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Just a bike for these girls in India and it made it possible for them to get to school.
Pune, Maharashtra: When a media house recently recognised Armene Modi as one of the ’24 Real Heroes’ of India at a glittering ceremony in Mumbai, she attributed it all to the never-say-die spirit of young girls in Shirur taluka in Pune district who had shown such a zest for empowerment through education.
However, the story is that this desire for academic strength has come about only due to Armene’s innovative project under the banner of her NGO, Ashta No Kai. Armene has, so far, provided 300 cycles to the girls of this taluka to enable them to cover the long distance between their homes and schools or colleges.
This simple approach has empowered young women to rekindle their interest in learning and over the past six years, up to 500 of them have found access to education. Armene is a Columbia University-educated English teacher who teaches the subject in colleges across Japan.
This is, however, balanced with the projects powered by Ashta No Kai, the primary among them being to change the lives of women in the chosen villages of Shirur taluka.
“When I first visited the villages about a decade ago, I saw girls who had been married off at very early ages and were now tending to fields and struggling to take care of their homes and children. After setting up Ashta No Kai (which means ‘for a better tomorrow’) Armene helped set up self-help groups so that women would be able to save money and use it to become entrepreneurs.
“I then started kishori mandals for teenage girls to drive home the need for education as a tool of empowerment,” she informs.
When an appeal in local newspapers for cycles brought forth a reasonable response, coupled with the donation of a 100 cycles from her Japanese friends, Armene started a Bicycle Bank to reach out to those young girls who had decided to opt out of schools because they had no means to attend institutes which were in far-flung areas.
This has helped many girls to clear their SSC examination even though schools in Shirur do not have classes beyond standard VII.
“Most girls were forced to leave their education mid-way because they had to walk up to 10 kilometres for the higher classes. Parents were, but naturally, concerned for their safety and therefore would rather get them married at early ages than run the risk of securing education and special skills,” Armene explains.
Enthused by the success of this project, Armene announced scholarships for those girls wanting to pursue higher education. There were nine applications in 2004. In this year, there have been as many as 50 applications.
“Many of the girls who began using the cycles in 2002 are now on the verge of completing their degree courses in such streams as law, commerce, pharmacy and agriculture,” she states.
Ashvini Shelke and Kalpana Dange, for instance, are two such beneficiaries of the Bicycle Bank who have reached up to standard X.
“I can travel a distance of four kilometres to my school in 15 minutes instead of the one hour it took on foot. I can therefore study as also help out my parents at home,” Ashvini states.