It’s Her Turn | A Night with Sahasra Deepika

herturn1

In a country with the largest illiterate population, 187 million are women. The stakes are higher than ever for underprivileged adolescent girls living in Bangalore, India, but the Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education is making steps toward bridging the education gap and ending the devastating generational effects of poverty and systematic oppression. These girls deserve a chance at creating better lives for themselves and others.

Suma was four years old when her mother brought her to the steps of Sahasra Deepika on the outskirts of Bangalore. “I’ll be back,” she told her only daughter before disappearing like smoke into the bustle of the city.

She never returned.

How Suma’s mother even knew about Sahasra Deepika remains a mystery. In her heart, she must have understood only strangers could give Suma the life she deserved. Since 1998, disadvantaged girls in Bangalore have received quality education and unconditional care free of charge at the Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education. Cherished and given a home on four acres of land outside of the city, these girls who come from nothing are given everything.

SARVA RAJENDRA, PRESIDENT, SAHASRA DEEPIKA FOUNDATION
SARVA RAJENDRA,
PRESIDENT, SAHASRA DEEPIKA FOUNDATION

So begins Suma’s Story… It’s Her Turn, a new short film directed and produced for Sahasra Deepika by Monika Samtani, founder and CEO of Ms. Media. Clocking in at under 15 minutes, It’s Her Turn introduces Suma and 64 other girls who are housed, educated, and given a chance at life and prosperity at Sahasra Deepika. The film offers a barefaced look at the struggles faced by young women denied formal education and at the efforts by Sahasra Deepika to touch lives and create future leaders.

DC’s Co Co. Sala lounge played host to the premiere event for It’s Her Turn. Guests from Maryland and Northern Virginia gathered in support of Sahasra Deepika’s message of action and love. A silent auction—comprised of donations by area artists, community businesses, and local philanthropists—kicked off the warm Sunday evening event as attendees sipped cocktails and delighted over decadent amuse-bouches, including crispy crab cake fritters and layered chocolate mousse or vanilla créme concoctions.

MONIKA SAMTANI, FOUNDER AND CEO, MS. MEDIA
MONIKA SAMTANI,
FOUNDER AND CEO, MS. MEDIA

Monika Samtani, a former anchor for WUSA9’s Morning News, spoke briefly of her experience in Bangalore where she and her small but tenacious film crew chronicled Suma’s story. “When you educate a girl, you educate a family and you educate a society,” said Samtani. The message of the film is to ensure that belief is widespread.

Even before her fateful arrival at Sahasra Deepika, Suma was already in danger of becoming another faceless, nameless girl lost in Bangalore. Few places feel gender disparity and the intergenerational effects of poverty so fiercely as in India, where most female students will be forced to withdraw from their studies because their families cannot afford tuition. They seek low-wage employment in factories or as maids just to survive. These girls tend to marry young out of necessity, perpetuating a deeply ingrained cycle of poverty through their children. Sahasra Deepika operates under the ideology that the cycle can be broken through education.

Following the screening, Montgomery County Councilman Craig Rice (District 2) reflected on the film, “We have to come together to make sure we continue to lift up every single one of our children and to understand that we are losing the potential that is out there for some of our girls. It’s unacceptable. We can’t stand for it.”

herturn4
Student volunteers from Montgomery County schools stood shoulder to shoulder with boards bearing large photos of some of the Sahasra Deepika girls. The students spoke for these smiling girls, sharing their hopes and dreams not as translators but as like-minded friends. Each elementary to high school student’s piece ended with “it’s her turn,” less a reiteration than a rally cry—one reflected in the name of the event, the film, and the very hashtag Sahasra Deepika is using to light up social media: #itsherturn.

“The name literally means ‘a thousand lights’ in Sanskrit,” says Sarva Rajendra about the foundation of which she proudly stands as president in the United States and trustee in India. The daughter of Sahasra Deepika co-founders Dr. T.V. and Vijaya Ramakrishna, Rajendra continues her parents’ hard and impassioned work to light the lives of children who have no way forward.

“THE GIRLS OF THE SAHASRA DEEPIKA FOUNDATION FOR EDUCATION ARE HEALTHY, JOYOUS, CURIOUS, AND CONFIDENT.”

The work both on the ground in Bangalore and abroad to raise funds, resources, and awareness is challenging, but the result is astonishing. “This is a lifeline for them,” says Rajendra. The girls of the Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education are healthy, joyous, intellectually curious, and radiant with confidence and grace. They are lights that will help others shine. They will teach others what they continue to learn, beginning a new cycle of compassion, for to teach a girl is to teach the world.

Now nineteen, Suma has finished her studies and works at a real estate firm in Bangalore, where she frequently visits Sahasra Deepika. Suma has beaten the odds. Whatever challenges and triumphs life has in store for Suma, she is ready to face them. It’s her turn.

RESOURCES:
Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education, sdie.org
Twitter: @sahasradeepika
Suma’s Story… It’s Her Turn can be found on YouTube (Directed, produced, and written by Monika Samtani)