Soniya’s Story

Soniya and her family lived in the Elephant Village for four years, but for the past two years they have lived just outside of the Elephant Village. Soniya has three sisters (Saniya, Resma, and Selma) and two brothers (Stiak and Irshad). Only Soniya and Saniya (the two youngest) go to school, and Soniya has the highest level of education of anyone in her family. Soniya’s father is 55 years old; rather old to be an elephant driver by this community’s standards. Thus, he and his family decided to move outside of the Elephant Village so that the mother could sell vegetables in the streets. Soniya’s father no longer works, so her family’s only income comes from the mother. As a result, they have no fixed salary and are even poorer than those in the Elephant Village.

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[Saniya, who is Soniya’s younger sister]


Soniya has made so much progress in the past three months – I can hardly believe it when I look back at how far she’s come! I remember being very worried about how I could help Soniya catch up to the rest of her class in math, because she was very far behind her peers when it came to multiplication facts. Soniya also struggled a lot with spelling, which is one of the most important topics in India’s education system. On one of her first tests, Soniya had so much trouble with both the English (spelling) and math (multiplication facts) sections that I didn’t even calculate her grade.



I knew that she had improved a lot while I’d been with her, both in her multiplication facts and her spelling. But when I compared that old test to her final test, I was still so blown away by her progress that I almost cried. She got 100% on the multiplication fact section of the test, and 94% on the test overall. She tied with Muskan for second place, and only Gulpsa got a higher score than she did. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such a drastic improvement in Soniya’s academics.



In math, the key to her success was a little extra one-on-one time, not more than five minutes a day. While the students would do their math worksheets (telling time, multiplication facts, or long multiplication) I would encourage them to ask questions if they were unsure about something. Soniya really took advantage of this, and I think this is why she made so much progress. Now she does her times tables so much faster and with significantly fewer errors. When I moved on to teach long multiplication, I gave her a little extra one-on-one assistance during class, and now she can do it at the same speed and accuracy as her peers.

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Soniya is the perfect example of why it’s important to give students a little bit of individual attention, and she shows that there is a huge benefit even from just 5 minutes of this a day. This is why it is so important to me that we get more permanent teachers at the Elephant Village School. With Soniya, it only took five minutes a day of one-on-one help for three months to raise her grades from failing to a 94%! Three teachers for five classes still wouldn’t be enough, but it would be a good start and would still make a huge difference for the students and give them an education that would be significantly more individualized to fit their needs.



Looking back on Soniya’s performance in school three months ago, I cannot believe how far she has come. She is very attentive in class and always eager to learn. She is great at participating in class, regardless of her young age. I started reading easy books with my students only a few days after starting to work with them on phonics. Even though Soniya had really struggled with spelling two months before, she did an amazing job of sounding out words and was the second best reader in the class! Seeing the effect that my volunteer work had on Soniya’s academics brings me to tears, and I am eternally grateful for having had this amazing opportunity to help students like Soniya.


P.S. We are currently doing the annual fundraiser to keep this school open for another year! Please click here to donate to this amazing cause and help these amazing kiddos like Soniya stay in school. Any amount makes a difference! Thank you!!!



3 thoughts on “Soniya’s Story

  1. I had the amazing opportunity of visiting the school in the Elephant Village twice while I was in Jaipur, and on the first day the head and founder of the school, Anil, took me on a walk through the village and introduced me to some of the mothers as they worked in the yards in front of their small houses. He said something that struck me to the core – none of these women could read or write, would not even be able to recognize their own names if written down for them, and had no math skills. When they go to the market they hold out their open palms with coins in them and hope that the merchant gives them back the correct change.
    Knowing this, Soniya’s extraordinary efforts to catch up with her classmates in terms of math and reading skills causes me to wonder how much urgency she must feel to learn as much as she can, not only to help her family now, but to allow herself a different path in life, one that literacy can provide.
    Sadly, Anil told me that most of these girls will not be able to continue attending his school past the age of 13 because of the cultural expectation that older girls help their mothers and remain sequestered from unrelated men and boys until they are ready for marriage, but even so, a daughter who can read and write in Hindi and English and can add and multiply can be a huge boon to her parents, especially Soniya’s family who depend upon her mother’s vegetable stall for their entire income. Hopefully her parents will realize how important her education is for her future, and will encourage her to continue at this remarkable school.

  2. Wow! This is a wonderful example of how the determination and love both Ann and Soniya had brought such powerful results. I am delighted to see you, Ann, glowing and feeling so good about your work. Clearly, you shared your big heart and your wisdom in your work in India. I hope you have as rich an experience in your next adventure. Looking forward to seeing you in the spring. Love, Susan

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