to be as strong as his hero some day and it is inspiring to watch him take these steps.

"After joining this centre, Hamid got a new lease on life. We never imagined he would be so active or that we would see him trying to exercise on his own. He loves coming here to meet his friends. They play and tell fun stories - of course, most of them about Iron Man! We're so happy this day has come", says his mother in conversation with project staff.

Learning to Live Again

"I'm Shama. I used to live a happy life, a normal life like that of any other child. I would spend my days in school and play with my friends in the evenings.

But the nights were an entirely different story. My father would get drunk every night and beat my mother. This went on for years until the day she decided she'd had enough and left us, leaving me alone with my father.

Consumed with anger, he continued to drink heavily and took to shouting and beating me as well. Our financial situation started to turn desperate and we struggled to make ends meet. Then one day, without warning or my consent, he sold me to a brothel. They paid him Rs. 15,000 and he used all that money to buy himself more liquor. I was 13 years old then.

At the brothel, I was grossly mistreated. They locked me in a room and did not allow me to speak to anyone. If I did not obey their orders, they would force me into working. Sometimes, they would even burn me with cigarettes and starve me. They were ruthless and without pity.

When all hope seemed lost, the police rescued me and other young girls from the brothel. We were taken to a home run by Plan India where they looked after me. There, for the first time in years, I was made to feel safe among girls of my own age and women who had been through the same harrowing experience as me.

Through its mainstreaming and rehabilitation initiatives, Plan India and its local partners helped me find a place to live in government hostels and rehabilitation centres. Having been able to resume my studies, I have re-learnt to read and write and will soon complete my Class IX.

Plan India helped me get justice against the brothel. They helped me file a case against the brothel and counselled me on how to navigate this process. Initially, I was scared to speak in court, but with Plan India's support and encouragement, I managed to overcome my fears and tell my story. I feel better knowing that those people from the brothel were imprisoned for five years.

My life has turned around for the better and a whole new world has opened up for me - a world where I have the opportunity to be someone and make a difference. After completing my education, I want to be a counsellor and help other girls who are suffering like I once did. I hope to be married some day and have a loving, caring family of my own. With nothing standing in my way, I am determined to live my dreams now"!

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In partnership with Axis Bank, Plan India has been scaling up its interventions for the upliftment of Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking (VOCSET) since 2012. So far, the programme has helped over 35,000 VOCSETs earn a dignified livelihood and ensure their children have access to school and adequate nutrition.

Advocating for Change

Goushia is in Class VIII and lives in Andhra Pradesh. Plan India has helped her grow into a healthy and motivated young girl who has stayed in school. At thirteen, she is an inimitable advocate for sanitation behaviour change.

Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh is home to one of India's largest ports, as well as an unassuming little government high school. Goushia and a 182 other young girls make for over half its students. Several families choose to enrol their children here because the school, as part of Plan India's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme, has eclipsed all others in the area.

This was not the case a few years ago. Back then, the school lacked basic water and sanitation facilities - it had no functional toilets, wash basins, running water or dustbins. For Goushia, this presented an especially difficult challenge during menstruation. She dreaded the prospect of spending an entire day at school wearing a homemade pad (fashioned out of cloth for reuse), aside from being unable even to wash her hands. She began to skip school every month and her grades suffered. If this continued, her qualifications and opportunities for independence could have been significantly affected.

As part of the Support My School campaign, Goushia's school was then selected to participate in a WASH project run by Plan India and its NGO partner Gram Swaraj Samiti supported by NDTV and Coca-Cola. Joint assessments and community-centred deliberations gave way to a comprehensive strategy designed to bring about infrastructural and behaviour change.

As part of the project, both girls' and boys' toilets were renovated and hand washing basins and drinking water were provided for. A WASH committee comprised entirely of children was formed and trained on programme aspects viz. hand washing, personal health and hygiene.

Special emphasis was given to adolescent health with girls being oriented on personal hygiene and the use of sanitary napkins. Goushia and her friends were quick to adopt these practices and now make full use of the available facilities at school. Their relief at being able to pursue their studies unhindered is palpable.

Regardless of the time of month, Goushia can be found on the playground or participating in extracurricular activities during recess. "I've learned so much and am happy to come to school every day now!" she says. Having topped her class, she's quite the role model. "My younger sisters at home and in school look up to me, so I teach them about proper hygiene and staying healthy! I wish that girls like me never have to miss school again."

A leader at all WASH committee meetings, Goushia is the most effective advocate we've seen yet for young girls exercising control over their own bright futures.

Making Teachers of Young Girls

Few stories are as fulfilling as that of Reena, who entered the Plan India programme at nine and has since grown into a determined young woman and inspiration for many fledgling minds.

Reena and her family lived in the crowded slums of Hari Nagar in New Delhi. Her parents worked menial jobs and struggled to make ends meet, but ensured that they sent their four children (two girls and two boys) to school. Life trundled on until the sudden demolition of their home left them on the streets. It was only several months later that the family was able to find shelter in resettlement colonies in the city.

By this time, Plan India had begun a child rights based programme with NGO partner Alamb in the area, through which Reena and her siblings were enrolled in school. Work was hard to come by for her parents however, which eventually caused the children to drop out. In a bid to ensure they continued to study, the programme linked them to a local non-formal education centre until arrangements could be made for them to re-enrol in school.

Reena's mother, by then a member of a women's support group, encouraged her to join one of the girls' clubs that formed the crux of the Plan India programme. There, she and other young girls received in-depth training on a variety of subjects including child rights and protection, gender, behaviour change communication, photography and even media management. Inspired, she and her siblings also went back to school.

Before long, Reena was appointed Editor of the programme's Child Media Club - a fierce advocate for the right of children to partake in decisions that affect their lives and fight against injustice they endure.

Her journey has been a difficult one, mired in financial and social battles. Still, years later, she has completed primary school and begun classes at the District Information and Education Training Institute in Delhi, where she's training to teach elementary school students.

Reena has big plans to change the world, starting with her very own students. She may have started out a programme beneficiary, but is determined to make a difference and contribute to the successes Plan India will go on to achieve in the coming years.

From Bikaner to Border Security

Anandi (name changed), lives with her parents and three siblings in a marginalised remote community in Bikaner, Rajasthan.

Despite her parents being poor farmers, they managed to put her through graduate level studies and also encouraged her to prepare for Government services. It was during this time that she heard about an initiative called "Balika Shivir" started by Plan India through its local partner to coach and mentor young women from rural areas to access better education and livelihood opportunities. Anandi signed up for the coaching camp in Lunkaransar, Rajasthan and started preparing for the Police Force entrance exams.

Under the guidance of the teachers in the programme, she studied diligently and passed the rigorous written and physical exams with flying colours.

It was a very proud day for her family, community, Plan India and its partners when she became the first ever person from her community (a woman nonetheless) to be selected in the Border Security Force.

Now, every day she puts her life on the line protecting our country. No longer isolated in a remote community, Anandi is now an independent woman and has become a role model for young boys and girls in her community.

"Thanks to Plan India and its local partner NGO, I have finally achieved my dream of becoming a policewoman! I feel humbled that the girls of my village look up to me as their role model and ask me for guidance."

Bridging the gap - Story of Priyanka

Priyanka, aged 18, is a young girl born and brought up in the remote village of Kumulabahali, Keonjhar district, Odisha. She is an active member of the 'Sahid Udam Singh Sisu Sangha' in her village.

Acute poverty, malnourished children, anaemic mothers and sick elders - Priyanka has had to witness all this in her village since the day she was born. The sick lacked treatment with the primary health centre being 17 kms away and the main district hospital a further 20 kms off. Worse, the only way to the hospitals was a bridge connecting Thakurmunda and Saharpada which was in an unsafe condition. Her people did not have a clue who the approach to help with the renovation of the bridge.

One day, on her way back from college, Priyanka noticed renovation on the bridge had begun. It made her happy knowing that now she and others from her village could commute from one place to another. They would have access to some much needed amenities.

Being inquisitive, Priyanka immediately set out to know more about the construction work taking place. She went to the site and gathered information about the material being used, wages workers were being paid and so on. What she found was not what she expected.

The construction material was not up to the government standards and inferior in quality. Apart from this, she also noted a gap between wages paid to women (Rs. 100/day) and men (Rs. 120/day) even though the work being done was more or less the same. She immediately brought this to the attention of her Sisu club members and the community groups in her area as well. It was then decided to send representatives from her village to the contractor and convince him of improving the quality of work and provide equal wages. The representatives failed in their endeavour. Moreover, they were bribed into ignoring his work with a few bottle of liquor.

A brave and dedicated effort from Priyanka made her a role model not only in her community but in neighbouring villages as well. Everyone showed their appreciation for the work the young girl had put in.

Speaking about the incident Priyanka said, 'I am proud of the success of my mission to do something for my community. I thank Plan for making me and our Sisu club members capable of handling issues through a series of capacity building workshop and trainings. Their support was truly commendable. It could not have been possible to resolve the issue without support and proper guidance from Plan members. Now we are felicitated and praised at many forums and people seek our suggestions before planning any development work for our village'.

My happy days are back

Plan India, in partnership with Metso (Finland based company) have been working in remote villages of Alwar, Rajasthan implementing its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme to great effect. One of the key involvements of the programme is teaching adolescent girls about personal hygiene.

Esha is a 14 year old student and one of many beneficiaries of the WASH programme. Before the programme was introduced, Esha tell us, "During periods, I was aware of the changes in my body but was shy to talk about it. I would have to miss school, five-six days a month because there were no proper toilet facilities. It would be especially difficult during examinations". In a village, cultural norms play their part as well. As recalled by Esha, girls are not allowed to leave their homes during periods. Moreover, they are not allowed to visit any place of worship as it is considered a sin.

