Project Lehar delivered in India
The ‘Lehar’ programme is run by the Aga Khan Foundation in collaboration with Prince’s Trust International to equip young women from marginalized communities, especially those who are out of school, with the knowledge and skills to progress with their education, health and wellbeing and further explore their potential. Along with these skills, enterprise skills give them an insight into the world of self-employment, should they consider this as an option.
Gulshan tells us about her experience not being able to find a job to support herself and her family until she joined the programme and her life was transformed.
18-year-old Gulshan is a resident of Phulwarisharif, Patna, Bihar. Life has been extremely harsh for Gulshan since early childhood when she lost her father at 11 years old. Gulshan was the eldest of four siblings and had to drop out of school to earn money home to support her family. Her mother had never gone to school or worked in the past, however she started working as a domestic helper. Even with combined efforts from Gulshan and her mother the family was struggling for basic things like food and clothes, between the five of them they could sometimes only afford one meal.
Gulshan realised that they were struggling so much because none of them were educated and lacked certain skills which would enable them to get a well-paid job. Gulshan decided to take up some stitching work in a small shop, although she had no training, she could do basic stitching. She thought that by taking up some work it would enhance her skills and ensure that some additional money came into the house. Gulshan also found some work with a local shopkeeper but quickly learned he was paying her less than half the amount she should have been making. Although she felt frustrated she did not have the courage to speak to him and soon stopped working for him.
Around the time Gulshan stopped working, a community mobiliser from the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) supported her to enrol at an AKF run resource centre in her neighbourhood. Based on her learning level, she was enrolled for 10th certification exam from Bihar Board of Open Schooling. Gulshan completed her exams this year. While completing her exams, Gulshan also took a stitching course, soon she felt she could dream about a future that never seemed possible.
One day while on the way to the centre, Gulshan came across a vacancy for stitching trainer with a local institution. She applied for it, and out of 3 candidates, Gulshan got the job. She is currently working as a stitching trainer to 25 girls with a starting honorarium of 3000/- a month. Gulshan shared that during her time at the centre, she learnt about lot of things including being assertive, this enabled her to gather the courage to go back to the local shopkeeper who cheated her out of the appropriate wage and asked him for the balance money.
Gulshan and her mother faced some backlash from the neighbourhood but she didn’t let that stop her. Gulshan continued to communicate with her mother. She smiles and says, “Now my mother has realised that my working has supported the family and that I am not doing anything wrong.” It took her time to convince her mother to allow her to continue working as her mother was overwhelmed with neighbours speaking ill about Gulshan’s character as they had never before seen any girl Gulshan’s age go out of home and work there.
Gulshan says, ‘I always used to think, if I were a boy, I could have supported my family. But now I don’t think that anymore. There is no difference between a boy or a girl. If you are capable, you can do anything.’ She said, ‘We should try be our own back, rather than depending on others for support.’ Gulshan wants to continue her education. She does not want to be like her mother, she wants to be educated. With higher studies she wants to acquire more knowledge and earn more.
Gulshan’s story is not unheard of. India currently has the largest youth population in the world and is set to become the youngest country by 2020 with an average age of 29. A significant percentage of the youth are females who reside in small towns, peri-urban areas and rural districts with limited access to opportunities. The government is taking notice and India is making strong investments in the empowerment of adolescent girls with a vision of development for all.