Being a woman, no matter where in the world, places extra challenges on everyday life, overall well-being and safety. In 2016, an IndiaSpend analysis concluded that Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are the worst states in India to be a woman. Women in these states are most likely to be aborted as children, have the lowest literacy rates, marry young, die most frequently while pregnant, bear the most children, and are least likely to be employed.
Mahek Parween, a young girl from the Adraguri Village, had never attended school simply because her family could not afford it. The eldest of seven children, Mahek would spend her days taking care of her younger siblings while her parents worked labour jobs.
Mahek went to her first ever lecture when a learning centre was built in her village by the Azad India Foundation.
Twenty years ago, the Azad India Foundation started its work with just a handful of people, but now they are able to offer a wide variety of programs related to education, rural employment, skills training, and the self-help group (SHG), to name a few. The non-profit works with rural and urban underprivileged children, adolescents and women in the Kishanganj district, located in the state of Bihar in East India.
Mahek now attends classes regularly and is able to tutor her young siblings at home. Being very strong in math, she often helps her parents with the family’s accounting.
"Azad India Foundation is working to promote education and skill development in different villages. We run learning centers in 73 villages covering almost 3500 children directly as we believe that children should get pre-primary and primary level quality education", said Yuman Hussein, executive director for Azad. "We are also running stitching centers and computer centers for girls and women to provide them with income-generating skills”.
Ron B. Wilson, an American photographer, visited Azad India with PWB, to document that organization's education initiatives. “Most women and children rely on the men in their communities for information. Azad is helping educate and keep them informed, which in the end will benefit the families and villages as a whole,” said Wilson.
Gulnaaz Begum is another girl who participated in the foundation's programming. Gulnazz is from the Malbasti Village, an area that has recently suffered from extreme flood damage. Gulnaaz received a sewing machine from Azad and completed a stitching course. Now, she works for tailoring shops in the village and is earning around 12,000 Indian rupees monthly, saving more than half of it.
In the near future, Azad plans to send more kids to school, resume their work on sexual and reproductive health issues - especially among the adolescent girls and young women and also promote the ‘Kheta/Sujni’, an embroidery practice done by the Shershahbadi women of Kishanganj.
“I am happy to earn and contribute to my father’s income. The sewing machine is proving to be a boom for me as it is helping me to achieve economic independence,” said Gulnazz.