With the toilets being unusable, the girls were left with the only one option - to stay home. But now, the situation has improved. With the new toilets, girls like Esha are not ashamed to use the facilities anymore. They are now equipped with incinerators to dispose of used sanitary pads. More importantly, they are now able to attend school regularly, even during their periods. When asked where she learned about her hygiene, Esha promptly recollects, "My teacher taught us. I am comfortable talking to her about menstruation. I even give her money to purchase sanitary pads for me".

The introduction of sanitary pads has been a welcome addition for the girls. "Earlier, I had to use homemade pads (pieces of cloth called kapda)", says Esha. These pads were unhygienic and would often cause sickness. They would be used two-three times after being washed with water and left in the sun to dry. "Now", Esha says, "I can concentrate more on my education and studies".

Plan India has been working to promote hygiene among the marginalised and underprivileged children, their families and communities. And girls like Esha have been benefiting from our effort.

Staying healthy and happy

Krishna, a one and half year child had only been immunised for BCG at birth. His mother who started coming for the mothers meeting shared that due to lack of health services in her village, her son could not get vaccinated. Now, after working at a construction site, she neither had time nor information about the availability of the Primary Health Centres (PHC) dispensary where she could take her son.

Plan staff informed her about the importance of immunisation and also informed her about the nearest PHC in her area. Further, exposure to awareness programmes, health camps and street plays motivated her to take her child to the PHC for vaccination.

After the first visit, the mother got confidence about the area and is now maintains the vaccination chart given by PHC and takes her child for follow ups as advised.

Setting an example for others

Delhi

Meera, aged 32 years, mother of triplets, was linked to Parent Development Programme (PDP). During the situation analysis, it was found that she knew little about child development and having triplets was making her life difficult and leading to neglect of children. She was therefore, introduced to the PDP.

Meera used to come to the PDP meetings regularly. She proved to be one of the most active members of the group. The staffs were also very happy with her engagement as she not only learnt during the meetings, but shared her knowledge with her neighbours and other young mothers pro-actively.

Meera came to know that there was a vacant post of an ASHA worker. She filled a form to apply for the same. During the interview, Meera was able to answer all the questions regarding child development and was appointed as an ASHA worker in Trilokpuri. Now Meera is not just taking care of her children well but also taking forward her responsibility as a professional very confidently.

Child's Play

Rajasthan

Nanu and her husband Ramnivas are residence of Rajasthan and both are members of the Parent Development Programme (PDP) group. They have an 8 year old daughter. Their main occupation is farming and wage labour. Earlier, Ramnivas never used to talk or play with his daughter. Nanu was doing everything for her daughter along with the household responsibilities and her interaction with her daughter was limited to taking care of her basic needs.

After being part of the parenting programme, both Nanu and Ramnivas have learned the significance of interacting with children and different ways of playing games with their child. They have learnt how to engage with children in day to day activities which can add so much value to the child’s well being. The child could also learn so many things just through play and talking.

These interactions have made their daughter happier and more participatory in different activities at home. After being a member of PDP group, Ramnivas particularly has noticed a lot of change in him. In Rajasthan, men in villages usually do not play with their children. This is considered work of the women, but Ramnivas now takes his daughter to the market or sometimes to the agricultural field. He gives a lot of attention to his daughter when home, especially when his wife is busy with other work. He plays with her without any hesitations.

Supporting your child

Chhattisgarh

Seema, a native resident of Chhattisgarh had two children after which she had a family planning operation. One year back she lost her young child in an accident. Since then, she never leaves her second child alone. Seema moved with her husband to a construction site in Gurgaon in October 2013. The site personnel refused to give her work as she wanted to carry her child with her. During mobilisation visits, Plan staff came in contact with her. On listening to her problem, the staff suggested her to drop her child to the centre, but Seema clearly refused citing safety of her child and narrated how she lost her child. On persuading further, Seema replies, "Mera toh Bhagwan par bhi bharosa nahi fir aap par kaise karu" (I don't even trust God as far as my child is concerned. How can I trust you?).

As a result of regular interaction and motivation, Seema decided to visit the centre. With a heavy heart, she decided to leave her child at the centre. On the first day, the child started crying when Seema started to leave. This continued for about one week. The staff encouraged Seema to leave even if he cries as every child does this initially. She used to come in between and see her child from the window. She found her child busy playing with other children and actively participating in activities.

Now, she feels relieved! Seema has started working on site. Now, she is actively supporting the staff in bringing new children to the centre. Her child is also safe in the centre and gaining from the learning opportunities he gets at the centre which he was missing earlier.

Fight of Meeratun

Thirty-eight-year-old Meeratun was a bitter woman. As a child, she was only allowed to study up to standard five, following which she was literally forced to live inside the house. At the age of 18, she was married off into a conservative joint family. Besides her husband, her family comprised of a brother-in-law and his wife, a sister-in-law and mother-in-law.

Meeratun's husband was constantly pressurized by his family to ask her parents for more dowry, and she was subjected to domestic violence. Her husband abused, bullied and even physically tortured her.

She gave birth to a female child a year after marriage, and that gave rise to more resentment at home, where having a male child meant everything. Due to not being provided a proper diet, she became anaemic, and could not even produce enough breast milk to feed her baby. She then left for her parental home.

After a gap of seven months, with the intervention of the people of her village, she returned with her husband and started living in a rented house in Mangolpuri in Delhi. But her miseries did not end here. Upon seeing her talking to the house's owner one day, her enraged husband thrashed her in full public view on the street.

Her troubles increased after a year, when she gave birth to another baby girl. One day, barely twenty days after her baby was born, her in-laws severely beat her up and threatened to kill her. She managed to escape and went to the police to file a First Information Report (FIR). But here too, she came to a dead end, as her in-laws had already filed an FIR against her. She then returned to her home in Mangolpuri and soon her husband left her.

Meeratun then started working at farm houses as a labourer and admitted her elder child to school. Later, she met a Banking on Change (BoC) field officer who explained about Self Help Group (SHG) fundamentals. She joined the SHG, and has now opened a crèche where she operates as a baby-sitter. She now wants to see her daughters educated and independent to enable them to have a better, fruitful life. Presently, her elder daughter is studying in standard 12 and the younger in standard nine.

The Banking on Change project, currently being executed by Plan India, seeks to ensure economic security and improve the quality of life of disadvantaged children.

Touching the Sky

Poonam is all of 38-years-old. But she had to struggle for more than 18 years to enable her two daughters to continue their education. Her life became somewhat easier after she was informed of the Banking on Change (BoC) project being operated by Plan India.

She started saving money in the Self-Help Group (SHG) after undergoing training in the catering field and launching her own business, in addition to continuing with her previous job. Subsequently, she started getting orders from various agencies and her average earning is presently Rs. 4,000/- per month. This has enabled her eldest daughter to go to university and the youngest to pursue her higher secondary studies.

Poonam aims to make her daughters self-dependent to enable them to have a better life than she could ever dream of imagining.

Her tale of woe began four years after the birth of her elder daughter, when her husband did not allow the child to be admitted to school. After a year of conflicting opinions, she got her daughter admitted to a government school in the face of determined opposition by her husband and in-laws. She was additionally not allowed to work, but later her mother-in-law permitted her to do leather cutting work at home. The catch -- out of the Rs. 400-500/- that she earned, she had to hand over Rs. 350/- to her mother-in-law.

There came a time when the educational needs of the children began increasing and her husband was jobless. The family expenditure was also on the rise. Ten years on, after the demise of her mother-in-law, the responsibility of getting her sister-in-law married too fell upon her shoulders. The stress took its toll and she fell ill, as a result of which her daughters' education was put on hold, only to be resumed six months later when she significantly recovered.

Poonam gives full credit to the BoC project for infusing confidence in her to go ahead with her objectives in getting her girls an education. The BoC project aims to improve the socio-economic condition of women by providing them access to financial services through financial linkages and micro-enterprise activities.

Realising self potential

Delhi

Anuradha is a member of Pragathi Self Help Group (SHG) formed under the project - Banking on Change. At the time of formation of the group, she was a housewife. During the interaction, the FO informed the members about the need and importance of the SHG as an important tool for women's empowerment. They elaborated how SHGs are useful towards financial inclusion as well as promoting women to start their own enterprises and generate income. The members further shared that there are many vocational training programmes being conducted by the organisation for women and one such programme is Jute Craft.

Anuradha expressed her interest in the activity and joined the training programme. Following her footsteps, four more members from the group also enrolled in the programme and successfully completed a six months training course. Together, they put up stalls in SHG melas organised by the project as well as in the micro-enterprise promotion fair organised on the occasion of Diwali besides participating and putting up stalls in various other programmes.

Today, Anuradha is confident enough to run the enterprise but seek guidance and support particularly related to marketing/order of the product. She also wishes to upgrade her skills as she knows that there are regular changes in the product. With the orders, she will purchase the required machines and equipment and wish to set up an enterprise. She actively participates in whatever opportunity she gets to promote her products that are prepared at home and says that with the orders and some marketing support, she could give more time to the activity. Whenever Anuradha gets a stall to display and sell her products, she is able to sell the product worth in the range of Rs. 800-1,000.

Wanting to help the other women of her community, Anuradha now motivates other women as well as helps them explore their potentiality so that they use it for some income generation activity for a better living and supporting the family. The members after having being organised into a SHG are being sensitised towards various social and health aspects like women empowerment, enterprise development, skill development, awareness on legal issues, health and hygiene, etc.

