The Madrasa Hanfiya Education Institute is a school for girls in Rajasthan, India. In remote areas like Barmer and Jaisalmer, many girls do not receive a proper education and their role is often limited to the kitchen and household. In addition, the rate of female literacy within poor Muslim communities is the lowest in the Country: one out of two girls is unable to read and write. Upon facing the poor conditions of girls' education in the Jodhpur area, Zainab Banu, a young graduate in the Urdu Language from Gujarat University, decided to do something for them.
As a result, on November 18th, 2011 Madrasa Hanfiya Education Institute for Girls was founded under Zainab's Presidentship, and the first 50 girls were welcomed and accommodated there. Determined to improve the conditions of many deprived children and their families, Zainab overcame many economic and social problems in order to provide free education, free books, free medical care, and free hostel facilities to the girls in her Madrasa. Such a revolutionary project was praised by the District of Barmer and the Government of Rajasthan on several occasions, and repeatedly recognized by the Indian media as well.
Today, Madrasa Hanfiya hosts and educates 130 girls aged from 5 to 15, and the requests for admission keep growing. The school has survived so far exclusively on spontaneous donations.
The evolution level of humanity must be measured on the condition of the most unfortunate and marginalized ones.
We are a group of people who have decided to put into practice the teachings of Islam, that is to help those who are marginalized and discriminated, and to actively contribute to the evolution of humanity. We decided to dedicate our effort and energy to the education of poor Indian girls, who suffer some of the world’s highest illiteracy rates: one out of two girls living in poverty never get access to education.
Two are the main reasons for this condition: first, many families are too poor to spend money on books and stationery, not to mention school fees and uniforms; second, from a very young age, girls become part of the labor force, contributing to the economy of the family. Their help becomes indispensable to the survival of their parents and siblings. This is why, even when schooling is offered free of cost to girls under government assistance programs, most of them are unable to benefit from the offer. In the process of analyzing this data, we came to the conclusion that in order to solve the problem we should change the offer.
Therefore, we thought of adding boarding, lodging and anything else the girls would need to free education, for a period of 8 years. Our welfare package included clothes, medical assistance, books, stationery, education, food and shelter from first to eighth grade of the Indian educational system. To offer girls as little as six years old eight years of separation from their family is not only a matter of education. It also means giving them the opportunity of experiencing a kind of life that they had never knew it existed. In fact, they come from such impoverished and marginalized backgrounds, that they are often exposed to innumerable forms of violence: verbal, relational, physical, and sexual. Indeed, illiterate girls rank highest in the percentages of child abuse and mortality in India. And even if they manage to survive alive and unharmed, it is very unlikely that will develop behaviors and attitudes different from those to which they have been so deeply exposed.
On the contrary, spending their childhood in the Madrasa, protected from any form of violence and abuse, and growing up in a safe domestic environment, gives them at least the chance of growing into better adults, therefore also contributing to transforming and improving society at large. Our idea made a difference: not only free education but also fewer mouths to feed. For some families with three or four female children, that made a big difference. And so the first enrollments started to come in. We started in 2011 with five girls in total. It was me, Zainab, my husband Haji, and the five students. We all were living in one single room, which was the classroom, kitchen, and bedroom altogether.
At first, the surrounding community was not very supportive. They came and said that no one would have sent us their children to us and that there was no use to a girl’s education. They mocked us. We were alone in the middle of a desert of sand and ignorance. But we did not give up, strong of Allah's faith. Now, eight years later, we have 130 girls living and studying in a constructed area of more than 1500 sq mt. The people living nearby have started to come to our Madrasa regularly, cooperating with us and sharing with us their hopes and hardships. We now feel very supported by the surrounding community, we celebrate together festivities, anniversaries, marriages and griefs. We could truly say that today our Madrasa is the pulsing heart of this desert semi-tribal community.
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