Shabana – Changing a Life Through Health Education

Step Into My World

Shabana didn’t expect much from life in Kirari in western New Delhi. Her father’s pay as a driver did not go very far in paying for the needs of the seven-person household, although it did pay for an alcohol habit which seemed only to inflame family quarrels.

In Shabana’s family girls were not allowed to go outside and so she hid herself away, not talking to anybody, reading her books, studying and quietly doing well – achieving 89% in her exams – and all the time hoping to avoid the fate of many ‘uneducated and oppressed’ girls in the neighbourhood - marriage by her late teens and then a continuation of the same cycle with her own children.

There seemed little prospect of that though. No-one in her family had been to university, there was no money to send her there, and the social pressure was very much that she should conform and adjust her expectations to the real world.

Then a Health Information Centre sponsored by the Young Health Programme opened nearby, and everything changed. This felt like a ‘safe space’ in which she ‘could freely share [her] dreams and problems with the YHP staff’. What started as a visit just out of curiosity, turned into a daily habit. Shabana attended the health education sessions, went to a nutrition awareness camp, and got involved in setting up and running national health days and other events.

Shabana even got involved in sport and found she had natural ability. From being a shy girl living indoors she won the prize in a badminton competition ‘something I won’t forget in my entire life’.

This education and experience gave her the knowledge and confidence to talk to her father and ‘convince him to give up alcohol before it is gets late’, and to enlist the help of her mother and siblings to help her father out of this damaging habit.

She has also changed her own habits. By choosing ‘healthy food over junk food’ she transformed her energy levels – where before at home she often felt ‘weak and fatigued’ she now had much more energy to pursue her ambitions. And what was impossible before now started to become possible. The YHP team counselled the family how she could study further and that loans to promote female education were available under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme.

Now Shabana is studying for a Diploma in Elementary Education (DEL.Ed), her father is gradually reducing his alcohol intake, and her brother is taking an interest in his studies as he sees new opportunities opening up. Shabana is keen that other people should take the opportunities that the YHP presents to transform their lives. She also wants to put something back. As she says ‘I want to join police and earn a better livelihood for my family. During my free time, I want to teach poor children so that they can pursue their studies and dreams like I am doing.’