A life of her own

Delhi

Jyoti is a very simple and soft spoken girl belonging to a not so well to do family consisting of her mother, father, younger brother and 2 sisters. One of her sister who is elder is married but lives with them as she has filed a divorce case. Jyoti has completed her schooling and now wants to pursue graduation.

Presently, Jyoti is working with Pantaloons as a fashion assistant and is enjoying her work and freedom to the utmost. She wants to work for a longer time and save money so that she can fulfil her sister's wishes, who dreams to get a respectful job in the near future as well as for her own studies and independence. She feels that she is now mature enough to handle certain responsibilities of her own and her family. Jyoti is a girl of her words and is working really hard to reach to the level which she has created for herself.

Jyoti said that, "I came to know about Saksham from the pamphlets being distributed in our community. I thought to visit the centre once and see what it is about. When I saw that many boys and girls like me are present there and learning the practical aspects of what they actually have to do in the professional and competitive environment, I was really moved and motivated to join it. I immediately went to my parents to seek permission for joining it and they were also ready to support my decision. After joining Saksham, I could feel the change in me. Sir, Ma'am and everybody else out there were so nice to all the students and even gave personal attention to each and every student. Before even finishing our course, we got placed. Me and my friend got selected at the first instance in our interview with Future Group. It is so exciting to actually getting selected at the first interview which I ever gave."

"I would really want to thank Saksham and its staff members as they are helping me achieve that heights where I want to reach and would surely recommend it to my friends."

Mother Rules out Early Marriage for Sonika

Uttarakhand

Pratham Singh and Sarita Devi are residents of Village Kyark, at Bhatwari Cluster of Bhatwari Block of District Uttarkashi. They family comprises three daughters and a son. The father had decided that Sonika, the eldest daughter, should be married off after she clears her intermediate exams. But Sarita Devi was not in favour of this, and wanted her daughter to continue her studies. She was a regular participant of the Shri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) program and asked an SBMA worker for help in providing job-oriented training to Sonika. Her plea was addressed by SBMA in 2013, when SBMA-Plan arranged for a training program in which Sonika and other girls were trained on an “Adventure Course” for 15 days. The girl was subsequently selected as a volunteer to conduct mock drill exercises in the community and schools, and she was paid a stipend.

Her mother had also submitted all the required documents for Gaura Devi Kanya Dhan Yojana, despite her husband’s reluctance in getting the formalities done. She has additionally received Rs. 25,000/- which she plans to utilize for her daughter future.

Mother's Support Helps Rekha to Continue Education

Uttarakhand

"I am Rekha, a 20-year-old girl from village Aikhola in Uttarakhand state. I am fulfilling my dream of becoming an educated individual. I am also computer literate and have a reasonably good knowledge of the English language. These are sure to help me go a long way towards a better future.” Rekha hails from a poor family. Her father does not work due to ill health and the responsibility of managing the whole family, including a younger brother, shoulders entirely on her mother. Fifteen years ago, the lady joined Shri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) as an early child care centre caretaker. She also joined a women group and started saving small amounts of money.

Rekha, on her part, was a child group leader in her community that was supported by SBMA-Plan, and hence was aware of the potential to use her capacity for self-growth. The girl completed her schooling with good marks, following which she was granted Rs. 25,000/- from the girl's education promotion scheme of the state government that provides for Below Poverty Line family girls.

Her mother, wanting her girl to continue with her education, shrugged off suggestions from friends and neighbours to get her daughter married off. She let Rekha pursue her desire to go in for a computer diploma course. The girl sailed through with flying colours. She also took coaching classes in spoken English in an effort to improve her language.

Soon after, Rekha joined a call centre where she worked for a year and supported her family. But her ambition led her to study further. Her mother, once again in the face of criticism, remained unfazed and stood by her daughter's decision. Presently, Rekha is doing her post graduation from a college in Dehradun, where she is on the second year of her study.

Krishna's Journey to the National Level Badminton Team

Uttarakhand

Krishna was 14-years-old when she joined the national badminton team in the under 18 category. No small feat, as the rural community where she lives in Uttarakhand's Mehalchaury village does not have any coaching facilities, or even a badminton court for that matter. Mehalchaury is a village situated in Gairsain Mandal in Chamoli district of the state.

It all happened one day in 2005 during a children's group meeting, after the Plan field worker at the Shri Bhubaneswar Mahila Ashram asked the gathering to select some children for a five-day sports training camp.

"I put my name on top of the list. When asked my choice of game, I was initially confused, but later agreed to be coached in badminton. The sport was new for me and I saw a game being played on television. It appealed to me. I told my mother and she allowed me to join the camp," she says. She adds, “After a month, Plan organized a rural sport competition in my area and I won. My interest in the sport grew and I then took part in many school level competitions. In 2011, I was selected for the state level and later on for the national under-18 team. Since then, I am playing at the national level. I thank Plan for making my dream a reality."

But Krishna's journey was not easy. When she was 13, her father, a former junior engineer in a private construction company, an alcoholic, was hospitalized due to ill health. Her mother, a housewife, then took matters into her own hands to chart the future of her daughter and 10-year-old son. She was determined not to let circumstances affect the education of her children in any way.

"My mother bought a buffalo and sold milk in the marketplace. She also started growing vegetables and spices in our small piece of agricultural land to sell them. The money was mainly spent on our education," says Krishna.

Later, her father managed to shake off his drinking habit, and, to the family's delight, even bought a badminton racket once for his daughter. Krishna is now 16-years-old and a student of standard 12.

Radha the Torch Bearer

Rajasthan

One can clearly see the love, admiration and respect reflected in Deepika's eyes when she proudly talks of her mother, Radha, saying, "Maa is the best in the world. She is a great woman". Her mother's determined efforts over the years to get her an education have started bearing fruit. Deepika is currently a BCom student enrolled in the second year at a college in Udaipur city in Rajasthan state.

Radha was born into a poor scheduled caste family. She worked in the fields along with her father and attended primary school. But she was married off at a tender age along with her elder sister. Whatever little her husband earned went to her in-laws, to the extent that she was not even provided with adequate food, despite being made to work in the house the whole day. Soon she became a mother of a daughter and a son. She then left home to live in a small hut with her husband and children and worked as a labourer to make ends meet. The husband, unemployed by now, would beat her up often on some pretext or the other.

In 1993, Radha got to know about Plan-Seva Mandir, a non-governmental organisation working for women's emancipation in the area, through a field worker. She joined the women's group formed in her village. Soon, she was appointed as a grass root level worker and received a small honorarium for her work. Her work involved motivating women in her village and nearby areas on the importance of saving and credit activities, besides income generation. Additionally, they were taught to resist violence against women as well as spread awareness for equality between female and male children.

Radha also got her children admitted in the local government school. Moreover, she enrolled and appeared for the class 8 examinations.

But all this changed one day when one of her relatives, finding her alone at home one day, tried to sexually assault her. Though she fought him off and managed to resist his attempts, her family, wanting to hush things up, asked her to keep quiet. But Radha, determined to get justice, was helped by her friends and her organisation in achieving her objective.

The incident reinforced Radha's belief that girls should be educated and made self-reliant to become bold to deal with any such situations. She admitted Deepika to a residential school some 25 kilometres away after taking a loan from the village Self Help Group and Seva Mandir. The girl passed her fifth standard and got admission in the government-run residential Navoday Vidyalay in Mavali, about 100 kilometres away. She stayed there until she completed her schooling.

Deepika's father and other family members opposed sending her away to a school located so far away. But unfazed, Radha continued her work with the organisation. She also learnt sewing and opened a small shop to continue funding her daughter's education. Her son, Hira, despite being provided with the opportunity, did not show much interest in pursuing his studies.

The mother once again had to take a loan to get her daughter admitted to a college in Udaipur, as living in a college hostel, though subsidised, was still difficult for her to fund. Deepika, on her part, is helps her mother in her efforts and teaches poor tribal children in residential learning camps organised thrice a year by Plan-Seva Mandir.

Road to a better future

Delhi

Nisha resides in one of the resettlement colonies in Delhi. There are 5 members in her family. Nisha and her father are the earning members and collectively manage the household finances. She had completed her education up to the 1st year of her Bachelor's degree. Because of financial crisis in her family, she was unable to continue her education further. She had to earn a living in order to support and continue her education. However, a lack of desired job skills, made it difficult for her to get a proper respectable job. During this struggle, one of her neighbours who was the Treasurer of the Self Help Group named Nayee Disha told her about the concept of SHG and motivated her to start saving through membership in the SHG. She felt that joining the SHG with small monthly saving would be a good idea and did so. After that, she got an opportunity to attend the job oriented skill development (Retail Management trade) training. Following the completion of the training she got a job in Vishal Megamart (one of the departmental stores/supermarkets). Now she is earning a regular salary and continuing her monthly saving in the SHG. She also participates in the SHG meetings regularly, so that she can learn new things.

Working for her family

Uttarakhand

Pooja Devi lives in Dungri village in Gairsain block of Chamoli district with her two children - one boy and one girl. Her husband has migrated and works in a private job in Delhi. Pooja has studied till the 10th grade. To meet her regular household expenses, she earns Rs. 1,500 (USD 25) by animal keeping. She is also a member of Self Help Group and saves Rs. 50 on monthly basis. In May 2014, a community mobiliser met her in the village and shared the details about a livelihoods initiative by Plan India. After listening to the mobiliser, Devki showed her interest in being part of the project and being training. She attended a two-day training on Enterprise Development Promotion (EDP) and seven days skills training on knitting.

