April 18, 2023
Imagine walking to school every day in the dark hours of the morning, without any streetlights to guide the way. There are no sidewalks or school buses, so walking along rough gravel roads is the only way to get there. Sometimes there are people out on the streets, but they are not always friendly, and your parents often worry so much about your journey that they beg you to stop going to school altogether. This is the story of Yashika, a Room to Read Girls’ Education Program graduate from India who learned to advocate for herself and fight for access to her education.
To understand Yashika’s story, it’s important to consider the educational landscape in India. Though India has dramatically decreased poverty rates since the early 2000s, the country is still fighting income inequalities, with services such as education continuing to be inaccessible in some regions. According to UNESCO, there are 266 million people in India who cannot read, and a confluence of facilities that need improvement, lack of quality education, seasonal migrations and gender biases have contributed to 8.1 million children not being enrolled in school, a disproportionate number of which are girls.
In Yashika’s case, the route from home to class was so dangerous that it stood in the way of her education — but she was determined to fight, quite literally, to stay in school despite this obstacle. The opportunity to enroll in a self-defense class for girls introduced Yashika to a mentor who inspired her to pursue karate and eventually reach a global stage. Not only did self-defense training enable her to protect herself during her journey to school, it inspired a new confidence in her that pushed her to dream beyond the boundaries of her community.
Stories like Yashika’s illustrate both the daunting challenges that many girls face daily as they fight for access to education, as well as how life skills and mentorship can be transformative for them and their communities.
Yashika is one of the girls featured in She Creates Change, Room to Read’s multimedia storytelling initiative to promote gender equality through the stories of young women. The project includes six animated and live action short films that profile how brave young women like Yashika in historically low-income communities have utilized skills and mentorship to overcome obstacles in their lives — from food scarcity to harassment to early marriage. She Creates Change aims to inspire young women everywhere to see themselves as the heroes of their own stories.
The She Creates Change film series, which will be released in October 2023 to commemorate International Day of the Girl, aims to reach all 432 million adolescent girls globally with content and educational curriculum that supports them in creating change in their communities.