MathKanda is a tiny village in Uttarakhand. The village doesn’t have a single store, clinic, school or college. The nearest road is 14kms uphill through a dense jungle. The children and youth of Mathkanda walk 3 hours one way, every single day, just to get to school and college.
One of them is Babita, a 19 year old iron willed girl. She has been fighting all odds, including pressure from her own family, to ensure that she doesn’t have to leave her education.
Our team travelled 108kms to get to this village, so we can interact with youth like Babita and make sure they get a chance to be a part of RukhThokko, our fellowship program specifically designed for pahadi youth. It is a space where they spend 3 months learning English, Computers, important work skills and crafting projects on social issues that affect their communities.
Waiting for us at the end of a jungle was Babita’s house. Her father was not very keen on sending her to join us because traveling from Mathkanda to Champawat (where HaiJalo is currently based) was an expense he couldn’t afford (approx ₹250). Some assurance about the fact that we’re paying our fellows a stipend for food and travelling changed his mind.
Babita is now one of the 12 RukhThokko fellows selected from the district. 6 of these youth are girls and 6 are boys, which was a difficult balance to crack in a place where girls post the age of 18 are quickly married off. The batch also contains youth from scheduled castes, which holds special significance in a caste ridden society. They have chosen to work on the topics of Domestic Violence, Forest Fires and quality of Education in Champawat. This choice of issues come from a space of personal experience, interest, passion and secondary research done over the period of a month.
We often find Babita chasing Rohit, our English teacher, after class, sometimes till 11 in the night, to sit and give her extra lessons because she believes that if she learns how to talk in English, her dad will trust her and let her pursue her education further. She has a raging passion towards women empowerment. During her second month of the fellowship, she was invited to give a speech at the local government inter-college, where she questioned the point of celebrating Gandhi as a freedom fighter when the women of our country are still not free to walk at night in their own localities. It was so uncomfortable for the audience to hear that she was asked to leave in between her speech.
This is the spirit of HaiJalo.
Maya sharing her pains of growing up with an abusive father, a common feature in the mountains, by painting her own poem on a public wall of police campus, or Priyanka getting a last shot at an education, or myself, a 20 year old girl from Mumbai, getting the chance to come all the way to the Himalayas to do what I have always wanted to do.
Haijalo is made of these tiny dreams becoming realities, even if they are temporary. It may not be changing anything in the larger scheme of things, but HaiJalo is changing the life of every single person it touches, and this feels enough on most days.