Post training, Pooja bought a hand knitting machine from the market which was facilitated by the training partner. She procured the woollen yarn from the local market and started producing woollen sweaters at her home. On an average, she is able to knit 8 woollen sweaters in 20 days as she is engaged in household agricultural work also. She was able to sell all the eight sweaters in the village itself and earned Rs. 3,200. The production cost of one sweater varies from Rs. 230-250 per piece and is sold for Rs. 350-400 in the village only. The cost of production per month is Rs. 2,500 whereas the revenue generated after selling the product is Rs. 4,000, which means a profit of Rs. 1,500. Pooja says, "As the demand in her and nearby villages will increase, she will also increase the production. By then she will also gain more skill in the trade."

Pooja shares that "This training has been really helpful. Earlier, we used to knit sweaters by hand and it used to take around 20 days to make a sweater. Now, after getting the training on machine knitting, I can knit 20 sweaters in a single day and can earn enough money for meeting my expenses and can also save. Marketing of these sweaters is not an issue because of being in hills; it is cold for at least eight months in a year. Now, I have to learn more about different designs, colour combination and also make people aware of the availability of the sweaters. With my earnings, I would first like to buy the essential household utility items."

Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers

Delhi

M. Devi resides in Madanpur Khadar and is a beneficiary of the Plan-CASP project as a sponsored family. She is also associated with the early childhood care programme as well. M. Devi had always been worried about the health issues of her children. Her children suffered from diarrhoea and other water borne diseases a number of occasions. At times, she would purchase drinking water from the market but it was expensive. Hence, she and her family were totally depended on hand pumps and tanker supply for water. Frequent illness of her children and other family members was adding to her financial problems. M. Devi then got associated with the Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers project and got information about safe drinking water, usage of water filter and health hazards of unsafe drinking water. After this orientation, she purchased and started using water filters. Now, for the last few months none of her children has got any water born disease. She and her family are very happy and she proudly says that "It is a smart decision to invest on safe drinking water technique than investing on medical bills".

Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers

Delhi

Sunita stays in Madanpur Khadar and works in an early childhood care centre. She lives with her parents along with two brothers and one sister. Sunita and her family were taking water for drinking from household hand pump and tanker supply from the Delhi Water Board. The entire family was not aware of the problems related to unsafe drinking water. One year back Sunita suffer acute diarrheal and she was hospitalised for two days. It incurred a financial burden on family and was not able to work for almost two weeks.

Sunita got associated with the Healthy Future for Delhi Dwellers project of Plan-CASP where she would go and get information on safe and unsafe drinking water. Sunita also showed her willingness to be part of the business model of the project and is now a very active member of the project. Her family is now using water filters for drinking and cooking. In the last few months, the family has not suffered from any water borne diseases. She also disseminates the key messages of safe drinking water to other households also.

Metso's school toilet project in rural India empowers thousands

Rajasthan

Chourety Basi School is located at the end of a track road in a middle of rural Rajasthan in India. The state - run school is at the heart of the local village community, which consists of over hundred families. There's no running water or electricity in most of the villagers' homes. The school building looks like any other rural school in India with its red-washed walls, bare classrooms, children sitting on the dirt floor, being taught with minimal teaching aids. The old-fashioned chalk and board seems to be the favoured method here.

But there is one difference at the Chourety Basi in comparison to thousands of other schools across India.

It has a sparkling clean, white, hygienic toilets and clean hand washing facilities. The toilets' walls are adorned with instructions for hand washing and general hygiene. At the back is an incinerator, which gets rid of any waste immediately.

"The toilets have really changed my motivation to go to school," says 15-year old Sarita. "I no longer need to worry about using the facilities, or stress about hygiene" she adds.

The toilets are supplied by Metso, as part of its co-operation with Plan India, and together they support 15 schools with 8,000 students across India. The programme began in 2012 with a key focus in water and sanitation facilities in Indian schools. Indian law states that each school should have a toilet, but the reality is often very different. Most schools have filthy lavatories, used only because there is no alternative. Students and teachers are often made to do with fields and back alleys, which is both dangerous and unhygienic.

"The toilets we had before were in a horrible state, and no hand washing facilities. Most of us would not use them at all," explains Sarita. "I used to take a week off every month during my periods, because there were no proper facilities", she added. Safe and clean toilets might be taken for granted in the Western world, but in rural Rajasthan, they make a real difference for child's attendance at school. Concentrating on lessons when you are desperate to use the bathroom is hard on anyone, let alone for a girl who is menstruating and has nowhere to change or dispose of her pad. So, many rather not go to school at all. In one survey, 23 percent of Indian school-age girls dropped out of school when they reached puberty. More than 300 million women and girls in India do not have access to safe menstrual hygiene products or understand the basic cleanliness needed which curtails their education and hampers future opportunities. "Before we had the new toilets installed a year ago, the attendance was poor, especially for adolescent girls. Today it's hundred percent," says the school's principal Ram Narayan Yadav.

Plan India takes a holistic approach to the issue by involving the entire community. They believe that a school is a permanent institution and children are the change agents. "In our school programmes we adopt a rights-based approach that involves children, parents, teachers and local community leaders for effective management of the school's water and sanitation programme," as said by a Plan Official.

Because most of the villagers are farmers by trade, and socioeconomically disadvantaged, having a toilet was not a priority to many families before. Since Metso and Plan began their toilet projects in the area, many students have gone back to their families and educated their parents on the importance of a good toilet. "I told my father to build a new toilet, because before we had to go to the field before which was dangerous and unhygienic," Sarita says. It's a case of child teaching the adult a plan that works in their community.

Working for a better livelihood

Delhi

Alka is a very enthusiastic and bright girl living in the Mangolpuri area of West Delhi. She is presently working with Future Group (Pantaloons) as Fashion assistant and feels great after completing 2 months of her job. She has been a part of the Saksham's 2nd hospitality batch.

Alka is the blessed daughter of her proud parents. Her mother has supported her in almost all the important decisions that she has taken in her life. It was her mother only who initiated a step ahead, breaking the orthodox mindset of their society around, and getting her enrolled in Saksham so that she could lead an independent and secured life of her own. She and her mother lives together in Mangolpuri as her brother and dad work in Noida and even stay there. They come to see Alka and her mother quite often.

When Alka joined her job through Saksham, there were some problems with the work timings of Alka, but the staff members of Saksham heard them patiently and solved their problem by talking to the company to adjust her timings as the area she lives in, is not very safe for girls to come home late at evening.

Alka said that "Saksham has given me a life which I could only dream of. I never thought that I would also experience the life of a working, independent girl who can support her family and her further studies, take her own decisions and have a high level of confidence. It is all because of Saksham that my dreams have come into reality. I never thought that I have so much of potential, instead I was in fear of giving my dreams, a priority because I was born as a girl and in our society girls are not allowed to live up to fulfil their dreams or pursue professional career." Alka added that now my mother is so happy that I can support my family, not only emotionally but also financially, which was the need of the hour. She mentioned that her speaking, convincing skills and the confidence made her clear the interview and the HR personnel appreciated a lot. She could not hide her joy and happiness while narrating her story and proudly saying that only 2 people were selected from the big bunch of aspirants. Those 2 people were me and my friend from Saksham. In two months only, Saksham have changed her life and made her stand where she is now.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Uttarakhand

Devki Devi is a married woman who stays in Pajiyana village in Gairsain block of Chamoli district. She has completed her primary education (5th class) and lives with her husband and two sons. Her husband migrated to Delhi in search of better job opportunities. However, due to his unstable financial condition, Devki had to return to her village. The house was in a bad condition. Her two boys study in classes 5th and 8th. To meet their daily expenses and education of children, Devki started to work as a daily wage labourer and used to earn Rs 120 per day. However, this was not a regular source of income as she used to get work for 2-3 days in a week only. She is also a member of Self Help Group and saves Rs. 50 (little less than a dollar) on a monthly basis in the group. As she only worked for 2-3 days in the week, she decided to open a small cosmetic shop in one of the rooms of her house and started to earn Rs. 1,500 per month.

In March 2014, one of the Saksham members met her in the village and shared the project details with her. After listening to the mobiliser, Devki showed her interest in being part of the initiative and receiving training. She was provided training on Enterprise Development Promotion (EDP) and setting up a Village Level Service Centre (VLSC).

For setting up this VLSC, Devki did not have any financial resources and information about wholesalers and required support for the same. She shared the same with the project team and they facilitated the entire process of setting up the VLSC. With their help, she got a loan of Rs. 30,000 from the Self Help Group and was introduced to wholesalers like Saraswati Farmer Service Centre in Almora district, Notebook Agency, Dehradun and Tata Tea Agency in Gopeshwar. Apart from this, she was assisted to procure various social welfare schemes forms from the concerned government department so that the villagers don't have to go all the way to the district office and can get the same in village only. This will save a lot of time and money of villagers. Devki now keeps seeds for farmers, notebooks for school children, tea for household consumption and social welfare scheme forms in her VLSC.

While sharing her experience, Devki said, "After being trained on EDP, I became aware about profit and loss in the business. When I took a loan from the SHG, I got to know for the first time how to calculate the interest on the loan. Taking the loan from the SHG has been great support because if I had taken the same from a money lender it would not have been easy for me to return the full loan amount in one go. Now I can pay back the loan in instalments. Today my earning has increased from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,500."

Devki goes on to says, "I would like to thank all the people associated with Plan India who are working for making youth aware and helping many other women like me to be self employed."

