It can be hard being a girl in India, a largely male-dominated country where gender inequality persists. It’s a country where girls are often married in their teens, or are taken out of school to look after their siblings and the household, or work to support their family.
Laxmi Nishad is a 26-year old woman who has managed to turn her life around through the power of education.
Born to an illiterate mother and father, who were married to each other in their early teens, Laxmi is the eldest of five siblings.
Laxmi was forced to put her education to the side when her mother became very ill. Instead of attending school, she would attend to her mother and younger siblings.
Sadly, Laxmi’s mother passed away when Laxmi was only 13 years old. It was a tragic ordeal that Laxmi still gets upset retelling. “I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. “She only got worse.”
From then onwards, Laxmi had to work as a cleaner in up to seven households to help support her family. Her father, an alcoholic, was not able to contribute to the family. So, Laxmi was expected to make ends meet.
One day, after hearing about a school that operated in the afternoons and was 10 rupees a month, Laxmi decided to go and find it and enrol. This was a moment where Laxmi made an important decision that would change the course of her and her family’s lives.
“I didn’t want a life like my mother’s.”
After searching for ages, Laxmi found Prerna Girls School, a school set up by the Study Hall Educational Foundation, that provides affordable schooling to underprivileged girls. The school, which was founded in 2003, runs in the afternoon to allow girls with work commitments to attend. It also teaches the girls a critical feminist pedagogy, explaining their rights, and helping them understand their oppression or insubordination.
“Prerna became my family. My second home.
It gave me a voice and taught me to value myself.”
Following her completion of schooling at Prerna, Laxmi got a Bachelor’s degree and has just received her Master’s. She works as head sales manager at a call center, earning 25 000 rupees a month ($375), which is enough to pay for her family’s food, clothing and schooling.
Laxmi has also been able to improve the derelict two-room house she has lived in with her family for the past 15 years. She has created a bathroom with plumbing and bought a new gas cookstove.
Laxmi has a scooter, which she and her brother take turns driving to their respective work places. And most exciting, Laxmi has taken a loan and purchased a 1,000 square foot plot of land, which she plans to one day built a home of her own.
“Now, my life is very different than my mom’s.”
Background: More than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school.
A 2018 report by India’s National Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights (NCPCR) states that around 39.4% of adolescent girls in the 15-18 age group are not attending any educational institution, and that a vast majority of them (65%) are either engaged in household activities, are dependents, or are engaged in begging.
Brief: To launch its Girls Opportunity Alliance initiative, the Obama Foundation wanted a series of five short social media optimized films that communicated the realities of adolescent girls around the world who face various barriers in order to pursue education, and the grassroots organizations that are working to support them.
Through a narrative-focused film, the foundation wanted to show how education can transform a girl's life and also allow her to support her family, community and country, as well as help raise funding for the associated grassroots organization.
Challenges & Result: Working with a grassroots organization called Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF) in Lucknow, India, we determined the first film would focus on the story of Laxmi Nishad, a 26-year old woman who has managed to turn her life around through the power of education.
To produce a 2-3 minute film in a narrative story style took a considerable amount more pre-production than what we have previously done. We worked with an illustrator to storyboard the film following numerous calls with Laxmi and SHEF to determine the story details. This helped communicate the story, style and shots we were looking to convey.
We were aided by local production assistant (and Prerna Alumna) Moni Kannaujia and SHEF to determine actors (local talent from Prerna Girls School) and locations within our first couple of days in Lucknow.
To complement the beautiful footage, we approached a composer to create a unique, authentic music track that brought more emotion to the film, which was well received at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago in November, and was attended by Laxmi and the girl playing her, Kiran Sahu.
Client: Obama Foundation
Initiative: Girls Opportunity Alliance
Partner: Study Hall Educational Foundation
Subject: Laxmi Nishad
Location: Lucknow, India
Producer/Direction: Morgana Wingard
Production Manager: Lisa Stewart
Local Production Assistant: Moni Kannaujia
Videography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Photography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Editing: Morgana Wingard
Sound Design: Matt James
Music Composition: Aled Roberts
Young Laxmi: Kiran Sahu
Laxmi’s Mother: Nishu Singh
Laxmi’s Father: Pratyush Shukla
Laxmi’s Sisters: Simmar Kannaujia, Vashi Rawat
Schoolgirls: Pooja Nishad, Neha Madrash, Gomti Rawat
Suitor: Sujeet Maurya
Teacher: Roli Saxena