Empowered to Learn: Laila’s Story
In a rural village in Pakistan, Laila, 19, is showing two young girls how to read. They sound out words together, full of joy at how the lines turn from mysterious marks into sounds and meaning.
Having just learned to read a year ago herself, Laila is eager to share her knowledge with them so that they can have opportunities in life that she was denied.
Like many impoverished girls in rural Pakistan, Laila never got to go to school, even though she wanted to. No one in her family did. There is no school in her village, and the few nearby options were all too expensive. The prevailing view is that educating girls is a waste of time, since her responsibilities will be in the home as a wife and mother.
The challenges Laila and other girls face mean that only 47% of women and girls in Pakistan can read. Illiteracy keeps them dependent on their families and husbands and makes them vulnerable to practices like child marriage. Laila was no exception.
Learning to Read
Instead of going to school, Laila was married when she was just 16 years old. She moved in her with mother-in-law to take care of her home and, within a year, Laila was pregnant with her first child, a daughter.
After Laila became a mother, Right To Play and a local partner opened the first literacy centre in her village. Laila was excited by the opportunity but, with her responsibilities at home, she wasn’t sure she could go.
“I always had an interest in education but didn’t know what it could do. And because now I have studied, I understand how truly important it is,” - Laila
The chance to learn was too appealing to ignore, so she found the courage to tell her mother-in-law and husband that she was going to enroll.
“I would finish all my chores at homes, put my daughter to sleep and then go to the centre,” Laila says. She spent two hours learning in the evening each day before returning home.
At the centre, Laila and other young women from the village used games and group activities to learn reading, writing, and numeracy. The new skills opened Laila’s eyes to the power of reading.
“I can read medicine labels now and know what the expiry date is. What if I gave my child a medicine and it was expired and only made her condition worse? I am capable of these things now and can take better care of my children.” Laila says.
Sharing the Gift
Laila began to encourage other women and girls to come and learn with her.
“I told other two or three other married women why it was so important for them. I told them: It’s for your own benefit. A lot of people say what is the use of education to a married woman, but at least I can read stories to my children. I can teach them all that I have learned. They started coming with me to the centre.”
“I can read medicine labels now and know what the expiry date is. What if I gave my child a medicine and it was expired and only made her condition worse? I am capable of these things now and can take better care of my children.” – Laila
She also began sharing her knowledge with young girls in the village and teaching them to read. Laila is particularly excited about being able to teach her own daughter to read once she’s old enough.
Despite being married as a teenager and never getting to go to school, Laila never gave up her hope of learning. She wants the girls in her village to have the opportunities she was denied.
“I always had an interest in education but didn’t know what it could do. And because now I have studied, I understand how truly important it is.”