Radha Shinde, 13, who blushes when talking, may seem an unlikely winner of a state-level wrestling contest. However, her skills in wrestling and kho kho, honed at a residential school for girls who have dropped out school, have earned her the Navjyoti Award by the United Nations International Children's Education Fund (UNICEF).
The Navjyoti Awards are given to nine girls from backward districts of Maharashtra, who overcome socio-economic barriers to succeed in academics or sports. The girls reached Mumbai on Tuesday for the award ceremony, which will be held on November 4.
“I did not go to school until I was 10 years old because I moved around with my parents (who are migrant labourers),” said Shinde. “I learned sports by watching others and now I want to become a national level player.”
Among the awardees is Shirin Tabassum, 17, who doesn’t have arms and a leg. She offered to dial numbers on a mobile and write her name using her right toe. “She got 70% in her Class 10 exams last year without any help,” said her father, Shaikh Shamsher, a welder.
When asked about their first Mumbai trip, the awardees said they wanted to see Salman Khan, the sea front and the local trains. They aspired to become doctors, engineers and join the police force and wanted to rid their villages of problems such as lack of schools, employment opportunities and medical help.
Teachers, who accompanied the girls, said that they motivated the girls by showing them inspirational films such as Chak De and citing examples of sports achievers such as hockey player Yuvraj Valmiki. They said the government should support these girls for higher education.
“The residential schools are only up to Class 8,” said Nutan Maghade, coordinator, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, at Jalna. “If girls go back home then they are married off and their efforts are wasted.”