“Ask yourself the question: what does education mean in your life?” Christine Dave, founder of Education for Girls Empowerment, said. “Think about how you can join the story where that opportunity is given to a girl in a small village in a state that has the highest illiteracy rate in the country to get an education.”
Saturday night Neighborhood Yoga partnered with EDGE to host a fundraiser to bring education to girls in Oshida, India. Dave founded EDGE after seeing what education meant in her own life.
Dave grew up in New Jersey with her mother, Rautee, who was illiterate. Rautee’s father had left the family and her stepfather did not let her go to school.
“She would stay home and take care of all the household duties and her stepsiblings,” Dave said. “She was not even given the opportunity to get any kind of education.”
When Dave was young, she was a translator and transcriber for Rautee.
“Anything that needed to be read or communicated, I was the one that would do that,” Dave said.
Dave’s family moved to India when she was 14. Rautee died shortly afterwards. Dave moved back to the U.S. and attended App State.
“I didn’t know anything about higher ed,” Dave said. “It was not an exposure I had. So I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Appalachian and worked there for eight years supporting first-generation college students to be the first in their family to earn a degree too.”
Dave’s father, Clive Benny, still lived in India. He worked with a village leader to build a boys’ school in 2001. The school was funded by money from Benny’s Social Security fund, as he felt he didn’t need it.
Dave visited the school in 2004 and thought there should be a girls’ school, too. She and Benny established the Navaprabhat Kanya Gurukul school in 2011.
In 2015, Dave first visited the 41 girls, all between the ages of 10 and 17, who attend the school.
Dave said she thought of the girls as her daughters and they referred to her as their mother. She visited their families and quickly worked to provide spare uniforms for the girls. When it was time for Dave to return to Boone, the girls asked her to visit every year.
Dave thought it would be impossible to visit the girls every year, until she left App State to create EDGE.
“I know the power of education,” Dave said. “I know what it has done for me and how it has helped me develop my own talents and my own beliefs and values. I left Appalachian because I felt this was a calling.”
Dave said she views the girls as first-generation students like her and is thankful to be a part of their educational journey.
EDGE partnered with the Women’s Writing Pilgrimage to bring water bottles and backpacks to theNavaprabhat Kanya Gurukul school. The teachers at the school personally thanked Dave for the supplies, which are necessary during the summer months. The Appalachian Supply Chain Club helped EDGE by collecting donations for school supplies.
Saturday’s fundraiser was an evening to share Indian culture, show support for the school and strengthen the bond between the yoga and Indian communities in Boone.
Dave’s grand-niece, Janavi Mehta, performed a traditional Indian dance along with Anindita Das, a visiting professor teaching freshman seminars at App State.
The event was coordinated between Valerie Midgett, owner of Neighborhood Yoga, and Dave. They worked together for several months, though this is not their first partnership.
“I like to honor the origins of yoga that come from India,” Midgett said.
Neighborhood Yoga has partnered with the Indian community in Boone before in celebrations like Diwali.
“We’ve all known each other for years,” Rob Falvo, percussion professor at App State, said Saturday before performing. “Every once in a while when we have an Indian cultural event here we play together.”
One hundred and twenty people attended the fundraiser and raised over $2,500. The board members will vote in November on how to use the money. The money will likely be used to raise the salaries of teachers at school and to build a residential unit.
The girls travel about 40 minutes one way on their bikes to reach the school. Parents have expressed concern about them riding on the highway, particularly during monsoon season. Recently, several girls were stranded on a bridge by flooding as they tried to reach school.
A 35-acre plot of land has already been set aside for the school and boundary wall. However, the cost is $10,000.
Dave urges people to continue to donate online. Donators can also leave a note for the girls. In November, Dave will visit the students and bring the notes.
Rautee’s memory lives in the efforts made by EDGE and Dave.
“What would her life have been like if she had just had a basic education?” Dave asked. “Her gifts, her talents, her creativity, what else could she have done in her life?”
Donations can be made at www.educationforgrlsempowerment.org.
Story by: Nyctea Martell, A&E Reporter
Photos by: Brendan Hoekstra, Staff Photographer
Featured Photo Caption: Rob Falvo (left) and Todd Bush (right) rehearse with their instruments prior to the evening’s performance. They played a melody called Raga Saraswati in dedication to the goddess of art, music, and knowledge.