Their homes have been swept away in Phailin winds and the following floods. But, some school-going girls feel lucky to have saved their books as a precious possession. For them, books saved, is dreams saved.
“Padh kar hi main Priyanka Chopra ki tarah ban sakti haun (I can become someone like Priyanka Chopra only through education),” is how Bhagirathi Saumitra feels about importance of education. This was evident from her efforts to dry her Class 8 textbooks in the sunshine after the cyclone hit her New Podampita village, around 170 km south of Bhubaneswar.
She was not alone. Some more girls could be seen drying up their books along with the grains and fish in the remnants of their homes.
When everyone in her village ran to the other side of a hill for protection from Phailin, Saumitra was busy saving her school books. “We asked her to take some food for the night. She refused and insisted on taking the books,” recalls her father Chandra Balaram, while rebuilding his thatched mud house. When they came back to the ravaged village, Saumitra had a job at hand -- dry the books.
Although poorly ranked in school education, Odisha has made a lot of progress in the social sector, thanks to its girls. The school drop-out rate has witnessed a drop since 2005-04 and the dip has been more among girls than boys.
“The poor have realised that education can provide better lives to their children and here discrimination between girls and boys is not much,” said Debasish Kar, a state government volunteer for mobilising communities for education and empowerment for Ganjam district.
Around 440 kilometre towards north in flood-hit Balasore district, Anita Patra has repeated Saumitra’s act. She collected her wet books when her family abandoned their marooned village to take temporary shelter on the national highway between Kolkata and Chennai. “I have to complete my homework after the Puja holidays. Two days were wasted because of floods,” she said, not distracted by honking trucks on the highway.
In flood affected and Muslim-dominated Gopinathpur village, more girls attend school than boys. These girls speak fluent Hindi and Oriya and read a bit of English too unlike many boys who feel more comfortable with Oriya. “They (girls) are more regular to school than boys,” said a teacher in a local school Krishna Parida, adding that the zest for education is more in girls than boys.