Village’s First Female Graduate on Woman Empowerment Mission
From being the first girl from her village who completed her graduation, to now helping other women become self-reliant, the story of Samim Sultana is that of strength, resilience and most importantly, optimism.
Samim belongs to the Manipuri-Muslim community and hails from Lakhipur - a village which is 45 minutes beyond Silchar. She has, however, settled in Guwahati for the past 10 years.
Coming from an orthodox background, things were never easy for 30-year-old Samim.
“In my village, wearing pants and jeans and t-shirts is unthinkable for girls. Child marriage is unfortunately still a norm as girls are usually married off by the time they reach class 10. People don’t give importance to girls’ education and since the girls’ birth, the parents start to think and prepare for her marriage, not sparing a thought about her education,” Samim told G Plus.
In fact, Samim had to fight her way through to complete her own education as her family saw no worth in her becoming a graduate.
“If I wouldn’t have been resolute about completing my education, they would have had me married a long time ago,” remarked Samim.
Apart from being the first female graduate, she is also the first girl from her village who chose to work and settle outside her village. With this, she has also paved the way for other girls in her village who want to study further and who now look up to her for guidance.
She is now trying to slowly change the way her community members think and behave and is trying to bring about positive changes. Samim now gives them counselling on the negative effects of child marriage whenever she visits her village.
Samim’s struggle started since 2009, when her father pssed away. After this, she decided not to take any financial support from her family and to become self-dependent.
“After my father passed away, I started working as a beautician and also simultaneously continued my studies,” informed Samim. She added that during the same time, she also started volunteering for various social organisations in Guwahati.
Since then she sustained herself by taking up small jobs on the side while simultaneously continuing her studies.
Around this time, she suffered financial constraints and also went into depression.
Inspiration to uplift others
“While working with NGOs in Guwahati, I used to visit various slums. As I came in contact with women living in and around the slums, I then realised that there are countless women who have to deal with bigger problems in their lives; my problems seemed very small when compared to theirs. This gave me perspective,” said Samim.
She added that she drew a lot of positivity and strength from these women seeing how they struggle, manage their family and make their way through life from a place where they do not even have access to clean drinking water and a safe environment.
This is where she got the inspiration to train these women in various livelihood skills with an aim to make them independent.
“I started working with girls and women. I started by giving them skill training as a beautician and then diversified into other areas of interest,” Samim further added.
Samim says that the first step towards helping others or creating any social change is to know oneself and to be true to oneself.
The women who she has provided training to, especially those who come from a weaker economic class and from the slums, are now self-dependent and Samim says that in these areas, incidents of domestic violence and abuse have also decreased since women have started earning their livelihood.
Further, Samim also started a small initiative of her own in 2017 called Lunchbox which is a tiffin service with a view to provide employment to needy women.
In her village too, she is currently working with divorced women and those who are victims of domestic violence and she provides them with livelihood training including various kinds of embroidery and different craft items.
“We then try and find a market for their products and provide them with the profits,” mentioned Samim.
This apart, she also helps in providing a market to women who make pickles at home and encourages them to build a business to sustain themselves. They have started sending the pickles to the market as well.
“I have recently reached out to women in Meghalaya who are being taught to create crafts from waste products so that it can be recycled and can be turned into a source of livelihood for these women,” said Samim.
She added, “Since we have betel nut trees in abundance in the northeast, we have recently started teaching women to create bowls and containers made with the outer covering of the nut which is often considered waste and is discarded.”
Long way to go
Samim feels that she has a long way to go and a lot of work needs to be done at the grassroots level to bring about positive social change.
Her vision for the future is to see more women becoming economically independent and earning their livelihoods. Samim has also taken on the role of a mentor to other young girls in her community.
In a recent example, a minor girl in her village was being pressurised by her family to get married to a man who had attempted to rape her. Samim then counselled the families and the girl and managed to change their mind and stop the marriage and the girl is now continuing her studies.
Till now, she has provided livelihood training to around 30 women in Guwahati and different parts of the state and Samim wants to add several more women to the list.
She says that this field has become her passion now. “I love working with women and children. I chose this field of work because it gives me immense satisfaction.”
She added that girls who are educated must take the lead in uplifting other women who were not fortunate enough to get equal opportunities.