When asked about her next step, Devki shared that she would like to upgrade her VLSC to a grocery store and also open a tailoring cum training centre where women and girls from the village can learn the skill and be independent. She wants to get herself and her children covered under personal accident insurance and invest in their education.

Supporting a livelihood

Delhi

Anuradha lives in Badarpur. Most of the residents in her area are migrants from different parts of the country. She belongs to a village in Uttar Pradesh. Her family had shifted to Delhi in 1977 in search of a livelihood. She has studied till 12th grade and has three younger brothers who are studying in school. One of the community mobilisers met her during a community mobilisation initiative and informed her parents about the Saksham project and different courses and placement opportunities being provided at the centre.

At that time Anuradha's father had lost his job due to long illness and the responsibility to support the family was on her shoulders. She expressed interest in joining the course and after a couple of days she came with her mother and enrolled. After joining the class, Anuradha was found to be a very shy girl and it took a lot of effort to make her comfortable with boys as she has always studied in an all girls' school. Initially she did not show interest in talking to classmates and taking part in class activities. But as few days passed she started speaking with her classmates. She was quick in learning things. She has a clear voice and diction so it didn't take much time to improve her communication skills.

After completion of the course, HR executives from HDFC bank visited the centre for campus interview. She was selected for telecalling on a salary of Rs 5,000 in Badarpur area, which was close to her residence as well. Today, her mother is very happy as her daughter is working and supports her family economically. She is now keen to send her son to Saksham as well after he completes his exams.

Education challenges for children

Andhra Pradesh

Kalingapatnam is an island village in the back waters in Kaviti Mandal of Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh which is about 4km from the main land village Panchayat. The village is of 270 households and a population of 885 people including 331 children. Primarily, the community is dependent on fishing, fish vending and some on agriculture works and other petty businesses. Hence their staying in the village is linked to their livelihoods.

The village is with limited facilities for drinking water with water supply from Kusumpuram Panchayat, no sanitation facilities and out of the 270 households about 20 households do not have electricity facilities. There are no street lights in the village and on the access road.

Kalingapatnam is connected to the main land by a bund which is laid through the back waters. The Government of Andhra Pradesh also initiated construction of a bridge across the back waters but due to some political reasons, the work was stalled. With the Phailin Cyclone, the existing bund connecting the village to the main land got washed away and now the only way for anyone to reach the village or go to the main land from the village is to cross the back waters by a small wooden plank boat or wade through the water.

In Kalingapatnam village, there is a primary school which has classes till 5th. For further education, children go to Kusumpuram, Manikyapuram and Kaviti villages, which are about 4 -5 km away. There are about 63 children (35 girls & 28 boys) who access education outside the village.

Kalingapatnam village is about 1 km from the back waters. So, these school children walk from the village to back waters and now with the Phailin Cyclone, washing away the bund, then cross the back waters either on the small wooden plank boat or wade through the waters and then walk another 3-4 km to go to school as there is no/limited public transport facilities in that stretch between Kalingapatnman to the other villages. Children walk their way to school and back home which takes about 2 hours one way. For using the small wooden plank boat, children need to pay Rs. 2/- one way, which is a concessional rate for school children. So, some children when they do not have money wade through the back waters or stop going to school. The small wooden plank boat is also not in good condition and has over turned many times, when school children also fell into the water but were rescued by the adults. Sometimes, it becomes dark by the time children reach back to their village after school and that time, they face many problems of eve teasing and abuse. With problems like these, along with family pressure, children drop out of school. There are about 25 girls and 36 boys who are school drop outs in this village.

This is the plight of the school going children in Kalingapatnam village where they need to face these challenges on an everyday basis to access their basic right to education.

Working for an education

Andhra Pradesh & Bangalore

Manjula has three daughters. Navya is the eldest of all. Four years ago her father committed suicide considering it bad fate to be a father of three daughters. Her mother forced her to work and support the family financially. She and her mother worked in a farm and earned Rs 200 per day. Seasonally, they worked in cotton fields too. Navya wanted to study but her mother never allowed her to go to school as she needed her help. She used to walk with her mother to the field, whatever the distance was. They would usually start by 7 in the morning and come back by 6 in the evening. She not only helped her mother in the field but also supported her in household chores.

Plan India's team learned about Navya and counselled her mother for more than three months on the importance of education and child rights. Perseverance of project team and school head master assisted her mother in agreeing to send Navya to school along with her two sisters. Navya never had time to play with friends as she was occupied with work every day. Now she says that she is happy to go to school and that she can come back home and play with her friends. She is provided special training in the school to catch up with her studies. The head master visits Navya's house whenever she does not come to the school to find out the reasons for her absence. Navya is now a member of child forum and takes an active part in encouraging her neighbours to attend school.

The family now has a goat which helps them fetch additional income. Her mother is happy that she was provided with a goat and says that she will not stop her daughters from going to school and will work hard for improved earnings and spend it for her daughters' education. The project helped in restoring the precious childhood of the children and helps them realise their right to education. The project team supported Navya's mother in getting NREGS (employment scheme) card.

Seema wants to study first, not marry

Delhi

Sixteen-year-old Seema from Sadanandpur village in Odisha is the fifth child of her parents who belong to the Munda scheduled tribe community. Her elder brother works as a technician and her three sisters are married (they were married off just after they turned 16). It is now Seema's turn to get married.

In May last year, her parents received a marriage proposal for her from a man employed in government service. The father agreed (as is typical in the case of patriarchal families) and the match was well accepted within the community. The issue - the candidate was 15 years older than Seema. The girl, well aware of child rights and child protection, speaks to her mother about her opposition and tells her she wants to continue with her education. Her mother, an illiterate tribal woman, agrees with her views and decided to take up the matter with her husband.

Upon hearing his wife out, Seema's father, Dola Singh, is livid, but finally gives in to his wife and daughter's entreaties. He decided to support Seema's education and wait for her to turn the legal marriageable age of 18 before marrying her off.

Seema is a student of class 12. She attends classes at Indira Gandhi Women's College at Udala in Mayurbhanj district and cycles for more than 10 kilometres to reach her destination. She is also an active member of Bapujee Child Club, operated by Plan- ARAMVA project in her village since 2012. Additionally, Seema participates in other Community Based Organisations, such as Child Protection Committees and Self Help Groups meetings at her village. In the process, she learns about the right to education, self-employment, independence and child marriage rights, of which she is an ardent supporter.

In order to recognise her efforts against early child marriages, Seema has been awarded by the government at the block level on the eve of International Women's Day.

Combating Child Labour

Andhra Pradesh

Farida belongs to a minority Muslim community. There are eight members in her family- father, mother, 3 sisters and 2 brothers. Her father is a carpenter and mother was engaged in beedi (local cigarette) rolling work. Her mother is affected by TB and is now under medication. Farida has studied up to 7th standard in an Urdu medium school. Due to poor financial conditions, she discontinued her education and supported her mother in her work. Since the ailment of her mother, Farida had to take up this work full time to support her family. She rolls around 4,000 beedi's in a day. She earns around Rs 1,200 per month. She uses this money for buying medicines for her mother and to manage household expenses.

A community volunteer visited Farida's community and conducted a child forum meeting at Lahari School. There she explained the importance of education, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and child rights. Farida was excited to see the community volunteer Shahanaz, because she was waiting for someone to guide her to resume her schooling. Farida expressed her willingness to continue her studies and asked Shahanaz to help her. Seeing her inclination, Shahanaz spoke to Farida's parents. Farida's parents informed Shahanaz that around a year ago, Farida had told her parents that there were instances of eve teasing and that she also faced an acid attack. Considering her safety, her father decided not to send Farida to school. Farida's mother shared that her family was in debt and to overcome this, beedi rolling was the only option. Hence, they were left with no choice and Farida had to do this work. Shahanaz made continuous home visits, counselled her parents and ensured that Farida was sent back to school. Farida was enrolled in 8th standard. She is now studying in 9th grade.

Health Information Centre helps young boy

Delhi

An adolescent named Deepak, was identified by Plan in Metro Vihar, Holambi Kalan, Delhi. Deepak, aged 19 years, has been an alcohol dependent for the past few years. During constant meetings and interactions, he shared his story with us. He got habituated to alcohol after being betrayed by his girlfriend and pressurised by his peers. Deepak also added that, eventually he had gone into severe depression and mental trauma and ended up resorting to alcohol.

In the wake of these discoveries, the project staff, during counselling sessions, constantly tried to persuade him and help him to come out of his depression by engaging into creative activities at Health Information Centre (HIC). Eventually, the hard work paid off and Deepak has started coming to HIC on regular basis to engage and socialise with other young people, playing games, reading books, talking about health and social issues, etc.

This diverted his attention and brought about positivity in his life. He has now started thinking about his career, hence, he want to get some vocational training so that he can have a healthy and prosperous livelihood.

Speaking about his experience Deepak said, "After coming to HIC, I have recognised my talents and enhanced my knowledge. Hence, from now on, I have assured my parents that I will not drink alcohol anymore."

Bridging the gap

Odisha

Priyanka, aged 18, is a young girl born and brought up in the remote village of Kumulabahali, Keonjhar district, Odisha. She is an active member of the 'Sahid Udam Singh Sisu Sangha' in her village.

Acute poverty, malnourished children, anaemic mothers and sick elders - Priyanka has had to witness all this in her village since the day she was born. The sick lacked treatment with the primary health centre being 17 kms away and the main district hospital a further 20 kms off. Worse, the only way to the hospitals was a bridge connecting Thakurmunda and Saharpada which was in relic condition. Her people hadn't a clue who the approach to help with the renovation of the bridge.

