Born in a village outside of KrishnAgiri in Southeast India, Maheshwari, was raised in a single room hut without plumbing. “My life there was very different,” said the bright young woman. “I sleep on the floor. I don’t have a bathroom.”
Her family are quarry workers and members of the Dalit caste, the lowest in India’s social hierarchy. Her class, combined with her lowered status as a female in rural India, promised to seal Maheshwari’s destiny at birth.
Gender Inequality in India
Women in rural India are expected to marry and live with their husbands’ families around the age of puberty, rendering formal education outside of the home little more than a waste of resources in the eyes of tradition.
“’Why study? Why educate a girl when her job is to raise a family?’…They’re the same questions every village asks when someone sends their girl to school for more than a few years,” Maheshwari explained.
Yet despite the odds, the bright scholar now holds a college degree, has plans to pursue post-graduate studies and one day become a geneticist. In a country of 1.2 billion where only two out of five women can read and write, her journey seems nothing short of extraordinary.’
Diamond Industry Supports Girls Through Education
Maheshwari’s educational opportunities can be credited to her self-motivation, her family’s determination and the support of the diamond industry.
Maheshwari’s unique path began to form when she attended a scholarship-funded boarding school of Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project. The first in her family to receive schooling past the eighth grade, her parents’ initial interest in her attendance had less to do with education than it did with security. “My mother believed that by sending me to Shanti Bhavan, at least one of her children would be provided with food and shelter every day,” said the scholar.
The scholarship was paid in part by She’s The First (STF), an international non-profit organization that works with local NGO partners in low-income countries to award scholarships to talented women like Maheshwari. Scholarship recipients exhibit what Christen Brandt, STF’s Co-founder and Director of International Operations describes as “a true desire to complete their schooling and help give back within their communities.”
A portion of She’s The First’s funding is provided by Diamonds Unleashed who in partnership with Canadamark, Dominion Diamond Corp, is a new company founded by jewelry designer Kara Ross, whose striking designs are recognized worldwide. Ross developed a unique method to support organizations that foster women’s empowerment. All proceeds from the new line go to initiatives to further the education of young women worldwide, including She’s The First. The pieces themselves are available at all price points, which is part of the company’s commitment to allow women of all demographics to own their own diamonds, while helping young women around the world reach their full potential.
The Role of Education in Empowering Women
Because of the resources provided to her, Maheshwari was able to complete her secondary education in spite of continued hardships. When Maheshwari was 13, her father passed away. It was devastating to the family, and gave her mother the added burden of providing for her children. Yet, despite the challenge, her mother encouraged her to continue her studies. As a result, “I got an excellent education and everything else I needed,” said the scholar who may now have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for herself and those surrounding her.
According to Brandt, she was also one of the first program graduates to visit the United States and to attend the Alumni STF Campus Leadership Summit in New York City.
Maheshwari recently helped create the STF international scholar alumni group, which connects scholars from all over the world for a monthly discussion. “We have learned the value of education in a girl’s life and want to pass that on,” she said of her engagement and interest in organizing the group.
“Given the chance, we girls are not just the first to get an education but also the first to choose our own dreams,” said the scholar, whose own dreams are well on their way to becoming reality.
Sources: shesthefirst.org, Magho (Daughter), a film presented by She’s the First
For more information on Diamonds Unleashed please visit diamondsunleashed.org, for more information on She’s the First please visit shesthefirst.org.