Education: The Vehicle Out of Poverty

The girls and Dr. Grewal featured in a newspaper in Punjab, India

The girls and Dr. Grewal featured in a newspaper in Punjab, India

Child marriage, gender roles and poverty. Envision flipping sides of the world– that is what one would be surrounded by.

In the state of Punjab, India, those three elements are the biggest hindrance towards equal access of education, especially for girls. In the USA, education is accessible to almost everyone, but flip sides of the world and it could be taken away in an instant.

Dr. Iman Grewal who got a Ph.D in Education Studies with a concentration in Urban Studies from Eastern Michigan University, grew up in the state of Punjab herself. She noticed the unfair treatment of girls who were forced to undergo abortion by their mothers’-in-laws if the fetus was a girl, and the implied goal that they should live to be a good wives and nothing else. When a family has limited resources, they invest in the boys of the family rather than the girls. “I was very young and I wanted equality,” she said, “When I went back to school five years ago to do my Ph.D, I decided to focus my interest in children’s rights, on India and education access. I think education is the definite vehicle out of poverty and if you can reach a school you can succeed and pull yourself out of poverty.”

Dr. Grewal proceeded to consider 20 girls in Punjab, and eventually picked six to observe closely. “My hope was to start small and expand the project to help the girls gain access to the education they wanted and needed. I chose the 6 girls because they showed the highest combination of potential and need. We wanted the girls with the fire in them.”

She scrutinized their daily lives and discovered their goals and aspirations. “Over and over they said they want to become someone so they are respected and can be financially stable themselves instead of being dependent on a husband,” she said.

The access to education is limited, and Dr. Grewal decided to give back in some way. She sent financial support and asked friends to be mentors to the girls in India, with hopes that they would have someone to be there for them and to help them get through their studies successfully.

Fathers were completely disregarded in this study, since the men of the family have much more power than anyone else. They were assumed to not want their girls to go to school. Some mothers were hesitant to let their daughters go to school because they themselves came from the village and received no education, and some wanted their daughters to have a better life and were completely supportive of the decision. One mother said, “I look at the people’s houses I clean as a maid, and if I’d gone to school maybe I could own that house not be cleaning it.” Now they want a better life for their daughters.

After checking on the project two years later Dr. Grewal remarks about the change, “They were more determined because they saw someone who believed in them. It’s not a magical difference, but it shows.”

Listen to the whole interview here: