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UNICEF poster girl now struggles for survival

Anita Kuswaha, a teenage role model and UNICEF poster girl from a poverty-stricken family in a Bihar village, is still fighting for survival.
IANS | By Imran Khan, Patna
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2008 04:09 PM IST

Anita Kuswaha, a teenage role model and UNICEF poster girl from a poverty-stricken family in a Bihar village, is fighting for survival.

The beekeeper is in desperate need of money to revive her apiaries, devastated by floods last year. Anita, now 19, has been keeping bees for a livelihood for the last two years.

It is ironic that the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has included a new chapter about the success story of Anita - titled "Anita and the honey bees" - in a Class IV book on environmental studies called "Looking Around". Her story is inspiring students, but she herself cannot afford to go back to college.

Anita is upset that she has had to discontinue studies for months due to lack of money and the need to earn a livelihood. Till July last year, she was studying for her Bachelor in Arts (BA) English degree from MDDM College, Muzaffarpur.

"I stopped going to college because I have no money to purchase books, pay the fees and bus fares. College is 15 km from my village," she said.

Anita is disappointed with the way bank and state government officials treated her when she approached them for a loan or a grant to help restart her beekeeping activities.

"Banks refused to give me a loan and the state government did not help. I needed Rs.50,000 to re-start beekeeping as the apiaries were completely destroyed by floods," she told IANS Friday.

Bank officials told her they could not give her a loan because she had no guarantor.

"I don't have a kisan credit card, nor is my name on the BPL (below poverty line) list. So, bank officials refused to provide me loan for beekeeping," she said. Anita asked for help from some NGOs working for women's empowerment, but they have not responded either.

Muzaffarpur district magistrate Vinay Kumar told her that she would get financial help by July, when the new season of beekeeping begins. "I assured her that she would get a loan, but not now," Kumar said.

Anita is unhappy with the Unicef, too. "I was selected by the Unicef and declared their star girl. But they did not help me. The Unicef forgot me after taking advantage of my name for vested interest," she alleged.

The NCERT chapter describes Anita, popularly known as "queen bee", as a role model for children because of her efforts to educate herself and rear bees to augment family income.

The chapter is full of amazing but true stories about Anita, born to poverty-stricken parents. Both her parents work as agricultural labourers. Anita's determination to educate herself despite poverty has been termed in the book as a "great struggle".

Her determination to rear bees two years ago when she was 17 proved to be a turning point in supplementing her family's income and funding her school as well as college education.

Later, dozens of women of her village took to beekeeping to earn their livelihoods and educate their children. "I started with only one box and there were over 150 boxes for beekeeping before the floods destroyed them," she said.

Till early 2006, Anita was an unknown face in Pattiayasam, a village largely populated by Dalits, in Muzaffarpur district, nearly 70 km from the state capital here.

Anita refused to marry young and convinced her parents to let her continue her studies. She hit the headlines when Unicef picked up her story and selected her as part of their "girl stars" campaign in 2006.

She was the youngest of the 15 girls selected for a Unicef multimedia campaign to create icons from underprivileged backgrounds. The UN body made a film on her and released books about Anita's inspirational story, along with others.

Anita embarked on the path of self-reliance by collecting Rs.1,500 by tutoring children and purchased a box containing a queen bee.

Last year, she received the "Best Bee-Farming" award from Rajendra Agriculture University (RAU), Pusa, in Samastipur.

But now Anita, who was hailed as a symbol of women empowerment so recently, is fighting alone.

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