November 01, 2019
Kalpana was a student in Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in India, from grade 6 through grade 12. We recently sat down with her to talk about her time in the program, and this is the powerful story she shared:
Beyond the banks of the mighty Mahanadi River, the mango orchards and the lush green of my village, my dreams run free. From childhood, I aspired to a better life. Sometimes, life was so dismal that carrying on seemed impossible. But I knew I could not give up. My dream is to be educated, to create a life on my own terms, beyond the confines of what is expected of a girl from rural India. My closest friends on this journey have been my books.
With the help of those friends, Room to Read and people like you, I am continuing my studies. I’ve made allies to dream with me and support my goal of becoming a police officer — an aspiration rare for girls from my world. I believe in the power of dreams to carry one forward. My dreams help me to strive. My dreams have carried me thousands of miles away from everything I know.
And now I stand here in front of all of you.
My name is Kalpana and this is my story. Most of the young girls in my village marry early, have children and cannot pursue a career outside of their homes. From a young age, I knew that was not my path, and with the support of Room to Read, I changed my destiny.
I grew up in a family of 7. My father often had to travel for work and when my mother, our primary caretaker, became very ill, my older sister dropped out of school to care for her and help manage the household. Despite these difficulties, I continued my studies. I could not give up my education — it was my way to escape the dismal realities of my life. I saw poverty, illness and domestic fights everywhere I turned and used to think, “Is there a better way to live?” Education was my way forward. I helped with chores as soon as I woke, went to school, came back, finished more chores and then would found corner to study. After my sister married, the entire responsibility of managing the household fell on me. I got so busy with chores and studying, that I forgot to live my childhood, even to play. I worried that I would need to drop out, that I would never find the life I wanted.
But in Grade 6, I was enrolled in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. From the first life skills session, I found hope, a light. As these sessions progressed, I started applying what I had learned to my life. I used the lessons in creative problem-solving, managing emotions, decision-making, goal-setting, career-planning, finding allies, and communicating assertively. These sessions made me feel sure I could hope, could dream, despite my situation. My social mobiliser, who I affectionately called didi, helped me gain perspective and cope with any and all obstacles.
When I was in 12th grade, my exams were right around the corner, and my mother fell seriously ill. I was the only one who could stay with her in the hospital. I lost all hope of appearing for my exams and graduating from secondary school, but SM Didi offered to help me speak to my father. He saw my perseverance and promised his support. Sitting close to my mother’s bed, I studied and cared for her at the same time. In the mornings, I could attend school and take my exams.
My mother passed away and my elder brother also passed away during this time, during a road accident. It was the darkest phase of my life. Despite the darkness, I appeared for my final examinations, with the constant encouragement of SM didi. Our great shared loss changed my father. He gave me his full support and stood by me. I passed my exam and I am now pursuing my graduate degree.
I believe life gives you challenges and opportunities. It is up to you to choose your path. I have not even visited my state capital, Raipur. To be with you and present my story was beyond my wildest dreams.
I feel privileged and honoured to be able to share my story with all of you. I feel so proud to be able to stand here and represent all the girls from Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. Thank you for this immense opportunity. Your support gives thousands of girls like me the opportunity to complete their educations and create their own life stories.
Thank you for helping me in this journey and making every step worthwhile.