I have heard so much about Pardada Pardadi and I have always wanted to come to visit. On this trip to India, I was able to see the school with my father and Dadi, and it honestly was the most incredible opportunity.
My ideas about rural villages in India have always been predicated on what I have heard of them from the news, books and general conversations, but I have never had a clear picture in my mind of what they are all about. This time in India I was able to confirm some preconceptions, that they are dirty, dusty and basic; but I was also able to confirm one thought I had, that the school is a source of hope for the community.
I first arrived at the village to meet with the founder, Mr Sam Singh, the most admirable man I have met with regard to social work. His passion and commitment to the school, and his love for the girls were extremely evident from the minute I met him, and our conversations really excited me about my visit ahead to the school. In one chat I learnt that there was a time when he was being sent death threats because of the set-up of the school for girls. This made me suddenly recognize the difficulties and hardships that this school has faced in this community, but it also demonstrated why he is so committed to the cause. I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr Singh for letting me stay with him and having the most humbling experience of my life.
My visit started with a quick trip to the Ganga River, where we went through one of the villages. The images that you have in your mind, thinking you know what to expect have no comparison with the vivid picture of reality that looks you right in the eye. I now sincerely believe that it is only by coming to these villages that a real sense of deprivation and destitution can be understood. As we walked to the River, I suddenly felt so distant from the people around me with whom I share a country. A non-tangible border between myself and these people was poignantly felt; I use ‘border’ instead of ‘barrier’ as I believe the former more accurately represents this distance, encompassing how difficult it is for either party to cross into the other’s ‘world’.
The following day I visited Pardada Pardadi, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a place with more happiness and feelings of hope. The moment I stepped out of the car I felt fully immersed within the spirit of optimism that engenders this community, and as I was greeted with a ‘welcoming ceremony’ I saw the girls’ glowing faces, full of smiles and cheerfulness. Throughout my time here, through all the warm faces that welcomed me, I had to keep a reality check of where these girls come from. School is not a guarantee for these girls, planning for their future is an unimaginable prospect for these girls; when they return home, their immediate priority is their next meal. Though I met these girls and felt a connection, our lives differ from a foundational level. I can think of what my future will hold, I have the luxury to debate and decide where my university education will take me, I can think of much more than the basic necessities, but these girls face the question of their livelihood every day.
After arriving, I first spoke with the Principal, Administrator and Teaching coordinator about how the school is run. There was such dedication among these top staff members and I got the real sense of the progress of the school and how much success this school has achieved so far. I learnt about different areas of PPES, such as the textile industry, where the mothers of girls can gain employment. PPES enables the women of these families to avoid child marriages, it teaches them about financial independence and its importance, allowing them to not depend solely on the men in their household. By educating the daughter, you give her mother the chance to work; a truly communitarian society where everyone benefits.
Though I spent most of my time teaching in the English lab where the girls have lessons in English communication, I also took a sports lesson for an 8th-grade class. Despite the burning sun beating down on us and the high levels of humidity, we played various games, ending in a game of ‘It’. By the end, we were all exhausted, but not once did a smile leave their faces.
In the English lab, I met two girls Rehka and Kalash, who are 19, the same age as me. We spoke at length about one another, and I learnt how Kalash is a PPES graduate and Rehka is from their sister school, Jattari Aligarh, but both are preparing for the CCIP scholarship (Committee Cause Initiative Programme which sends students to the USA) at PPES. Our conversations were fascinating, and it was so easy to chat with them both, I also helped Rehka with some interview preparation for the scholarship. I was highly impressed at how proficient she is at English and her answers to my questions were filled with true passion, a desire to learn, both academically but also about the American culture, I really understood how much she wants to be awarded the scholarship. One answer particularly stood out for me, her response to my question of: ‘What would you say/what advice would you give to your younger self?’. Her response was to have started studying English sooner, even before coming to school, and to work hard at English. This reply showcased the self-motivation and dedication that these girls have, despite their circumstances they emphasise the importance of individual hard work. Rekha’s perseverance can be seen as a microcosm of the school’s ethos as a whole and it was such an honour meeting her and Kalash and speaking with them. I wish both of them all the best with their applications and I hope we can all meet again.
Towards the end of my visit, I spoke with Mr Prashant, the main English lab teacher. He poignantly stated the truth of the situation and how much more needs to be done for these girls. From little things such as spare pieces of paper to write/draw on, to much larger needs such as more scholarship programmes and opportunities, Prashant explained at length the school’s current condition. He showed me, and I could see, how far there is to go, but I could not help but think of the positivity and vision of hope that the girls showed me.
I had the most eye-opening and inspiring visit to Pardada Pardadi and it has motivated me to become more involved in some way. While there, I saw the beauty within the school, its determination to change the lives of many of the world’s poorest girls; but behind all the laughter and happiness, there exists a deeper reality- that these girls face potential threats to their lives for simply attending school.
But, through PPES and its commitment to the girls, I can see the scale of change it has done for and continues to do for the girls and the community, and truly be a ray of hope