It can be hard being a girl in India, a largely male-dominated country where gender inequality persists. It’s a country where girls are often married in their teens, or are taken out of school to look after their siblings and the household, or work to support their family.

A 2018 report by India’s National Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights (NCPCR) states that around 39.4 percent of adolescent girls in the 15-18 age group are not attending any educational institution, and that a vast majority of them (65 percent) are either engaged in household activities, are dependents, or are engaged in begging.

Laxmi Nishad is a 26-year old woman who has managed to turn her life around through the power of education.

Born to an illiterate mother and father, who were married to each other in their early teens, Laxmi is the eldest of five siblings.

Laxmi was forced to put her education to the side when her mother became very ill. Instead of attending school, she would attend to her mother and younger siblings.

Sadly, Laxmi’s mother passed away when Laxmi was only 13 years old. It was a tragic ordeal that Laxmi still gets upset retelling. “I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. “She only got worse.”

From then onwards, Laxmi had to work as a cleaner in up to seven households to help support her family. Her father, an alcoholic, was not able to contribute to the family. So, Laxmi was expected to make ends meet.

One day, after hearing about a school that operated in the afternoons and was 10 rupees a month, Laxmi decided to go and find it and enrol. This was a moment where Laxmi made an important decision that would change the course of her and her family’s lives.

“I didn’t want a life like my mother’s,” says Laxmi when asked why she was determined to get an education at the age of just 13 years.

After searching for ages, Laxmi found Prerna Girls School, a school set up by the Study Hall Educational Foundation, that provides affordable schooling to underprivileged girls. The school, which was founded in 2003, runs in the afternoon to allow girls with work commitments to attend. It also teaches the girls a critical feminist pedagogy, explaining their rights, and helping them understand their oppression or insubordination.

“Prerna became my family. My second home,” says Laxmi, adding that the school gave her a voice and taught her to value herself.

Following her completion of schooling at Prerna, Laxmi got a Bachelor’s degree and has just received her Master’s.  She works as head sales manager at a call center, earning 25 000 rupees a month ($375), which is enough to pay for her family’s food, clothing and schooling.

Laxmi has also been able to improve the derelict two-room house she has lived in with her family for the past 15 years. She has created a bathroom with plumbing and bought a new gas cookstove.

Laxmi has a scooter, which she and her brother take turns driving to their respective work places. And most exciting, Laxmi has taken a loan and purchased a 1,000 square foot plot of land, which she plans to one day built a home of her own.

“Now, my life is very different than my mom’s,” Laxmi says with pride and tears in her eyes. She adds that she is financially independent, able to look after her siblings and ensure they have a better future, and that she will now have a choice in who and when she marries.

Upcoming Dates

  • November 19: Summit in Chicago

Client: Obama Foundation
Partner: Study Hall Education Foundation (SHEF)
Subject: Laxmi Nishad
Location: Lucknow, India

Videography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Photography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Project Manager: Lisa Stewart
Production Assistant: Moni Kannaujiya
Editing: Morgana Wingard
Music Composition: Aled Roberts


Narrator: Laxmi
Young Laxmi:
 Kiran Sahu
Laxmi’s Mother: Nishu Singh
Laxmi’s Father: Pratyush Shukla
Laxmi’s Sisters: Simmar Kannaujia, Vashi Rawat
Schoolgirls: Pooja Nishad, Neha Madrash, Gomti Rawat
Suitor: Sujeet Maurya
Teacher: Roli Saxena