One day, on her way back from college, Priyanka renovation on the bridge had begun. It made her happy knowing that now she and others from her village could commute from one place to another. They would have access to some much needed amenities. Being inquisitive by nature, Priyanka immediately set out to know more about the construction working taking place. She went to the site and gathered information about the material being used; wages workers were being paid, etc. What she found was not what she expected. The construction material was not up to the government standards and inferior. Apart from this, she also noted a gap between wages paid to women (Rs. 100/day) and men (Rs. 120/day) even though the work being done was more or less the same. She immediately brought this to the attention of her Sisu club members and the community groups in her area as well. It was then decided to send representatives from her village to the contractor and convince him of improving the quality of work and provide equal wages. The representatives failed in their endeavour. More, they were bribed into ignoring his work with a few bottle of liquor.

Priyanka remained strong through all this. She, with other club members approached our local partners. With guidance from the organisation, Priyanka and her club members mobilised the Self Help Groups (SHG) and brought the issue to the attention of government authorities. Few of the locals who were siding with the contractor started threatening the young girl and her friends to no avail. The small group then contacted the Block Development Officer (BDO) and submitted an application requesting immediate action. The BDO invited the club members and heard their story. Impressed by what they had to say, he asked for an immediate inquiry into the matter and a report to be submitted.

The report showed exactly what Priyanka had pointed out. The contractor was called upon and confessed to the accusations. He also agreed to give equal salary to both men and women. A regular follow up from the government along with the Sisu club member was done till the work was completed. A brave and dedicated effort from Priyanka made her a role model not only in her community but in neighbouring villages as well. Everyone showed their appreciation for the work the young girl had put in.

Speaking about the incident Priyanka said, 'I am proud of the success of my mission to do something for my community. I thank Plan for making me and our Sisu club members capable of handling issues through a series of capacity building workshop and trainings. Their support was truly commendable. It couldn't have been possible to resolve the issue without support and proper guidance from Plan members. Now we are felicitated and praised at many forums and people seek our suggestions before planning any development work for our village'.

Educated at any cost

Uttar Pradesh

Gyan Kumari did not let the disability of her son and objections of her husband to get in the way of her daughter Urmila's education. Though Urmila had to leave her studies for two years after the fifth grade owing to the poor financial condition of the family, her mother is now sparing no effort for the continuation of her education.

Gyan Kumari is a member of a Self Help Group (SHG) formed in Kandhartala community, located in the Mall block of Lucknow district in Uttar Pradesh state, where she lives with her husband and three children. Both wife and husband work as daily wage earners and struggle to make ends meet for the family. Their youngest son is physically challenged, and a major part of their meagre income is spent on his treatment. Education never figured as a basic requirement in this family.

She is illiterate. She does not know how to sign her name. As a result, Gyan Kumari puts her thumb impression down for any paperwork required by her in the SHG meeting. The other SHG members all sign their names. As a result, she realized the importance of education and made her daughter go back to school and resume her studies.

Gyan Kumari initially discussed the matter with her husband, but to no avail. He cited expenses of running the household and treatment of their disabled son as a reason for discontinuing Urmila's studies. The illiterate lady then took up work, earning daily wages to finance her daughter's education.

Urmila now is a student of sixth standard in Kanya Middle School, and is doing well in her studies. This story highlights yet another example of how a mother's determined efforts, overcoming all hurdles, seek to ensure a better life for her daughter.

Vidyawati: A Story of grit over the odds

Uttar Pradesh

This is a story about sheer grit triumphing over the odds. Vidyawati is a resident of Siswara village in Uttar Pradesh, located some 15 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow. She is working extremely hard to get her youngest daughter, Poonam, an education so that she can live life on her own terms when she grows up.

Vidyawati lives in the village along with her three daughters and two sons. The village falls in the Plan intervention area, where Plan India is engaged in providing guidance through its various intervention programmes to help underprivileged children, with a special focus on issues regarding the girl child.

After the death of her husband, the only bread-earner in the household, Vidyawati's family had faced tremendous financial difficulties, due to which her eldest son and daughter could not continue with their education, and were subsequently married off. But the mother's persistence to get Poonam an education continued, even after opposition from her elder son. Vidyawati worked as a daily wager to support her daughter's education after her son and his wife left home to live with his in-laws.

At this turn of events, Poonam thought of giving up her education. But Vidyawati stood firm and got her admitted to the ninth standard in Chandra Shekhar Azad Intercollege, Gahdev. The girl now regularly attends classes, and Vidyawati works as a cook in a primary school in Siswara in addition to her daily wage work. Her meagre earnings, in addition to funding Poonam's education, also contribute to make the family's ends meet.

The mother adamantly says she will support Poonam's desire to study as long as her daughter wants to, in order to enable her to live a better, fulfilled, life, which most children aspire for, but are denied access to.

Hope prevails over despair for Anjana

Uttarakhand

Residents of Village Bandrani, at Bhagirathi Cluster of Bhatwari Block of District Uttarkashi, Jayendra Singh and Pavitra Devi had all but given up hopes of their youngest daughter getting an education. Anjana, one of five children, had failed twice in standard 10 and as a result, had lost the confidence and motivation to continue with her studies.

Pavitra Devi, a regular participant of the Shri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) gender programme, narrated her pitiful tale to team members about her fear of her daughter dropping out of school. The SBMA-Plan Gender team advised her to encourage her daughter by stressing the importance of studies, and motivate her to work harder to clear the crucial examinations.

Upon being motivated, Anjana applied for the exams from the open board university after her mother arranged the amount of Rs. 7,000/- needed for the same. The girl cleared her board exams and is now enrolled in standard 11.

I also want to go to school

Delhi

Aarti is 14 years old and is a special needs child (Deaf & Dumb). She has six members in her family. They all live in the Plan intervention area of Rangpuri Pahadi. Her father is a labourer. Her mother is a house wife. She is also a member of Plan-BVD adolescent club. Her family members face problems sending her to school.

Rina (sister) and Aarti both are active girls in her family. Aarti and her sister both are adolescent (Sathi) club members. One and half year ago, in a club meeting, her sister said that my sister Aarti is a special child. She wants to go to school like me and others. But my family faces lots of problem to send her school. If the organisation helps to send her to school, then my family will be happy. Later, our staffs informed her family about a special school which is for children like Aarti. Now Aarti goes to school regularly and also attends group meeting regularly. Her treatment is also regularly going on in her school. Her family members are now happy to send in group meeting regularly.

Sunita's school

Rajasthan

Sunita studies in a Government Primary School in 5th grade. Her school is approximately 3 km away from her home and takes around 45 minutes for her to reach. Though the route to her school is same for girls and boys, it is riskier for girls when they are alone due to safety reasons. In-spite of the long walk to school, she loves going to school as she get to learn new things there and also gets to meet and play with her friends. She wants to complete her education and become a teacher.

After completing her primary education, Sunita will have to go to the government secondary school to achieve education 6th grade onwards. However, things will be more difficult for her as the school is 7 km away and most of the children have to walk this long distance as their parents cannot afford sending their children through private vehicles. At present, around 17 children (including 6 girls) are perusing their education from the secondary school.

Sunita is an active student in her school and is good at studies. She is the president of the Children's Club of the school and takes active part in extra-curricular activities.

Under Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, Sunita get her education free of cost which includes one meal a day. However, expenditure on school uniform, books and stationary has to be borne by the parents.

She and other school children of her settlement walk to their school on a sandy path which passes through a stretch of wilderness, sand dunes and a canal and over bridge. Children usually wear slippers and the sand makes their way difficult. The uneven way full of bushes and thorns adds to their troubles.

The other most perceived dangers on Sunita's way to school are a) being chased and bitten by stray animals especially dogs; b) encounter with poisonous snakes, lizards and scorpions; c) an open well; d) the canal and lastly e) the road which they need to cross on their way. A man lost his life 2 years back on the road due to accident.

The menace of dogs can be attributed to the practice of dumping of dead animals in to the wilderness and canal which not only attracts wild animals but also pollutes atmosphere. Children often complain of the stink that prevails around the canal area, danger of stray dogs and poisonous insects. Some stretch of the path to school also runs along the canal and over a bridge with no safety railing installed. The bridge is the only means of connectivity to the village and thus has traffic. These unsafe spots pose serious risk of children falling into the canal and being drowned.

Some months back, while children were walking along the canal path, accidentally a school bag of one of the student fell into the canal and started drifting downstream. Children started shouting and following the school bag. They tried to retrieve it with the help of tree branches which they found lying nearby. Fortunately, on hearing the noise, an employee of water works who was working nearby came to their help and retrieved the bag for them. He narrated the horrifying incident to the parents and school teachers, which he admits could have resulted in serious mishap like drowning of children in the canal.

Her school does not have electricity and just three class rooms. There are 30 children in her school, including 16 girls and 14 boys. There is no furniture available for the children in her school, thus she and her other classmates have to sit on the mat. Her school has toilet facility (separately for boys and girls) and drinking water. Though her school has open area, but it is not being utilised as playground as the area is sandy and has bushes and thorns.

Fight for Education

Rajasthan

Parvati studies in class 10 in Dungargarh town in Bikaner district in Rajasthan. But the credit for her journey towards literacy goes solely to her mother, Vimla. Despite opposition from all fronts, the mother was determined that her daughter complete her studies. This is their story.

