Eleven-year-old Lakshmi used to wake up early each morning to prepare breakfast of for her family in village Rajapur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Her parents worked as agricultural labourers and Lakshmi managed the kitchen and took care of her siblings at home.
"I come from a tribal community. My parents work from early morning to late evening hours in the neighbouring villages. Someone had to take care of my younger brother and sister,'' Lakshmi explains. "I never went to school. I did not know what the other kids did in school,'' Lakshmi, recalls.
In between the harvesting seasons, the family migrated to Uttar Pradesh in search of employment. "Wherever we went, I always took care of the children. I cooked, washed utensils, fetched water, fed my siblings and carried lunch for my parents to the fields,'' recollects Lakshmi.
Laxmi has an elder brother Shani and two younger siblings Dhanpa and Varsha. Then one day, the district officials from the education department came to Rajapur. The officers were sad to hear that not one person from Lakshmi's family had ever attended school.
They enrolled Shani and Lakshmi in a summer education camp organized to motivate drop-outs to go back to school. In just two months after her admission, Lakshmi picked up what other children took five years to learn.
From the alphabet to the lessons of standards 3 and 4, she showed exceptional interest in academics. Her brother Shani, however, left the camp after one month. As Lakshmi studied the lessons, the education department officers paid several visits to her house.
They spoke to her parents about Lakshmi's interest in academics and persuaded them to send her to Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) in Pichhore, about 20 kilometers from Rajapur.
The KGBV scheme was launched in August 2004 as part of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Residential schools were started at upper primary level for under-privileged girls belonging predominantly to the scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and minority communities in rural and tribal areas.
Students are provided free education, school uniforms, books, lodging and food. Hundreds of girl students like Lakshmi and drop-outs have rejoined school through this scheme. Lakshmi joined in early 2008 as a student of class 5.
Today, she studies in the 7th grade. "We have a 100-seater hostel facility for students from class 5 to class 10. Along with dormitory and educational facility, the hostel keeps four remedial teachers to coach these girls," says Shashi Gupta, the warden at KGBV Picchore.
"Here, the remedial teachers give them extra tutorial lessons in the hostel so these girls may compete with students from privileged homes in the public examinations," adds Mr Gupta.
The hostel at KGBV also has a library where girls do their reference work and read during their leisure hours. "We also provide career counseling and take them for special visits to hospitals, banks and police stations. They should know where to go for help during a crisis situation,'' concludes Mr. Gupta. Lakshmi wants to be a teacher Lakshmi's life has changed. "I don't wash utensils anymore,'' she says with a shy smile.
"Life is very different now. I will complete school and become a teacher when I grow up,'' adds Laxmi. Sitting in his house in Rajapur, Laxmi's father, Badri Adivasi, is happy at the progress her daughter has made in all these years.
"Initially I had agreed to send Lakshmi to KGBV only because it was one less mouth to feed. But now I am happy that we sent Lakshmi to get an education.
She loves school and is going to be the first educated person in the family. I'm thinking of sending my younger daughter to that school too," says Adivasi. Laxmi is one of many examples of how the KGBVs are helping educate and empower thousands of girls in the state, which will ultimately benefit families, communities and society at large.