Steph Garland, Lotus assembly programme manager talks about her experience of charity Ashta No Kai in India.
“India is a crazy, wonderful and vibrant place, which is economically, socially and culturally very diverse. However, statistics show that 35% of women are illiterate, one of the major barriers being lack of access to secondary school for girls in rural areas.
From my very first visit I felt like I needed to do more, I needed to give something back.
“My determination to make a difference was also shaped by my own experience of feeling that being females was getting in the way of delivering a project.
“It came about on my latest visit to India. Whilst we were commissioning part of the new facility, our working hours changed so that production could run during the day and we could commission in the evening. But at 7pm on the dot, we kept being asked to leave site. At first I didn’t understand.
“However, after a couple of days it was pointed out that the commissioning work wasn’t the problem, I was. The law says a female cannot be in a factory after 7pm in the evening.
“Through one of my colleagues, Mike Trzcinski and his wife Sue, who was already supporting a charity in India, Ashta no Kai, I arranged a visit to speak to some of the girls helped by the charity.
“Ashta No Kai encourages girls to believe they are worth more, to learn the skills they need to help them prosper, to allow them to believe that getting married isn’t the only option.
“Located at Nimgaon Bhogi, about an hour and a half from Pune, is a school supported by the charity. It was here that I spent the day with two groups of girls aged 13-15. They were so much fun, curious and intelligent and their English was definitely better than my Hindi. It was also clear they wanted to learn.
“I’m not sure that they were most surprised about, the fact that I am a female engineer with career aspirations or the fact that I am married, my husband had let me travel to India on my own and I had no children.
“Over the next few month, I plan to look at how we can support this charity further to allow us to give something truly valuable back to the local community. I’ll be asking for your help so watch this space!