Sunita Kumari Dares to Dream
A young woman decided on a course of action that would impact hundreds of lives. She decided she would follow her childhood dreams. She dreamed of being a teacher.
It was this mindset that proved to be her greatest challenge. At first, the villagers in Dalsinghsarai would wait for her at the small bridge that connects the village to the highway, ready with taunts and jibes: ‘Heroine aaib gelai.’
Her colleagues, then all male, would treat her with disdain and gossip about her. She was, after all, from a good middle-class home, with a husband in a senior post in the Indian Railways, and brothers settled into good jobs. So where was the need to go beyond her role as wife and mother, to teach? But Sunita Kumari wanted a career, and her sole desire was that she should teach, to help open doors for other girls and women like her.
In Samastipur district in Bihar, almost a quarter of fifth grade students drop out by the end of the year because they are expected to contribute to their families’ incomes. So Sunita Kumari started with the children, going beyond the 3Rs, and taught them about cleanliness and hygiene.
Her confidence grew as she continued to engage with the children, who in turn grew to love her. Slowly, she gained the support of parents who could see the change, their children learning respect and discipline, and more importantly, the desire to grow.
As mentor and motivator, Sunita Kumari - now a teacher and a CRCC - has achieved much; the trust of her village, the respect of her colleagues, and the enduring love of her students, for whom she is a role model. In her school, there is no gender imbalance.
The girls know, through her example, that nothing is impossible if you dare to dream and strive. She says, ‘If you want any student to do something better, don’t just tell him or her. Do that yourself, become a person who says and does the same.’
Sunitaji - as she is now affectionately known - is actively associated with Anandshala and was instrumental in the establishment of the Anandshala Resource Center (ARC) in Dalsinghsarai. ARC is a hub for the community, where teachers and students come together to learn, contribute and share best practices. ARC uses technology to promote digital literacy, linking them to the everyday lives of the women who attend.
It was her resolve that ensured the ARC continued on, despite there being no electricity – a challenge she was able to turn around in an astounding 48 hours. Today, this ARC runs 3 batches of 20 women, an accomplishment that gives her immense joy.
Sunita Kumari's students have ranged far and wide; some are successful engineers, others are in the financial sector. Whenever they visit, they make it a point to meet her. This is a moment of pride for Sunita Kumari and validation of her long-held dream to impact lives through teaching.
“Bihar’s society is patriarchal at its core. When I first began teaching in this village I was the only female teacher. It was certainly not easy, but today, there are three of us.”