This is a true story that illustrates what happens when all members of a population, especially women, are enabled to participate as equals in the socio-economic activities of their community and contribute to its development. In Mona Foundation’s experience, education is central to such individual and social transformation but only if it includes lessons of gender equality, ethics, and service alongside academics and the arts.

We first met Kali in 2013 when she enrolled in the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore, India, a Mona partner since 2005. In the decade since, Kali’s life experience has provided a representative real-time narrative of the transformative power of educating women and girls. Her story shows how a young woman, empowered through education to improve her own life and see herself as an agent of social change, can impact her family, peers, and village – and, in time, change the hearts and minds of an entire community on the critical importance of education, gender equality, and capacity building in leading their own social transformation.

Kali was born in a tribal household in the remote village of Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh, India. As a child, she contracted polio which left her disabled and in need of a staff to walk. Born a girl, poor, and disabled, she had three strikes against her before she was twelve.

In general, India’s daughters are unwanted, unsafe, unequal, and unfree. They make up one third of the world’s child brides and half of married women report domestic violence. Every year, one million girls are killed in the womb through selective termination. In rural areas, such as Alirajpur, girls traditionally don’t go to school and are considered only suitable for marriage, having children, cleaning house, and caring for their families.

Read the full article about Kali by Laura Baerwolf at Global Washington.