Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

Sharjah resident’s campaign for literacy in India

Learning to read is not just about knowing her ABCs for a mother-of-two, it is about being able to read a bus signboard and instructions on a medicine bottle.
Shazia Kidwai, centre, has helped many women, among them Afser Ahmed, second left, and Shama Hasan, right. Courtesy Shazia Kidwai
Shazia Kidwai, centre, has helped many women, among them Afser Ahmed, second left, and Shama Hasan, right. Courtesy Shazia Kidwai

SHARJAH // Learning to read is not just about knowing her ABCs for a mother-of-two, it is about being able to read a bus signboard and instructions on a medicine bottle.

Afser Ahmed, 26, does not remember when she dropped out of school, but she recalled her first day back last month, attending a literacy class organised by Shazia Kidwai in her home village of Badagaon in Uttar Pradesh state.

“I’m an illiterate villager, but I was saying ‘ABC-EFG’ and reciting Hindi alphabets,” said Ms Ahmed, who is focused on learning so she can help her children through school.

“I will study with my full heart. Reading will also help me when I travel outside my home. Buses come and go, but I have to keep waiting and ask people what the sign says.”

The power of the written word is communicated to female students in daily two-hour sessions as part of Ms Kidwai’s campaign.

Women such as Ms Ahmed were persuaded by their families to go back to school.

“We tell them not to worry about their age, not to feel embarrassed,” said Shama Fakhrul Hasan, 20, who sat beside her aunt and read out English words.

Literacy lessons were held in courtyards and inside the small mud-brick homes of teachers appointed by Ms Kidwai. Dropouts and first-time pupils were coached so they could enrol at Grade 6 in government schools.

The number of girls who go back to state schools varies each year. This year, two pupils from the current batch of 32 gained admission to high school.

When she returned home to India on holiday, Ms Kidwai spoke to gatherings of mothers, mothers-in-law and aunts about the value of education.

Although education is free for girls in state-run schools, female pupils often quit following the death of a parent or poverty forces them to take low-paying jobs on farms or as handloom weavers.

Opposition to girls’ education among village elders has faded since Ms Kidwai’s campaign began in 2010.

At a recent meeting, an older woman mockingly questioned what employment the girls would secure after the class.

“I stepped in and said it was not just about getting jobs,” said Ms Kidwai, whose family has lived in the UAE for 20 years and supported her self-funded initiative.

Picking up a bottle, she asked the older woman what it was for. The woman replied that she could not read, but knew it was medicine and thought it was for the liver.

“I told her it was rat poison and this was among the reasons girls must read, so that they are aware,” Ms Kidwai said.

The relentless effort is also taken up by her teachers.

“We talk about how an educated woman can take care of the family better,” said teacher Seema Khan.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Updated: February 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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