The taxi hurtled through the pounding rain into the middle of nowhere. Steve and I cringed with every swerve and horn blast, but blessedly arrived at our destination–Sirohi, India–in one piece. I was on assignment (with Steve acting as my photographer and trusty assistant) to write about an organization called Educate Girls, for a well-known UK women’s magazine. And this two day excursion into some remote sections of India I’d never even heard of, was in order to visit two tribal area schools.
From Sirohi (already extremely remote in my mind) our jeep bounced and jarred over three more hours through a scrubby dusty landscape. We passed through countless small villages, where I gazed in awe at the indigenous, kaleidoscopic clothing of the Rajasthani women, some with giant hoops in their noses, connected with delicate chains to equally massive earrings. Plastic bangles covered arms from wrist to shoulder, giving them the strange appearance of the Michelin Man.
We heard the school before we saw it, 53 students singing at the top of their lungs. Simply a cement block building, the school was dilapidated at best. Garbage was strewn all over the yard like confetti at a birthday party, and the classroom possessed a single chalkboard covered in wasps nests.
But these details didn’t stop the plucky headmaster (also the school’s only teacher) from enthusiastically summoning his students outside to put on a song and dance routine for the visiting journalists.
I interviewed parents and students for the article, and listened in awe as this tiny community explained their fervor for education. This group is somewhat of an anomaly in this part of India, where I learned that 68% of girls are married off before the legal age of 18, and 15% before the age of 10. The organization I was writing about–Educate Girls–is fighting this outdated practice by encouraging families to give their daughters an education.
One small girl caught my attention with her electric smile.
It terrified me to think that she could be married off by now, doomed to a life of countless children, poverty, abuse and no opportunity.
Rain began to pellet the countryside once again. Some of the students ran through the mud, oblivious to the weather, while others ran for cover in the tiny school building. They didn’t seem to mind the condition their school was in. In fact, they were proud to have it. It was a humbling experience for me, to see their glee at the opportunity to have this chance for education.
Amidst the smiles and waves and shouted goodbyes, my heart swelled as high as the muddy streams we waded through to get back to the jeep for the three hour return journey.
Photos by Steven Moore