Introduction to Stanzin Saldon: The Story Of A Woman Who Dedicated Her Life To Educate The Children Of Kargil
In today’s world, education plays an extremely important role in shaping one’s life. Education is the only tool that provides us with knowledge, information, skill, and technique which helps us to know our rights and duties toward our family, society, and country.
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One such region where getting a decent education, especially for a girl child, is extremely difficult. That is Kargil.
The name Kargil comes from the word Khar, meaning castle, and rKill meaning “centre” means a place between many kingdoms. Kargil lies very close to the border shared by India with our neighbour Pakistan. Because of its close proximity to the line of control, Kargil has often been the site of border conflicts between India and Pakistan. Three major wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 pushed Kargil backward by decades. Kargil became known to the rest of the world, especially after the famous Kargil war in 1999.
Due to extreme weather conditions, heights of over 8780 feet, tough travel routes, no road connectivity, no network, electricity not available in most remote villages and patriarchal mindset of locals, etc, hampered the impact of education on the children. Although literacy rate of females have seen tremendous improvement after the 1999 war but its still a long way to reach the status of equity in terms of gender disparity as the rest of our country. Schools remain closed for 5 long months in a year due to extreme winters and roads getting blocked which gives only 50% teaching period, compared to other states.
A true change maker is one who takes creative action to solve a social problem.
Stanzin Saldon was one such crusader who took over the responsibility to bridge the gap in education and create an environment for change.
Stanzin Saldon along with four of her other friends from Kargil co-founded “rZamba”– a bridge in ladakhi- for working primarily to bridge the gaps in primary and secondary education, health, sanitation, and rural development in Kargil. She is currently leading a team of 13 as the CEO of rZamba.
Saldon, born in Leh in Ladakh, into a Budhhist family, went to a local school till class 10th. Her mother being a school teacher and her father working for a developmental professional, kept her grounded to her roots. Being progressive parents, she was allowed to go to Rajasthan, to complete her 12th. Like a most obedient bright student, she was directed to take up Medicine at Jammu university. During her medical studies, she volunteered for various projects in rural Kashmir. She connected extremely well with socio-economic issues and sufferings of the downtrodden. Soon she realised that Medicine was not her calling. She took the leap of faith and changed her course to the social sector and worked with many ngos.
Destiny connected her to 4 other like-minded friends who supported her initiatives. Murtaza, Fayaz, Ali, and Marzia, from Kargil, started various workshops engaging with children, local youth, and their families. Together, they informally launched a trust called rZamba Foundation in 2015.
They initiated sanitization and education projects here to bridge the gap. Challenges in access to financial support and poor human resources for building a capable team were constant obstacles. For a section of society of Ladakh which has doubted Saldon’s life choices, even name shamed her for choosing her own spouse , here was a bold, sure-headed, social reformer who was posing a challenge to this patriarchal society.
rZamba means ‘bridge’ in the Balti language. Saldon and her teammates are acting as a bridge between the people of Kargil, available resources, local systems, and the people.
Along with her initiatives in Kargil, she was selected for the American India Foundation’s William J. Clinton Fellowship, The Clinton Foundation and New Delhi-based Kaivalya Education Foundation in Jammu & Kashmir. She has created learning modules for teachers and students of government schools, led various youth leadership, gender and community education development initiatives since then.
rZamba’s initial work on building toilets and promoting health and sanitation among 3100 girls with 150 teachers in 14 schools during 2015 to 2019 brought to light significant gaps within the government education system in Kargil such as low literacy rates, low pass rates, inadequate school staff, lack of infrastructure, lack of involvement of the village education committees in overall school functions, limited time durations during which the schools are operational due to weather conditions and lack of effective school processes. During Covid-19, when the schools shut down, there was a huge gap left in the education of students. To address this immediate need, rZamba started community classes with 4000 students in 40 villages, training 50 facilitators from those communities from 2019 to 2022. These two factors gave shape to rZamba’s Holistic Child Wellbeing program in 2022
rZamba, after the lived experiences on ground, decided to dedicate its efforts to ensuring quality and equity in education and focused on building a robust program to revolutionise Govt. School Education in Ladakh through its “Holistic Child Well Being” Program . rZamba’s Mission is as follows-
- Empower youth to serve as a catalyst for the transformation of education practices and mindsets.
- Equip the communities to own the development of the government school education system to foster a collective sense of responsibility.
- Establish strategic alliances to create a supportive ecosystem that champions policy changes and prioritizes the continuous transformation of high-quality education in government schools.
rZamba is driven by the following values:
- Inclusion – with all, by all
- Integrity – doing the right thing
- Equity – in everything we do
- Transparency – at all levels
Under this program rZamba also established libraries and created customised project based learning resources, suitable for different classes, which encouraged the children to read and learn more efficiently and have fun on the way. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil, is currently collaborating with rZamba for implementing their Holistic Child Well Being with the communities and schools of Kargil.
During Covid, the educated youth returned back to their villages from cities. Saldon invited them to volunteer for community learning centres and engage children esp of early childhood and foundational years through project based learning approach, which was first of its kind in Ladakh during Covid. This initiative ‘Khangrtsa Yontan’- Learning at doorstep in ladakhi, a project with more than 200 volunteers establishing community learning centres in the villages catering to over 3000 students. Being highly inspired by their contribution rZamba also was given awards’ of appreciation on republic day and Independence day by the Administration of Ladakh.
Henry Ford’s quote, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself,”
rZamba’s major plus point was that they worked alongside the local communities and government bodies hence they could reach faster into the remotest places in Kargil with the complete support of the local establishment.
In a matter of just a few years, they succeeded in impacting over 7000 students and working with 40 schools. rZamba also conducts professional development workshops of teachers and have positively impacted 300 teachers and 40 head teachers. Additionally ,under the holistic child well being program more than 1000 parents and 50 Village Education Committee Members have taken benefits.
With inclusion as one of the core values, Saldon with her team members is curating opportunities for women and girls to take active roles in major decision making starting from community level. Her own team is composed of 60% female team members and she is headstrong on supporting women to empower themselves financially, physically, mentally and emotionally. rZamba programs have helped many Govt. Schools on the verge of closing to survive by introducing their holistic initiatives and led to an increase of enrolments at some places by more than 50%.
Today Saldon or Shifah, as she is lovingly known as in Kargil, has succeeded in moving forward towards the vision she had promised to herself, that she will be a catalyst of positive change and bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots in her own State of Ladakh with love and respect for all.
Women like Stanzin Saldon are an inspiration to many young girls, especially in remotest places of India, to follow their dreams with dedication and believe and be sure that one day, the tides will change.
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