In India, CorStone works to put the most disadvantaged girls in control of their destiny


The rural state of Bihar in India is one of the poorest in the country. Girls and women face many forms of discrimination. They are often married at a very young age: 82% in rural areas are marriedand 68% have their first child, before the age of18. Moreover, 45% of women and girls have suffered physical or sexual violence. Access to education is also unequal: 76% of pupils, mainly girls, leave school before finishing primary school. Some have never been to school, as their parents keep them at home to help with household chores until their marriage at the age of13 or14. 

In 2004, residential schools for girls were established by the federal government to address inequalities among girls from disadvantaged castes, tribes and minorities or from families living below the poverty line. Today, there are 3,569 such schools in 27 states across India. These schools, called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, or KGBV, have a total enrollment of 300,000 girls around  the ages of 12 and 16. Many of  these girls were previously out of school and need to start by learning to read and write.   

Building resilience to unlock girls’ potential

The NGO CorStone works in different regions of the world to support disadvantaged youth, in particular, adolescent girls. Their work aims to increase resilience in youthand to enhance their ability to find, individually and collectively, the necessary resources to build their lives despite the difficulties and adverse circumstances they face. 

In India, CorStone set up the Girls First programme. After a pilot phase in urban slums in2009 (in the cities of Delhi and Surat), they introduced the programme in the rural state of Bihar, initially in 70schools. 

In concrete terms, CorStone trains teachers from these schools – who become known as facilitators – to run weekly one-hour sessions for six months with the students. These sessions focus on personal, social and physical resilience. 

We are in the field of emotional learning. The facilitators first work with girls on the personal dimension, such as their self-identity and recognition of their strengths, and the expression and management of emotions. Then, over the course of the sessions, the girls learn about interpersonal relations, listening, how to use the group to find solutions to problems, how to resolve conflicts, etc. We also strengthen their knowledge about health and rights. We address issues of nutrition, hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, etc.,” explains Gracy Andrew, CorStone’s Country Director in India.

A long-term approach

Following an impact assessment in these first 70schools, which showed the beneficial effect of the programme on the girls mental and physical health, social and emotional resources, well-being, confidence, attitude and ability to advocate for their education and health rightsCorStone signed an agreement in2018 with the Bihar government to scale the program across the state. To date they have rolled-out the Girls First programme in half of the 536KGBV residential schools in Bihar and they are expected to reach 100% of KGBVs by2023, providing training to 35,000 girls per year.

CorStone not only trains teachers, but also teaches them to become mastertrainers” themselves: an innovative device in the countrys education system that can really help with scale-upaccording to Gracy Andrew.  

The aim is to anchor the approach at the local level, as Steve Leventhal, CorStone’s CEO explains: Our aim is scale-up and institutionalization within the Bihar education system. We’ve taken a very methodical approach, documenting results across the domains of mental and emotional health, physical health, education, and even prevention of early marriage. We hope to soon expand the Girls First program to KGBVs in other states across India, providing much-needed skills and support to empower thousands of marginalized, at-risk girls to transform the trajectory of their lives.