Aarti Naik is an angel for slum girls

Humans of Bombay
Humans of Bombay
Humans of Bombay

Aarti Naik is not a much-celebrated name in India’s education sector, but she will be. Aarti, hails from Malad, a slum area in Mumbai, has created history by establishing Sakhi, a non-governmental organisation, which provides education to the girls in slum areas. SAKHI’s major objective is to provide learning space for girls.

The mission is aimed specifically at those girls who are living and learning in difficult situations, so that they have an opportunity to receive quality education in a secure environment.

SAKHI’s daily educational activities enable slum girls to build basic literacy and numeracy skills within their community. The availability of basic English textbooks has improved their vocabulary levels tremendously and they are able to read and write effectively, while continuing to attend school and improving their learning further. Aarti Naik recently shared her story on Humans of Bombay Facebook page. Here’s the Facebook post:

“I grew up in a slum in Malad. Studying there was very difficult, because girls weren’t expected to do anything major with their lives…becoming a home maker was the only way. I repeatedly asked my father to enroll me in classes that would help me clear my 10th standard board exams, but we couldn’t afford it. Despite trying to understand these concepts myself, I couldn’t keep up with Science or Math and I failed. My parents were intact happy that I failed…they said I should stay at home and learn how to cook and manage a home, but I was more determined than ever to reappear for my exams and continue my education.

We couldn’t afford the fees for a reattempt, and my father refused to let me go out of the house to work so I found a middle way— I started making necklaces and friendship bands from home to save money for my education. I would wake up really early, finish my house work, work hard to sell these bands and then study until the early hours of the morning…that was my routine for years.

I earned only 9 rupees a day for my labour – I saved up all that money and after 4 years, I could finally reappear and pass my 10th boards. I was delighted but it also pinched me to know that there were other girls, just like me who would probably give up after the first attempt. I wanted to educate myself more, so that I could make a real difference and I enrolled myself into an undergrad programme in sociology from from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University.

During this time, I kept going to the girls from my slum, trying to analyse why and how they would fail — I realised that their basics were so weak that it was impossible for them to clear higher classes.

In 2008, after I finished my fellowship , I decided to start ‘Sakhi’ — educational classes for primary school girls. I started off with 5 young girls…I remember going to each other houses, begging their parents to let them attend. I taught them how to read, write and communicate better. From 5 girls, I grew to 75 and I had to hire a hall to conduct my classes. Mind you, all these classes are free, but I’ve been lucky to have some kind sponsors who fund this entire project! In 2010, I started a library with English books for these girls and In 2013, an international grant helped us set up our first Girls Learning Centre in the slum.

Since then, I’ve received multiple awards, I’ve been featured in a number of articles but my biggest victory is my girls — over 100 of them now have big dreams. Just the other day, they all wrote a speech for me — thanking me for being their ‘Sakhi’ and Ive never been happier — it was all in perfect English with no grammatical mistakes!”

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