Royal Patron: HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh GCVO
Showing Passion & Perseverance in a society where women fight for equality. TEDx talk by Sunita Rathod.

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My name is Sunita and I am here to talk to you about finding passion and perseverance to help pave the way to empowerment, in a society where women have to fight for equality and rights at every point in their life.

I come from an impoverished background and I know first-hand how difficult it can be for girls like me to get an education and pursue their dreams. I also know that with the right mindset, determination and hard work, we can overcome any obstacle and achieve our goals.

First, let me share my own story. Growing up my three sisters and I faced discrimination from society for being girls and my parents faced discrimination for not having a son. 

At every point, at every moment of our life, the plight of my mother and my sisters were a reminder that girls don’t have any rights.  When I was four years old my mother became paralyzed and left our village in Karnataka to seek medical treatment in Mumbai. 

My sisters and I lived with our grandmother but we did not go to school. This made our life more difficult; no one was ready to look after us and take responsibility.  We later moved to Mumbai to join our parents and I was enrolled in school. Many people questioned my father about why he was educating his daughters, he too thought we should stay at home and do household work but my mother was strong. She insisted.

For this, my elder sister dropped out of the school when she was only 6 years old so that she could take care of my mother and do household work. It’s always the elder child who is chosen to sacrifice for the family when there is a crisis.

The school I was enrolled in is called Prem Dam, it’s run by nuns and provides a free education for children in need. The nuns also found a sponsor from Italy, he supported me over a period of ten years. He even came to visit me and brought me stationery and clothes. I remember the day when he came to meet me.

He asked ‘How are you?’  I answered ‘I am six years old’. I remember this because I didn’t know English!

I have no contact with my sponsor now, but I wish I could find him and thank him for changing my life. Thanks to him I had an opportunity to succeed in my life. It is so important to have people around you who support, mentor and care for you. 

I would like to share with you when I was in a school where we had an open day. The teacher used to ask us to call a parent. Fo my father it was not possible because he was busy with work and had a lot of responsibility. So, I used to ask my friend’s parents to collect my result and my teachers used to provide it without creating a scene. They understood. They knew about my family situation and the problems I had. 

The OSCAR Foundation support team.

I completed my 10th grade and moved to a Junior College, where I studied hard. I wanted to be a doctor but my father said he had four daughters and could not pay for Medical School. Instead I studied business, which was not my passion, but I was determined to stay in education. After 12th standard it was expected that I would marry like so many girls of my age in our community but my mother’s side of the family persuaded my father to let me continue with my studies.

So, you can see girls like me do not have many role models or mentors. But I had a passion for learning and I knew that education was the key to a better life. So, I worked hard and I persevered, despite all the multiple challenges I faced. And you know what, I have graduated from college with a Commerce degree.

After graduating I heard about an NGO called the OSCAR Foundation and I decided to apply for a teaching job. I was nervous to attend an interview and my uncle insisted on accompanying me. He was asked to wait outside the office but every five minutes he knocked on the door to check I was OK and ask when I would be finished. Eventually they invited him in to sit quietly at the back of the office. No girls in my family had ever been for a job interview before!

After one week I started working at OSCAR as a computer teacher. 

Example:- They encouraged me to join an MBA Programme in Social Entrepreneurship. I agreed and I filled in my application and went for the entrance exam and interview. I did not inform my father but I did share with my mother that I am going for an MBA exam. Sometimes society can be such a burden it makes it difficult for people to think for themselves that’s why they follow society. It is very difficult to challenge and break that. 

Eight years later I am now the Fundraising Manager. 

I regret I was not allowed to pursue a medical career but helping and mentoring young children has filled that gap. In particular I have spent several years running the OSCAR Child Sponsorship Programme, which provides the vital mentoring and safety net which I never had. I have faced the challenge of applying for passports and visas for our beneficiaries so they can have the life changing experience of travelling on tours to the UK, Denmark and Spain. In 2018 I accompanied 16 girls on a two-week education and football tour to the UK and was privileged to mentor girls from the same background as me, ensuring they understood that perseverance and determination is vital if they want to change their lives and that of their families.

It’s very important for NGOs to have representation from the communities they serve because they know understand the day to day struggles and challenges. You have to live in the community to fully understand. So, if that person takes a decision or that person contributes a strategy more and more people are reached and then is more impactful. That’s why I want more girls and boys to study, which will help them to have a better life for themselves and their families.

My personal story, like many in my community, is proof that with hard work and determination, and finding the right mentors anything is possible.

Throughout our lifetime we are all going to face obstacles and challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic is a very good example of a global challenge we all had to face together. In the years ahead there will be other challenges, like climate change, rapidly advancing technology and economic crises.

That’s why I want to share with you some strategies for developing self-confidence and resilience in the face of adversity. 

First: find role models and mentors, particularly for women in male-dominated fields. Learn from their experiences and let them inspire and support you in pursuit of your goals.

Second: remember the power of perseverance. No matter what obstacles you may face, never give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself and keep pushing forward. Remember that education is key to empowerment. Keep learning, keep growing, and never stop striving to improve yourself.

Third: Stand up for yourself and others in the face of discrimination or bias. Speak out against it, be it at home or at the workplace. And don’t forget the power of community and support networks. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who will support you in your journey.

Fourth: One thing that we often forget is to find fulfillment and happiness in what we do, no matter what it is. I realised how important this was for me, when I saw this young profoundly deaf boy on the screen hear sound for the first time through his hearing aids. I will never forget his look of happiness, the feeling of pure joy that was felt by everyone in the room, and how this would help make his life better forever. This is what it’s all about. 

Five: Pursue your passions and interests, regardless of societal expectations or obstacles. 

Successful women like Malala have shown us anything is possible if you have the passion and perseverance to see it through. Go out there and chase your dreams, don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. If you fall over, pick yourself up, brush yourself down and start over again.

I want to come back to what I had titled this talk, Sacrifice, Support and Success – Creating my New Normal. 

 Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from the great Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Sharing her inspiring story.
Award presented by TEDx Youth @HFSInternational
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