It’s 8:00am and boys begin the line up for assembly at the Government Boys’ High School in village Malnhore Vena, six kilometres from Mithi, Tharparker. As they start with a few minutes of physical training, girls in crisp white and blue uniforms start arriving. Some enter school in pairs while others in groups. They queue up in rows alongside the boys and together they begin to sing the national anthem.

Malnhore Vena is a small village of 250 households, straw houses scattered across sand dunes and wild green trees. The village has just one high school which is only for boys. However, it accommodates 100 girls from the village who want to pursue higher education. Apart from the community’s effort for that, all the girls from the village who study there have one motivational figure whom they follow passionately — a girl named Drishna.

Late last year while I was working on an assignment in Tharparkar, I had an opportunity to explore the school situation in the district. While looking for community-supported schools where education is a priority for the community, my friend Partab Shivani, a local activist, took me to his village, where there is no school for girls but because of the community’s effort, parents are able to educate their girls by sending them to a boys’ high school. Teachers and parents are equally involved in this effort.

One supportive father’s initiative has set a precedent for girls to attend a boys’ school

Fifteen-year-old Vidhya of grade 9 tells me that her motivation to come to school every day is a girl named Drishna. “We have heard several stories about Drishna Ba from our teachers and parents. She was an intelligent student who attended school when no other girl was able to do so,” she says. The school has named its library after Drishna. For many girls, she is a heroic figure of bravery and intelligence. Although Vidya has never seen Drishna, she knows about her, as Drishna lives in the heart of every girl in the village.

Some years ago, Drishna’s father, Soomar Mal was a high school teacher in the same school. Soomar wanted his daughter to continue her education after grade 5 but due to a lack of resources he could not send her to Mithi. He decided to take his daughter to the boys’ high school, making her attend class alongside the boys. “I was not the only one doing this, my colleague Karomal also took his daughter Mina Kumari to school every day,” says Soomar.

Both Soomar and Karomal took their daughters to school against the norms in the community. “Being from the same community, we had to convince our people about the importance of education and by taking our girls to school, we tried to set an example,” says Soomar.

Soomar went from home to home with Drishna to convince other parents and her friends to go to school. In September 2006, Drishna was in grade 8 when she was bitten by a snake and could not survive. Based on her legacy and commitment to education, the school management committee decided to name the school library after her in December 2006. It is the only room in a boys’ school named after a girl. The library is a small room with computers and a small iron cupboard that contains some books on science, while the rest are story- books for children.

Based on her legacy and commitment to education, the school management committee decided to name the school library after her in December 2006. It is the only room in a boys’ school named after a girl. The library is a small room with computers and a small iron cupboard that contains some books on science, while the rest are story-books for children.

After completing grade 10, Vidhya plans to leave the village to pursue higher education since there is no college here. When school time is over, girls begin to leave before the boys do. “We have to send them home early since parents do not like boys in the community to create any trouble for girls,” says Prem Premperhyar, the headmaster of the school. “We respect the community’s concern, because if we don’t take care of their issues then they won’t send their daughters to school,” he adds.

In Sindh half of the girls cannot continue their higher education, either because of the non-existence of a girls’ school in their village or because of the conservative mindset of their community. Government Boys’ High School Malnhore Vena is one example of community and teachers’ involvement in taking a step forward to educate their children, particularly girls. Even though the community is still struggling to get a high school for girls, Drishna’s name is written on every girl’s heart.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 28th, 2017

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