The purpose of this project is to join many others who are working to educate girls and women in developing nations, thereby changing the world. In India and parts of Thailand, where Free Schools World Literacy (FSWL) is working, females are less valued, have fewer rights, and in rural areas are literally property. The level of violence they experience is unconscionable and there is no means of escape. In the most remote areas, there are one million newborn girls that are murdered every year. At birth they are smothered or drowned in a bucket of water. These girls are murdered for many reasons but primarily because parents don’t know how they will feed one more child, and because girls don’t have the value boys do in these cultures. It is the girls who die.
In India there are 700 million people who live on less than $2 a day, and over 200 million girls and women who cannot read or write. Women who are illiterate are more likely to be forced into sex trafficking, be married off as children or teenagers, bear children at a young age, be victims of violence, have poorer health, and remain in poverty. We want to change that.
Free Schools World Literacy is a grassroots initiative in Asia to educate and empower women and children. There are around one billion adults in the world who are illiterate, two-thirds of them being women, and the worst illiteracy is in India. There is huge gender discrimination in India which has a patriarchal system of land ownership, and when girls marry they go to other families and actually become their property.
This is a breeding ground for a lot of unhappy females. Imagine yourself in this situation. How would you feel? Seventy percent of females in India experience domestic cruelty, and because of that, forty percent attempt suicide. Some of the girls and women we interviewed seem dead inside – they can’t afford emotion.
That’s the unpleasant reality today. Now for the hope and action: Free Schools began with one school in 2005 and now has 30 schools serving almost 1800 students in Bihar, India. There are 5 schools that focus just on tailoring. Because of the climate there (no winter), a school can be opened using donated space, often under tarps.
There are three unique characteristics of FSWL. First, costs can be kept very low because of local volunteer involvement. The second is the model. There are no infrastructure costs. No school buildings are constructed. Rather space is borrowed and the community is involved as much as possible. The third is that, when some of the older children graduate, they are trained to become teachers in their village, and they are paid.
What is happening now is that the villagers, seeing the value of education which they never understood before because the villagers have been illiterate for generations, are donating land, building space and labor to create their own schools.
Free Schools is educating these girls in the basics of reading, writing, summing and ways of identifying human traffickers. Many girls are kept out of the hands of human traffickers and are literally saved from a horrible existence. Free Schools gives them an opportunity to raise themselves out of the poverty in which their families have lived for generations. This means that they can earn an income and have choices in their life. And what’s more, they come alive emotionally. They are beginning to sing, dance and create art.
For every year that a girl is in school she will earn ten percent more in her adult life. Girls, once they’re educated, invest back into their family. They make sure that their own children are educated. They look after their parents while they are still with them.
They become advocates of health and hygiene and are active in civic discussions — they become community activists. This is the girl effect that is referred to now among NGOs, and it’s very powerful. It’s not that men don’t have their own gifts. It’s just that girls are more likely to put the money and education back into the family. When you educate a boy, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate a village.
There are a million villages in India and Thailand, and where education is offered, violence is reduced. Little Wolf Productions is a part of this change.