Two years ago, with the support of Plan India, Parvati cleared her 8th standard from Kasturba Gandhi Residential Girls School. Her father and family did not assist her education in any way. So it was up to her mother, Vimla, to do everything to ensure that her daughter continues with her studies.

Vimla, one of five sisters, had been married off at the tender age of 13. Her husband, an alcoholic, was a wife-beater. She worked in various farm houses, but her husband squandered her hard-earned money in playing cards and betting. As Parvati and her three siblings grew up, Vimla brought Parvati to a farm house to assist her in her work. In the meantime, her husband and her in-laws began forcing her to bring her younger sister (who does not live with her husband) to their house.

Vimla then left home with her children. She continued to work in farm houses to support the five of them. But getting her daughter an education still remained a problem, as there was no school around the area where she was working. She then heard about a six-month residential camp in Dungargarh town run by Plan-Urmul. Vimla admitted Parvati in the camp to study.

Then she was informed about the residential camp of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) that provided education up to class 8. This was widely condemned by many who disapproved of a young girl living alone in a camp.

After Parvati completed class 8, Vimla was told to marry her daughter off. But she remained firm and admitted her daughter in class 9 in a school in Dungargarh. Then there was the problem of arranging for educational fees and room rent. Undaunted, she joined as a cook in KGBV to fund her daughter's education. Parvati is a student of class 10 and her proud mother is confident that a bright future awaits her.

Back to school

Odisha

Basanti is a 38 year old resident of Gojapathara village, Saharpada Block. Being a member of a Self Help Group, she has been a voice of concern for all community related issues. In one of the recent meetings she was disheartened to hear about three children (aged 7-11 years) from her village that had dropped out of school and had gone back to being child labourers.

Basanti took it upon herself to rectify the problem and to counsel their parents and school authorities. She discovered that it was the parents who had forced the children to quit school and go back to work. After a concentrated effort, the parents agreed to send the children back to school only for another problem to arise. No school was willing to enrol them as it was in the middle of the semester. But Basanti did not give in! She spoke to other SHG members along with the child club seeking an opinion on what should be done.

It was decided to enrol the three children in residential school as this would allow them to spend more time on education, extracurricular activities and with their peers. Basanti then contacted a local NGO partner of Plan India detailing the entire story to them. Together, they approached the Welfare Extension Officer (WEO) of SC/ST unit. The officer was unwilling to let the children return back to school mid way. After a series of discussions and follow-ups with the Block Education Officer, District Education Officer and WEO, the matter finally reached the District Magistrate. The District Magistrate was very supportive and instructed the Block Education Officer (BEO) to let the three children back into school. The BEO wrote to all residential schools with finally three schools accepting the enrolment.

The village community of Gojapathara admired the efforts of Basanti. They also cautioned other parents against withdrawing their children out of school for work.

Speaking of the incident, Basanti said. "I am pleased now because the children are back in school successfully. It could not have been possible without the guidance and support of Plan India. The children could have easily found their way back to child labourers if steps would not have been taken at the right time."

Empowerment through education

Mumbai

Kajal's parents came to Mumbai 25 years ago. Her father made a life here baking and selling pao bread for the shops at suburban stations. "My friends are all here, we grew up going to the nearest Kherwadi Municipal School together, playing pakda pakdi (catch catch) around these trees," says Kajal.

Kajal was a good student, her mother vouches for it. "We wanted her to study and get a job, stand on her own feet. I do not want her to depend on anyone. I can only sign my name, I want her to be much better," she adds frankly. "Even when it is time for her to marry, she will marry someone who will let her work, so her study does not go waste," she adds. Kajal's studies suffered a setback when thanks to domestic problems that included economic ones; she couldn't clear her 10th exams. But she is unfazed. "I will appear for the exam in the coming years," she says, "and join junior college for sure." For now she attends private classes paying Rs. 400 a month, to get tuitions in English, Math, Science, and Geography, to prepare for the exams. "I am determined to pass," she says.

Sharing her own enthusiasm for education, she meets and counsels children who are drop outs from the families residing on the water pipeline to return to school and complete their education. "After they have completed their basic education, these children can then pursue higher education or vocational courses. Plan India and its partner NGOs working in Garibnagar slums of Bandra East, has empowered me to do this," she says.

Girl's Empowerment through education and vocational training

Rajasthan

Mamta belongs to Bikaner District of Rajasthan. Her village is 65 km from the block and 145 km from the district headquarter. She lives with her parents and 3 siblings. The main source of earning of her family is agriculture and animal husbandry. She belongs to backward caste. She received her primary education from village school and higher education from Bikaner. After completing her graduation level studies from Bikaner, Mamta started preparing for government services. When Mamta came to know about the coaching course being offered by Plan India and its implementing partner Urmul to support village girls prepare for constable exams, she was overjoyed and contacted project staff. Project staff, filled her admission form and Mamta arrived at Lunkaransar to pursue her dream of being a constable in police force.

She found the residential coaching camp's atmosphere very conducive. She took interest & studied hard during the coaching period. Apart from studies, she took part in cultural activities & played games with other students. She appeared in the pre-exam and passed with good marks. She then sat for final Police constable exams held in February 2013. She did very well in her exams & was very happy when results were declared when she came to know that she has been selected for the post of constable. Not only she, but the teachers, her parents all felt very happy on her success. Mamta then had to appear for physical examination, which she also qualified with good numbers. Finally she received the selection letter and today she is posted with Border Security Force. She is the first person from her community to join police force.

Mamta is now a role model for other girls in and around her village. She gives all the credit to Urmul Plan for her success. She says it is all because of Urmul/Plan's efforts that she could achieve what she wished to achieve in life. A number of youth, not only girls but boys are also inspired with her success and now waiting for next round of requirement. Although Mamta is not around but message which she left behind is motivating many young girls in the area.

Rajni's path to education

Rajasthan

Rajni's village has a primary school and a private senior secondary school. She was a sponsored child since 2001 and graduated in 2009. She has a family of 6 members with 3 siblings and belongs to a scheduled caste (SC).

Rajni completed her primary education from the school in her village. She was then enrolled in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (residential schools run by the government for girls), from where she completed her education till class 8th. In the absence of secondary schools in the vicinity of her village, continuing education became a challenge for Rajni. With the perseverance of the Plan Indi's project team and their motivation, Rajni's parents enrolled her in a private school which was 7 KMs away from their house. After completing her education till class 10th she was determined to study further. She and her mother came in contact with the project staff and got to know about the residential schools being run by Plan.

According to Rajni, becoming a sponsored child of Plan was a turning point in her life. Her mother has also been a SHG member. Her family got constant support and motivation, as a result of which is Rajni's continued education. Rajni is now preparing for her class 12th exams. She says that continuing her education would not have been possible without this opportunity. Rajni says that a lot of girls studying in her residence campus have similar stories to share. They all are really thankful to Plan India for providing this opportunity. Quoting few of her batch-mates in the camp, she said they would have been married by now had they not have been studying here. Some of her friends shared that education was never a priority for their parents and with the coming of the project, opened new avenues for them.

Rajni participated in the celebration of International Day of the Girl Child organized in the state capital, Jaipur. She is also preparing for the examination for state police constable services. She is a sports enthusiast and actively participates in the sports activities organized in the campus. Rajni sees some positive changes in herself after being part of the project. She has become more confident and disciplined.

Project Muskan

Ten-year old Manisha has Rett's Syndrome with intellectual impairment. She lives with her parents and one younger sister. Her father is a construction worker and mother is a home maker. Due to her disability, Manisha is unable to walk and has difficulty in squatting. She is dependent on her mother for all activities. She finds it tough to control her balance due to her weight and fluctuating tone.

When the community mobilisers went to her community for a field survey, Manisha's mother met them. She told them about her daughter's disability and she was told to bring her to the centre where services were available for children like her under Project Muskan. The following day, Manisha was brought to the Anchal centre, where she was enrolled in therapy services. She and her parents were also given information on how to access government schemes available for children with disabilities.

After therapeutic intervention, Manisha learned to walk while maintaining her balance with minimum support. She is also able to sit in squatting position with the help of a short bar that was provided by the project. Her hand functions have improved. The project helped her to secure a wheelchair by connecting her with service providers including the local government. By getting a wheelchair, her indoor and outdoor mobility has increased. She has received a Certificate of Disability, railway concession (travel allowance) and pension. Her mother said, "Manisha now cooperates with her during therapy sessions and has become more active and her chances of falling have been reduced."

Ignorance to Awareness

Delhi

Born and brought up in Delhi, Ojas is a 10 year old boy with hearing impairment, who lives with his family which includes his parents and a younger brother of 3 years old. This small family of four lives in their own house located in a resettlement colony. Ojas's father earns a living by working as a street vendor and is the sole earning member. His mother is a homemaker. Ojas younger brother Pran has also been diagnosed with a hearing impaired.

As per the family, he was born in the 10th month. He suffered from birth asphyxia. His parents, due to a lack of knowledge, did not pay attention and believed that the child will grow up as a healthy boy. But as Ojas grew older, his parents noticed his delay in reacting to sounds in his surroundings. Concerned parents rushed him to nearby hospital where after the diagnosis he was diagnosed with hearing disabled. His father recalled that one lady doctor told him that if Ojas was given right treatment at right time he could have been able to hear a bit with help of hearing aid. Due to his inability to hear and speak like other children, Ojas used to isolate himself and never asked anything or put demand for anything like children of his age. As per the parents, their elder son would feel shy in expressing himself and would not communicate to them freely. His mother told that once community members called her son deaf and dumb and she felt hurt by this.

