Times of India, The, Nov 10, 2010 | by Sethi, Atul
NEW DELHI: The lane in Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin is narrow and constricted, guaranteed to give heart-stopping moments to car drivers coming from opposite directions. Men in skull-caps lounge around, some returning from the afternoon namaz. The stench from a chicken shop permeates the air. A group of children spill out on the lane, from the building opposite the shop. Among them are three girls, dressed in orange and white salwar kameez, hair tied in ponytail, their large eyes sparkling. They are the envy of their group. Chandni, Sajeeda and Abeeda were part of the group of underprivileged children selected to meet Michelle Obama.
"Unka naam hamesha bhool jaati hoon,'' exclaims 11-year-old Chandni, when asked whom she had met. Although none of the girls can correctly pronounce the First Lady's name, they are enjoying the attention they are getting. "She gave us sandwiches to eat and said we should keep away from chips and unhealthy food something which she said she tells her own children too,'' says 10-year-old Abeeda. Ask them what they talked to her about and 11-year-old Sajida speaks up. "I remember she told us that her dream is that every mother is able to educate her daughter.''
It's a thought that may well stay with these children, since most of them come from impoverished Muslim families, where educating the girl child is given the least priority. "Retaining our girl students is our biggest challenge,'' admits Samiur Rahman of The Hope Project, where the three girls study. The NGO provides its students with non-formal education in order to prepare them for open school. It also prepares them for a livelihood by imparting vocational training. "We try and ensure that they come to us as long as possible. This also prevents these girls from being married off early,'' says Rahman.