Kaavya Rajesh came home from school one day, inspired. She had just watched the documentary Girl Rising that tells the story of nine girls from nine countries who, despite obstacles like child marriage and slavery, do everything they can for an education. It shook Kaavya to learn that there are 66 million girls worldwide who don't get an education.
At home in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the lanky 15-year-old reached out to her parents, who understood her desire to make a difference. Her mother Nirupama shared an article on a woman who takes Polaroid pictures in rural areas and hands them to people. Her father, Rajesh Ramakrishnan, a passionate photographer who uses his art to raise funds for social causes, encouraged her too.
From there conversations emerged the project #MyDaughterIsPrecious.
Kaavya and her father decided to click pictures of fathers and daughters and then give Polaroid version of the images to the families. They wanted to give a physical souvenir to the families who could not afford portraits from professional studios – "We wanted to spread the message that girls also deserve to be loved and cherished," said Kaavya.
Her father added, "We wanted to focus on the lower socio-economic areas in our society where educating the girl child is a greater challenge."
What started as a small personal project soon took on a bigger shape. The family partnered with Project Nanhi Kali, which supports girl child education, and raised Rs 3.45 lakh through a crowdfunding campaign on Bitgiving.com.
They also began posting the father-daughter images they clicked on weekends and holidays on a Facebook page. And within seven months, the page clocked as many as 30 posts.
"We have enjoyed the experience of meeting different people and listening to their stories," said Kaavya.
Her doting father too is happy with the results: "The smiles on the faces of the children and fathers when they get a photograph and the sincerity that some of the parents show towards the education of their daughters is keeping us motivated."
The story they like retelling the most is from their hometown, Chennai. In one family there, they found a man raising four women – two nieces, one granddaughter and one daughter. "We gave the family some money towards his daughter Gayathri's fee for the next college year," said Ramakrishnan.
Also in Chennai, they found the upsetting story of Sharmila, a young girl who was forced to drop out of school.
"Her parents incurred a lot of debt and were struggling to pay it back," said Ramakrishnan. "Halfway through eleventh grade, she had to stop school to help her family earn. She now works at a dental clinic and remembers the days when she went to school."
That heart-breaking story motivated us to raise even more money, says Kaavya.
In every conversation they have had with daughters and parents, Kaavya and Ramakrishnan say they have found an eagerness among parents to educate. Primary education, they say, is not a challenge since it can come free in government schools. However, girls end up dropping out after high school since higher education is expensive.
"Parents don't have the means to support their dreams," said Kaavya. "All the girls we spoke to were ready with the answer to the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' Most of them wanted to be doctors or teachers."