Uttar Pradesh Is Home To India’s First Agriculture-Based Primary School For Girls

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Ashita and Anish Nath left their comfortable jobs in the national capital and moved to a farm in Unnao village, Uttar Pradesh which is about 22 km from Lucknow, their hometown. They wanted to make a difference in people’s lives as opposed to just making money. They have two very young children who live with them on a farm in Unnao. They came to the farm like any other city dweller wanting to make a change and hoping to help farmers in distress but were very surprised to find that Indian agriculture faces greater issues.

They found that in spite of the fact that Unnao had a lot of youngsters, the village was unable to benefit from this demographic advantage. Girls were not sent to school in order to help with household chores or to take care of their siblings. This is not very different from the gender discrimination seen in many parts of our country. Girls and women in India not only fight a battle against gender bias, discrimination, lost opportunities etc., but also against mindsets which curtail their movements and harm their well-being. They found themselves on a cusp where they could not ignore this anymore.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Education is the key

Asista believes that more than loans or start-up grants the village needs a better education system. She has been teaching for over a decade and understands child psychology better. She believes that education alone has the power to break the cycle of gender discrimination and give hope to the girls for the future along with empowering these youngsters by making more opportunities available to them and making the process of learning enjoyable as opposed to being tedious.

Different strategies in villages

Girls in villages need a different vision for themselves. A school in a village should give exceptional educational facilities, comfortable learning atmosphere for the less fortunate along with the opportunity to grow up without social pressure. While these young girls seek empathy with bonds among themselves, they also need strong female role models they can look up to so that they are equipped to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the world.

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Why agriculture in school

Asista says that before starting the school in 2016 they worked for 4 years with farmers and found that many small and marginal farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Farming is backbreaking, but their efforts are not in tandem with the income they get.  It broke their hearts to realise that farmer’s children do not want to till the land anymore. Boys are looking for better career options. Girls, on the other hand, are spending more time on the farms to help their parents. So, while boys and young men are moving to greener pastures, girls and women are left behind to care for aged parents and help out in the farm. Resulting in more time spent by women on the farms than their male counterparts.

In order to ensure that girls are abreast with latest developments in agriculture as well as have the wisdom of generations, The Good Harvest School has incorporated agriculture in its curriculum.

Why The Good Harvest School

At The Good Harvest school for girls, they are not limiting themselves to just academics. They are striving to make their environment in school, homes and neighbourhood safe. It is a 100% non-profit school which doesn’t let low fees come in the way of quality education for girls. The school is only meant for girls so that they feel safe and parents allow them to come to school. They address the issue of a mother passing the gender inequities by conducting regular parenting workshops. They also organise social gatherings such as farmer’s meet, a library for all, movie screening etc., to serve the community. Not just that, the school also hosts regular farmers’ meet, movie screenings, language class and computer classes in evenings.

The school has an open space of 30,000 sq ft is provided for students to learn about good farming practices. The students get a hands-on experience in preparing seed beds, grow a variety of saplings/seedlings in the nursery and become aware of the know-how of new-age agriculture. They are keen on developing a good facility for sports and music, open library etc., Not just students from this village but neighbouring villages will be able to access over 5,000 books from the open library. Asista says, “we are giving harvest holidays twice a year so that parents do not keep girl students at home during unscheduled breaks for harvest work or for taking care of other household chores”. Their volunteer program will bring global education standards as they will not only have regular volunteers at the school, but encourage their students to volunteer as well.

The Good Harvest School

Asista says, “parents should not pull the 12-13 old girls out of the school as it will still take another 5 years for them to be capable enough to take the class X board exams. At The Good Harvest school, we will empower these young students to be able to do well not just in math or science but also help in correcting mindsets so that these young minds can blossom.” She says that they face challenges was because a large section of village comprises of scheduled castes and the upper castes were not willing to send their daughters to school with them. She is determined to not let caste, creed and other such minor things come in the way or learning and progress.”

How can you help?

They began with 8 girl students and now have over 30 students. There are 4 teachers who give personal attention to students and provide differentiated learning so that these children actually benefit from learning. Girls from the ages of 4 to 14 attend school here. As of now, The Good Harvest School is dependent on donations and hence planning and expansion of facilities for these girls is also dependent on donations. You can help by volunteering or supporting the cause.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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