Access to education gave Sultana Khatoon the key to a future free from domestic drudgery and early marriage. The 26-year-old peer educator, who is committed to helping to empower other girls and young women in the slums of Kolkata, says it is all thanks to Global Care.
“My name is Sultana Khatoon. I live in a Muslim-dominated area in central Kolkata, India. It is very crowded, with people living inside the buildings and also squatting in corridors and thoroughfares.
“Although I live in the heart of the city, I didn’t attend school until I was seven, as we couldn’t afford the fees. My father was the only earning member of our family then and there were many mouths to feed.”
Life did not look promising for the young Sultana. Born into poverty in an orthodox Muslim family, her future was already mapped out: “According to our customs and religious beliefs, a girl child is forbidden to freely come out of her house,” she explains. “She stays indoors, confined to the four walls of the house, and is given to attend to all the house chores until she reaches the age of puberty. Then she is engaged to be married.”
But Sultana’s life changed when she was enrolled into Global Care’s Pavement Club, which offers children from the slums of Kolkata the opportunity to study, often for the first time.
A keen student, three years later Sultana was accepted onto Global Care’s child sponsorship programme to enable her to continue her education.
Sultana says: “The sponsorship programme made a world of difference in my life. I used to write twice a year to my sponsor and I vividly remember receiving very encouraging letters back.
“Through the support of Global Care, I was able to complete my primary education. It also opened up activities so I could develop myself holistically. Most importantly, it enabled me to develop my hidden potential and break free from the taboos of my community.
“I feel proud to say that through the sponsorship programme, I graduated successfully from Non-Formal Education (NFE) and also completed the final exams of the formal school education programme.”
And Sultana’s education didn’t stop there. Bitten by the learning bug, she went on to take an adult education sewing and tailoring course at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.
“And my most cherished achievement is that I am a recipient of the Gold Award from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme,” she adds. The DoE is a key part of the options offered by the Pavement Club.
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Even now, Sultana is determined to keep ‘paying it forward’. After training through UNICEF as a peer educator, she now works for an organisation called CINI Asha – Child in Need Institute – in Kolkata, which aims to change the lives of children living on the streets through access to education from a young age.
Sultana says: “I have been working for CINI Asha for the past six years. I believe that serving others is a high calling and God led me to work as a peer educator for this organisation.
“My work has helped me to understand the importance of social service and of reaching out to the loveless and forgotten children living on the streets. My job also includes carrying out surveys in the community, educating mothers about social issues and linking members of the community with facilities provided by the government. I thoroughly enjoy my work because it gives me a sense of belonging and it is incredible to see the transformation that takes place within families.”
Sultana says that her long-term ambition is to be trained as a social worker so that she can equip even more women, men and children with the skills they need to live satisfying and meaningful lives.
She adds: “I was sponsored by Global Care for 11 years and I would like to say thank you to the charity for making such a mark on my life. Your support made me the person I am today. I am also grateful to Global Care’s partner organisation, Emmanuel Ministries, for spreading awareness regarding child rights, gender equality and the empowerment of the girl child. Thank you!”
Children's names are changed and their photographs obscured for reasons of protection.