A quarter of girls in India – nearly 1.5 million young people – get married before they are 18. Kamla was set to be one of them. Until she went on hunger strike to show her parents how desperate she was to take a different path.
Kamla was just 15 years-old when she was informed of her impending marriage. After a three-day hunger strike, Kamla appealed to her Room to Read mentor for advice. With her mentor’s support, she was able to negotiate with her father to stay on her path to achieving an education and not to pursue the arranged marriage.
Kamla finished secondary school, became a nursery school teacher and went on to receive a Gandhi Fellowship.
“She is one of thousands of girls that we’re working with, but she is also reflective of my own life,” says Dr Geetha Murali, Room to Read’s CEO. “I came from a family where child marriage was common – my grandmothers were married at a very young age. It feels like in a single generation we’re seeing entire families completely alter the trajectories of their lives, and I think that’s pretty phenomenal.”
Today, Kamla’s parents are fully supportive of her career, and she is an inspiration to her local community. She was the first girl in her village to become a nursery school teacher. Now there are seven. Kamla has created a path for herself and others to follow.
India is a special country for Room to Read, which has 600 staff on the ground there. It is where its mission to eliminate child illiteracy and improve gender equality in education is crucial, and is the country that embodies the scale of the organization’s operations, ambition, and challenges.
“Room to Read started with a pretty simple ambition of bringing books to kids who didn’t have them,” says Murali. “But over time, we’ve evolved into an organization that has ambitious goals of eradicating illiteracy – particularly childhood illiteracy around the world and gender inequality in education. And India is going to contribute the most toward illiteracy statistics if we don’t do something about it.”
From the ground up
Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, it develops literacy skills and the habit of reading among primary school children, and supports girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they need to succeed in both school and beyond.