Mumbai: For 15-year-old Rohini Pashte, a fourth grade drop-out from Jalna district, walking four kilometres everyday to a residential school where she resumed studies, is something which invigorates her.
It gives her access to her favourite sport football for which she represented the Indian slum soccer team at Santiago this year.
Rohini is one of the nine girls from Maharashtra, who are being felicitated in the 11th edition of Navjyoti -- a joint initiative by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Doordarshan Kendra – for displaying resolve and strength in grim times before emerging as trend-setters for their peers and communities.
But the journey of Rohini hailing from remote Pithorishirasgaon village has been full of hardships as she had to leave school at the age of nine when her father, a daily wage labourer, went missing forcing her to take up odd-works to make ends meet.
"It was a difficult time for our family when my father went missing. I had to drop out of school to work when I was in class IV as my mother is a daily wage labourer and needed my contribution to the family to survive. But after my uncle intervened, I joined Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya," said the budding sportsperson.
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya is a government-aided residential school for girls where food, clothing and education are free.
Rohini wants to become a police officer when she completes her education.
"It took me three years to get here, from a poor school dropout to a Standard X student, who plays for India. I truly believe that hard work and determination can take one places," said Rohini, who is now an inspiration to many in her school and village.
"In Navjyoti, we felicitate nine girls from remote corners of the state who have demonstrated leadership qualities and have become role models for their communities," UNICEF, Maharashtra Chief Rajeshwari Chandrasekar said.
"Despite difficult circumstances, these girls have fought against all odds and are continuing with their education. This event is particularly important for us as it provides an opportunity for girls to share their experience," she said.
Similarly, 16-year-old Shevanti Rathod from Latur, who also aspires to be a police officer, became an inspiration for other girls in her village when she opposed her father's plans to marry her off.
"My elder sister was married when she turned 16 and had a baby within a year. Marriage and teenage pregnancy have left her weak and in poor health. I didn't want the same thing to happen to me so I spoke out when my father tried to marry me off at 14," Shevanti said.
Shevanti now works as a farm labourer after school hours to help her father repay the Rs 7.5 lakh loan, which they took from a moneylender for her sister's wedding.
Ashwini Gosavi, a budding fashion designer who taught 45 tribal girls in Nandurbar how to save money for better future is among the nine girls to be felicitated.
Poornima Ade, a 17-year-old who fought for the right to education and mobility for 15 out-of-school girls and Ravina Mengar, a 15-year-old tribal girl from Nashik who fought against child marriage - are some others who are being honoured with this year's Navjyoti award.