Girl Stars, a multimedia project in India, has created inspiring icons out of 15 ordinary young women in an effort to encourage others to pursue education.
The stories of the girl stars, who are succeeding in their lives after staying in school, are now told through films, books and posters. The films have been seen by over 750 million people on national television and in primary schools across the country.
Despite increases in literacy rates in India over the past 10 years, the number of children who do not receive an education is still high, with girls being much less likely to complete even a primary school education. Nationally, there are twice as many illiterate women as they are men. Aiming to redress the educational unbalance, UNICEF joined forces with NGO, Going to School and launched the Girl Stars project to help young women see that school can be fun and that by staying in school, they can change their lives for the better.
One girl star is Tehseen Bano, who taught other children in order to earn the money to pay for her own education and every day had to persuade relatives to let her go to school. Now at 24 years old, Tehseen works as a hostel warden and looks after 70 girls who come to stay so that they are able to complete their own education. “I have learned one thing,” Tehseen says, “if you are educated, there are many choices in front of you. You do not have to follow, you can create your own road and then others will follow you.”
The media resources, which are supported by India’s ministry of education, have been translated into six different languages. The girl’s stories are now integrated into school textbooks, while the National Geographic channel has also screened the films for free, enabling many more thousands of girls to be inspired.
Staying in school has meant that the girl stars have been empowered to not only improve their own lives but to take action for their communities. Suryamani Bhagat, for example, went on to complete a degree in Sanskrit, and is now an activist with the Save the Forests of Jharkhand movement. She has also founded Torang, a tribal rights and cultural centre in her village. She says: “Education not only helps you to create your own employment, it can also help millions of people to begin to understand their environment and what we need to do to live peacefully with nature.”
Each of the girls has her own fascinating story of where school has taken her, from news-reading to health work, from beekeeping to local government, and from police work to computer training. Each story offers inspiration to other girls to complete their education and create the lives they want to live in today’s India.