A twenty minutes drive from the main city, Aarti School for Girls is nestled amongst hills. It has neatly planned buildings, a kitchen surrounded by a vegetable garden and walkways…everything spic and span.
I walked through the gate at 4:30 a.m. and was greeted by the girls who were already up and about. They were as fresh as daisies with books in their hands and smiles on their face.
“We wake up at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. We study for a while, get ready and leave for schoo. Some of us study in other schools so we take the school bus, “ explains Revathi a 6th Grader.
Revathi lost her dad when she was a kid. Her mother does tailoring for a living and she has a younger sister. Her mother got to know about Aarti through relatives and enrolled Revathi. She has been living here for 3 years now. “The organisation did a background check before admitting me. They visited our home and spoke with my mother. I get food a safe place to live in and free education. It feels like home. We are one big family here,” explains Revathi.
I walked back to my room. I could hear girls chanting Sanskrit prayers with their eyes closed and hands folded. I completely forgot myself for a moment.
“We come together for prayer after snack time in the evening. It helps us before we start studying.” explains Geethika, another student from the school.
The girls and I sat in the verandah, which was facing the hills, for a while. It was wonderful to hear fto hear them chatter on about their dreams and aspirations. “I want to be a doctor” said one, “I want to teach” said another. I wondered, ruefull,y that I never had this clarity when I was their age!
I was also briefed about various women empowerment programmes Sandhya runs along with other board members who are lawyers and feminists. One such initiative is Lalitha Cooperative Society where women make quilts, bags, pouches etc. and sell them at various trade fairs.
Sandhya’s rationale is “Once women are independent, they take their entire family on a journey of betterment. We encourage these women to begin the journey and support them every step of the way. Seeing the changes they bring ito their own lives inspires and motivates me. I am happy I can contribute to the change in a small way.”