How a school WhatsApp group helped these women rebuild their lives
“We need women to be strong to build a strong nation. And that concept made me realise that we should do something about dropout mothers.”
KOLKATA: Sampa holds out her phone for us. She is not sure if we want to check out her Instagram reels. In the one we see, she is confidently lip syncing to Ariana Grande songs. “But I am not proficient in English at all. I feel very conscious,” says Sampa. Her five-year-old nods in agreement. “Maa English pare na,” (Maa can’t speak in English). And just like that Sampa, the confident woman from the reels, is replaced with a more unsure Sampa, a Sampa full of regrets. “I should have completed my education. But because of various family problems, I had to drop out of school. Then I was married off. Soon after I had a baby,” she says.
A WhatsApp group of her son’s school, setup during the Covid-19 induced lockdown, however, opened doors for the twenty something. An initiative of a Kolkata school to “mentor and enrol” mothers of students who could not complete their high school or college education, the group was an accidental discovery for Sampa. “Another mother added me there and soon I realised that there are many other women like me who probably want to start another chapter in their life. I was so enthused. I probably can complete my education,” says Sampa.
The WhatsApp group in question was started by Bobby Baxter, principal, Julien Day School Ganganagar. “We need women to be strong to build a strong nation. And that concept made me realise that we should do something about dropout mothers. This was in the middle of the pandemic so we sent out messages in WhatsApp groups of our parents. Encouraging mothers who had dropped out at a very young age to register themselves. Young mothers who were married off when they were probably 16 or 17, who had to drop out because they had to manage their families. A few of them registered. We started this WhatsApp group and we counsel them. We got to know what their needs are. Some want to write their class 12 examinations. Some want to enter college. Others want to pursue a course. We help them with that,” says Baxter.
But the group now doesn’t only have dropout mothers. Linita Nandi is a 20-year-old dancer who couldn’t enroll into a college because of personal reasons. Her career, she says, is suffering because of this. “I have had three jobs in the past few years but after a point of time, I don’t get the promotions I deserve simply because I don’t have a degree. I got to know about this group thanks to a friend. They are helping me secure admission in a college,” says Nandi.
Then there are some mothers like Madhuparna Roy who want to update their skills. “I have been a teacher myself for close to two decades. I felt that to be a successful teacher these days, you have to be net savvy,” says Madhuparna, whose daughter was a student of the school. She plans to enrol in computer certification course. “I hope this will help me try out new things. A certificate gives you that confidence,” says Madhuparna.
Sonali, the counsellor helping these women, is constantly amazed by their determination to rebuild their lives. “Each one of them have overcome some difficulty to reach here. Each one of them have a story. But they are not bogged down by that. They are, rather, more zealous because of that,” sums up Sonali.