September 30: If you educate a man, you educate one individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a family, so goes a popular saying. But Ganga Waghmare of Pune has done more than educate a family. She has educated all the women of her neighbourhood. That would make it many families!

Ganga is 16 years old. She’s been teaching for three years now. Because of her efforts, 30 women have become confident about being able to read and write. This ability has, in turn, given them the confidence to make their own way in the world.

But what made this teenager take up the responsibility of educating the women of her slum?

The Teenage Teacher of Pune [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The Teenage Teacher of Pune [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

Ganga had a simple dream. She wanted her unlettered mother to be able to sign her own name. So when a social worker approached her with the suggestion that she educate the women of her area, Ganga jumped at the idea.

Ganga’s campaign began with a few slates, pencils, chalks and sheer grit, says a report in ‘The Indian Express’. Most of the illiterate women of her slum joined the school run by her in her kholi (meaning room in Marathi).

But though Ganga got students, she found that it was difficult to retain them. How could the women take time off from all the work waiting at home?

It was then that she came up with a solution. Ganga held classes when the families of the women slept. For a long time, the men did not even know that their wives were attending classes.

The syllabus was a simple one. It comprised of three books provided by the Pune Municipal Corporation, each of which had to be completed in three months. Visits by experts on health and family planning, were also included to provide the women with a few tips on health and sanitation.

Ganga on her part, was as much friend as teacher. She encouraged them to maintain a diary, in which each person would make a note of any problem she faced. The teacher and her charges would then put their heads together and try to solve the problem.

Ganga’s students feel that becoming educated is like being gifted new vision. Earlier, they were handicapped by their inability to read. They couldn’t travel around the city without having someone who knew how to read, accompany them. In ration shops and other places they were often misled or fooled about the prices of items and forced into paying extra.

It is no longer so. They are able to move about freely, can read the destinations and numbers of buses, as also the prices of goods in shops. They have even started keeping household accounts. As for their savings, they manage them on their own.

Most of all, this new-found confidence has given the women the strength to tell their husbands firmly that they will no longer tolerate their excessive drinking of liquor. They have asked their husbands to stop drinking and remarkably enough, the men have listened. Today most of the men in the locality, including Ganga’s father, have given up drinking.

But there is a new twist in the tale. Ganga is leaving them. She is going to get married shortly. Ironically, she has quit her studies in anticipation of the event, but says she might study at her sasar‘s (in-laws) home.

Ganga doesn’t plan to give up educating others, though. She’s already made up her mind to educate the women at her in-laws’ neighbourhood.

591 words | 5 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: world news
Tags: #health, #families, #ganga

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