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This is Muskan’s story. Muskan, whose name means ‘smile’, was a beneficiary of the Life Skills Education programme in the year 2017-18. At the time, she was studying in Class 8, which is the last grade where Mumbai Smiles provides free education. After this grade, students have to take admission in other government schools or privately owned schools to continue their education.

The transition from Class 8 to Class 9 becomes an insurmountable barrier for many young girls, whose parents do not see any value in sending their female wards to school beyond the compulsorily mandated age. Apart from the financial burden that some schools impose, parents are also worried about the safety of their young daughters at the vulnerable stage of adolescence in a country where women’s safety is a major issue.

These were issues that prompted Muskan’s parents to stop her education once she had finished Class 8. Apart from safety concerns, her parents also believed that if their daughter studied further, she would not find appropriate marriage prospects in future. A bright and conscientious student with big dreams for her future, Muskan was not willing to let her education stop at Class 8.

Having been empowered through her Life Skills training, Muskan reached out to a fellow beneficiary of the module, Amita. The two girls worked in collaboration to reassure Muskan’s parents and address their concerns. They helped the parents to see how Muskan’s future would become much brighter if she was able to study further and become employable. To address safety concerns, Amita offered to travel with Muskan to school and back every day and to ensure that she reached home safely and on time. Amita was also able to convince Muskan’s parents that if she took admission in a government-run municipal school, the only additional expenses that they would have to bear would be travel costs.

It is not easy to change mindsets formed over generations—it took Muskan and Amita a month to convince Muskan’s parents but they finally managed to do so. Today Muskan is a student of Class 9 at the municipal school in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. She is also a part of our ‘Change Agent Initiative’, where ex-beneficiaries of the Life Skills programme work with current beneficiaries as well as with the wider community. Life skills training gave Muskan the tools to overcome a very common and acute problem in a logical, result-oriented way. We are sure this training will help her lead a successful life in future as well.

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