When a girl first arrives at the Aftercare Home, she may likely have just been rescued that very day or the previous night. Many girls come in looking blank and expressionless, though their eyes may be filled with fear. After giving a new girl a few days of rest and adjustment to this new environment, we conduct an intake interview, an initial counseling session, an educational assessment and a medical evaluation. In the course of these interviews, we always ask the girl, “What is your dream? What do you want to be what you grow up?”
Often, the girl barely seems to understand the meaning of the question, and she just sits there without answering. Perhaps she was never asked that question in her life. All that was asked of her was to do house work and school work (if she was lucky enough to go to school), so that someday she would get married, serve her husband, and produce offspring. During intake, if we hear any answer from the girl at all, the most common is “I want to get married.”
Following the educational assessment, an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is created for each girl. She can start where she’s at, whether she is illiterate or has studied in Class XII. Most girls’ levels in individual subjects are off-kilter: a girl may be at Hindi Class V standard but only Class III in math and Class I in English. Since the Non-Formal Education we utilize is not marks-oriented but is child-focused, the IEP flexes for such variance, and charts a path to help the girl’s levels quickly reach par. We want the girl to learn. We also want her to catch a taste of both the fun and importance of education.
Over time, we continue to talk with girls about the importance of studying and of dreaming, exposing the girls to different possibilities. Even then, in the beginning we face a lot of difficulties. Because of their trauma, girls often cannot concentrate. Due to the legal nature of their situation, many police visits, court appearances, and medical trips interrupt their studies.
But the women on the team keep motivating them, telling them their potential, and reminding them about the importance of dreaming. Just last week, I talked with one girl who has been with us almost a year. Her history includes worse abuse than most people can imagine. While we were walking side by side, back and forth between the living room and the bedroom, with a big smile she said, “Mother, before I came here, I went to school, but I did not learn anything. But now I know that I can read a textbook and find answers to questions on my own. By doing so, I can learn. I realized now that I like to study.”
I asked her about her dreams, and she went on to say, “My Plan A is to be a police woman. My Plan B is to be a nurse. My Plan C is to be a teacher. If none of them work out, I will apply to work here and become one of the Caregivers!”
I marveled at the fact that she is dreaming. She does not just see one, but many possibilities for her future. And she has started working toward her dream. We know there are still many challenges ahead of her. She will need help to continue to take practical steps forward. But for now we celebrate with her that her dreams are sprouting like flowers in springtime.