One Girl Abused Every 9 Minutes in India

Silva and I left Calcutta a few days ago and finally landed in Europe again after almost a year of traveling in Asia. I will, nevertheless, share with you in this post some nice experiences of our last days in India.

In the village of Piali near Calcutta, just under half an hour’s drive away from the First Love Ministries community, is the large Piali Ashar Alo (Light of Hope) educational center.

The center is intended exclusively for girls from poor families whose parents could not enroll them in any of the public schools. In this way, it gives hope to children who would otherwise stay at home.

Mojca and Anup

Why am I writing about this school? Because it was founded and run for ten years by a Slovenian, Mojca Gayen, together with her husband, Anup.

We knew that a Slovenian woman lived and worked near Calcutta, but we somehow got in touch with Asha and Anila earlier, so we didn’t get involved in their school projects – although volunteers at the center are always very welcome and needed.

But Mojca is also well known to Asha and Anil, as they sometimes come to visit the community, and they also meet regularly at Sunday services at the Protestant Assembly of God’s Church.

Westerner’s advice

Mojca and Anup at the entrance to the ‘Light of Hope’ School.

Mojca and I first came into contact when Silva contracted a virus and we needed advice on medication and the possibility of consulting a doctor.

Having lived in India for many years and having experience as a Westerner with the Indian healthcare system, she was the right person for answers.

Mojca Gayen

Mojca used to be a volunteer too. In high school, she helped at the Janez Levec Institute, an institute for people with disabilities, but when she finished her studies in psychology, she voluntarily led various youth workshops and gave advice on the crisis hotline.

She later also worked abroad. First in Botswana (Africa) and then at an Indian school in Calcutta. There she met Anupa, who was in charge of coordination as a volunteer. They fell in love, got married and started a family.

Anup Gayen

Anup comes from a very poor family. Without the help of a sponsor from Sweden, who financed his schooling for 14 years, he would not have completed primary school.

So he later trained as a mechanic, got a job quickly and worked hard all day to help his brother and sister get a higher education.

Anup wanted to show his gratitude for the opportunity by helping other poor children in a similar way.

Every student at school gets a hot meal at lunchtime.

Little money, a lot of experience

His dream came true when he and Mojca founded the Light of Hope school.

The beginnings were challenging and full of trials. They started with virtually no money, beyond meager savings and Mojca with a small child in her arms. But, they had the motivation and a lot of desire. And, they had the experience.

Anup had practical and life experience as he was once in a similar situation as most of the children they wanted to help.

Mojca, on the other hand, had psychological and pedagogical knowledge that she could use in teaching and designing educational programs.

Help from Germany

Apparently, their desires matched nicely with the ones God had for them.

The German CED Foundation, which funds similar projects in third world countries, supported their efforts and financially helped them build their own school building.

Why girls?

Morning greetings before the school day starts.

The school is focused on helping girls because girls are actually the most vulnerable in Indian society. If they are educated, say Mojca and Anup, they are significantly less likely to become victims of abuse.

By the way, did you know that in India, according to some statistics, one girl is abused every nine minutes, either enslaved, sold, or forced into prostitution?

For a stable and secure society

If we try to imagine this practically, we can be overwhelmed. Let’s ask ourselves what we were doing in the last hour when at least five girls were abused in India… Hm, a man might even be tempted to do something else.

In addition, Mojca and Anup are well aware that educated girls contribute to a more stable and secure family, and their children, therefore, have a better chance of a better future.

Money for the family

In fact, each additional year of schooling provides women with 10 to 20 percent more income, most of which they invest back into their families. For men, it’s different.

Mojca is fully employed in running the school, but she is also often in the role of teacher.

Just one year of schooling reduces the chance of child mortality by 5 to 10 percent.

Educated mothers are at least 50 percent more likely to vaccinate their children against disease, marry educated men more often, and know-how to resist violence.

On a visit to the school

So, it is clear that the education of girls in India is of great importance, so the work of Mojca and Anupa is very valuable.

Today, the school hosts 134 girls and a group of dedicated teachers and volunteers. One day we also visited the school. We were pleasantly surprised!

The work of a Slovenian architect

The school is a large modern building in the middle of the village, surrounded by agricultural land, ponds, mango trees and greenery. The school was designed by a Slovenian architect and is also interesting from this point of view.

Of all the things, we found the most interesting open type of classrooms – with only three walls.

‘It’s an architect’s idea,’ Anup told us. ‘And it turned out to be a home run. Indian children, especially those from the village, do not feel well indoors. ‘

Accustomed to the open

Anup talking to a mother who wants to enroll her daughter in school.

In India, most things happen outdoors – even washing and defecating.

To a Westerner accustomed to his intimate space, ‘behind closed doors’, this may seem incomprehensible. However, children feel at home at school and love to attend it.

With open classrooms, they also solved the economic challenge of the cost of electricity. Since there is always a lot of light, the installation of lights is not necessary at all. Even hot summers are more bearable for girls.

Mojca and Anup are pleasant company, as are their children, Sara and Izak. They invited us to their home for lunch, where Anup also proved to be an excellent chef. He prepared such a delicious meal that it was hard to break away from the plate.

Indian flavors

The food is great. This is how we bought fish from a certified fisherman.

Speaking of food, we were absolutely blown away by Indian cuisine!

The food is different from what we were used to in other Asian countries. Typical rotias (unleavened bread), daal (lentil dish), also called ‘food for the poor’, rice, fish, meat, usually all heavily spiced with red chili and lots of curry.

We ate so much curry this month that it just blew out of us. The body got rid of the smell only a few days after we came to Italy and started replacing ‘chicken curry’ with Italian macaroni and oregano.

Cutlery aside

And something else is interesting. It’s not with chopsticks like it is elsewhere in Asia. Not even with spoons, forks and knives, as we are used to in the west.

‘Why does a man have hands?’ I was once told by one of the assistants in Ashina’s community.

Indians eat with their hands and the experience is really first class and positive (at least for us). Some Westerners in India have a hard time getting used to this (Mojca, for example, still has reservations today), while others quickly conquer it.

Even today, I would put forks and knives in a drawer and eat only with my hands, if the others around the table didn’t look at me strangely – in Europe, we just stick to etiquette.

Indians, on the other hand, say (and I can only agree) that tasting food is more authentic and primal if you push it into your mouth with your hand instead of with metal.

From Calcutta to Rome

In the next article, I will write about how we sailed again with the ‘Barkači’ in the Roman community of Barka and what our plans are for continuing the journey.

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