It was during the field survey that the Project Muskan team came in contact with Ojas's mother and referred the parents to the nearby Community Resource Cum Rehabilitation Centre for the much needed guidance and intervention. The parents became aware about child rights and gained confidence in speaking with the community about their child’s condition. Ojas's mother told community member to stop calling her son disabled and call him by his name instead. Through parents sensitisation meeting community members were also sensitised. His parents were not only sensitised about his condition but they were also guided for different necessary disability welfare schemes such as disability certificate, rail concession, and disability pension and disability identity card.

Concerned for Ojas's future and education, the parents were referred to Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust and Pramila Bai Chauhan School in East Delhi to meet educational need. Ojas's father took him to Pramilla Bai Chauhan School wherein after educational assessment he was admitted to 2nd class.

Since his admission as per parents there is significant change in his behaviour. The shy and non demanding Ojas now takes initiative to communicate with parents. With the use of sign language learnt in the school's he expresses himself openly and ask things for himself from parents which he never did earlier. As per the parents their son has gained confidence and made new friends both in school and in the neighbourhood. His parents are also learning sign language from Ojas himself for better two way communication.

One small step to school, a giant leap for society!

Delhi

Chanda is eight years old and lives with her parents and three siblings at Shri Ram Nagar in North East Delhi in a rented accommodation. Her father works as a vegetable seller in the local market and is the sole earning member in the family while her mother is a homemaker. Chanda's father, due to his work, comes home only once in a week.

After 2-3 days of birth, a boil developed on Chanda's back. The problem deteriorated with her age. At the age of 2 ½ years she was operated for the same but doctors sounded the parents that since the problem is around her spine thus her brain or any body part might get affected. According to her parents, it was after operation her leg started to become weak and now though she can walk but not independently and falls often.

Due to problems in walking, Chanda's parents were unable to get her admission in the school of their choice at the right age. Moreover, her over protective mother never allowed Chanda to go outside, thus leading to her isolation at home. Chanda wanted to go to school and study with her elder sister but all her parents attempts to get her admitted in school went futile as whenever they went to any school either they were openly refused due to her disability or were counselled to get her admitted to special school as school authorities were not ready to take responsibility for her care. Parents were neither aware about welfare schemes nor about their child right to study under RTE Act.

It was during a field visit from the Project Muskan team, they came in contact with Chanda's mother. She was referred to the nearby Community Resource cum Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC) for the welfare schemes and also counseling of parents. At CRRC, Chanda was enrolled for the therapeutic intervention, welfare schemes and admission in the nearby MCD Primary School. Since she has problem in walking thus her name was also enrolled for mobility aid. Chanda's parents, especially her mother, were counselled to let her daughter explore her surroundings for this will enable her to gain confidence. Her mother was sensitised to engage Chanda in small task so that she feels as a productive and active member of the house.

On 28th January, 2013, through networking with Canara Bank, Chanda received a wheel chair. With the help of the wheel chair, her mother does not have to carry her everywhere. Chanda now uses the wheel chair to go outside the home. Simultaneously, she has been enrolled for therapy to improve her balancing and walking. As per her parents, she is very careful about her wheel chair and takes good care of it. Her mother has applied for disability certificate, as assessment is almost complete she will soon get the certificate from the concerned hospital.

After getting the wheel chair, Chanda wanted to accompany her elder sister to the school and study. Since Chanda’s parents' earlier experience of getting her admitted in school was not pleasant thus they were not confident enough to approach school authorities. Through project team networking with the MCD Education Department, Chanda was enrolled in nearby MCD Primary School without any problem in 2nd class as per Right to Education Act. On the first day of her school, Chanda received good remarks from her class teacher for the work done. She made friends in her class and her list of friends seems to be increasing. Simultaneously, the community through parents' sensitisation meeting was sensitised about the rights of children with disabilities to study.

Meena's story

Delhi

Meena is 14 years old and lives in Sangam Vihar, Delhi. She is suffering from Severe Mental Retardation with Cerebral Palsy. Her father died 5-6 years ago. She has one elder brother to look after the family. Because of multiple disabilities, she could not enrol in formal education and express herself.

During the home visit, community volunteer of Sangam Vihar visited Meena's house and spoke to her parents and guided them to Gyan Jyoti Centre. Meena and her mother reached Gyan Jyoti Centre the next day. Plan-CASP staff enrolled her and continued the activity with Meena. She is regularly coming to the centre along with her mother for the last two years.

Meena has made steady progress in her development. She has reduced drooling by up to 80%. She is able to speak and understand common body parts such as eyes, ears, nose, hair, teeth, hand and legs, etc. She can also speak simple words in Hindi like aao, aaja, amma, abba, aam, papa, appa, maa, mama, mai, nana, nana, dada, etc.

Meena has received disability certificate and IQ certificate from NIMH, Govt. of India with the support of Plan because her multiple disabilities are 90 percent and IQ is at 23. Plan has supported her for applying her disability pension. Her mother is very cooperative during meetings sessions and networking facilitated by Plan. Now Meena enjoys the inclusive education sessions at Gyan Jyoti Centre. Her parents are satisfied with her progress. Physiotherapy and speech therapy is still continued by our trained volunteers. Now she is an active member of our Gyan Jyoti Centre. Her mother has become aware about the rights of CWDS, govt. schemes and concessions and benefits provided by govt. to challenged children.

Supporting a life

Delhi

Habid, a 10 years old boy, lives with his family consisting of parents and 2 siblings in Sonia Camp, a JJ Cluster in Delhi. Habid's father worked as a factory worker getting 2,500/- per month. He has Spastic Cerebral Palsy with mild intellectual impairment. For the past 10 years of his life, he has been unable to stand and walk independently and is dependent on his mother for all activities of his daily living. His standing balance is very poor. He has great difficulty in moving his limbs and because of his physical condition, he could never attend school and remained isolated in his home.

When outreach workers were doing an awareness raising session in the community to identify persons and children with disabilities, Habid's mother met them. She told them about Habid's disability and she was told to bring him to the centre where services were available for children like Habid under Project Muskan. The next day, Habid was brought to the centre where he was enrolled in therapy services. He and his parents were also given information on how to access schemes available for persons with disabilities.

After one year of therapy and therapeutic recreation classes, Habid was able to stand using a Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis (KAFO). His spasticity of lower limbs has been reduced by home modification (hand railing) his indoor mobility has increased. His hand function has improved and he is able to perform simple daily activities like going to the toilet, bathing, dressing and eating with a little help. He has availed the modified toilet chair through this project. After a further six months of therapy, he is now able to walk with KAFO and mild support.

Plan helped him to get KAFO and wheelchair by connecting him with service providers including the local government. He has been declared eligible for health insurance through Niramaya, an initiative of the local government and for a railway travel concession certificate after a local hospital provided him with a disability certificate. He has been declared eligible for pension of Rs 1,500/- per month for the children with disabilities.

Initially the local school refused admission on ground of his disability. However, after getting information on Right to Education Act and Plan support, Habid's parents went to the school and queried about his admission under the RTE act. Now Habid happily goes to school every day and doesn't feel secluded anymore.

According to Habid’s mother - "He looks forward to going to the centre for therapeutic sessions and school. After getting his wheelchair, now he is not isolated at home and enjoys going to market and nearby with his family.

Sound of Success

Delhi

Seven year old Norin lives with her family in their own house in a resettlement colony in Delhi. Norin comes across as a cheerful girl. She has one brother and a sister. Her father owns a tea stall and sells sweets. He earns around $50 per month. Her mother is a homemaker.

Norin has a hearing impairment. Her parents told one of the project staff that, when she was one year old, they noticed that she did not respond to any sound.  As per the certificate of disability, she has 100% hearing impairment.

During one of the parent sensitisation meetings in their community, Norin's father was referred to the Community Resource cum Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC). There, Norin was enrolled for a wide range of welfare services starting from a disability certificate to disability pension. Once enrolled for welfare schemes, Norin's educational needs were kept on priority by the project team. The parents were advised to put her in school.

With proper guidance and counselling provided at CRRC, her parents have been able to attain a certificate of disability, rail concession certificate and disability identity card for their daughter. They have also applied for the disability pension. Norin is regularly going to Pramilla Bai School for children with hearing disability and is learning sign language to communicate with others. She has already started expressing her thoughts and feelings to her parents and has made friends in the school.

One step at a time

Delhi

Fiza lives with her family in one of the project communities in North East Delhi. Her family includes 4 brothers, 3 sisters and father. Fiza’s mother passed away last year due to ill health. Her father is unemployed and financial requirement of the house are met by two of her elder brothers, who work as construction workers. They earn around $80-100 per month. In the family of nine members, three children have disabilities. Fiza is one among them.

It was when Fiza was 3-4 months; her parents noticed a delay in development milestone and took her to various hospitals for the medical intervention. She was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy because of which she had problems walking and breathing.

A community volunteer associated with Project Muskan identified Fiza. Keeping in view her medical condition, she was immediately enrolled for therapeutic intervention at Community Resource cum Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC) level and for basic therapy at home. One community volunteer regularly visited her house to provide basic therapy. Her disability certificate has been made and she has been referred for rail concession. Fiza has started getting disability pension from last year, which is utilised to meet her educational requirements, as she has been going to a government school in her community. She was facing problems in using the washroom in her house as she was having trouble in sitting and standing. Some modification was done, wherein one bar was installed in the washroom. Since the installation of the bar in the washroom, Fiza is able to use it without any difficulty and has become self dependent in doing so.

In order to promote inclusion and provide an opportunity to enjoy a day out from her community Fiza was recently taken to watch a movie along with her sister.