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TEDxShekhavati: Against all odds

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Here’s the remarkable story behind a TEDx event held this month: Despite opposition from village elders, a swine flu outbreak and huge logistical issues, TEDxShekhavati organizer Masarat Daud pulled off an amazing event, attracting over 1,000 attendees. Daud was determined to bring TEDx to her hometown of Fatehpur, a tiny village in the Shekhavati region of central India, and let nothing stand in her way.

The idea for TEDxShekhavati was born when Daud spoke at TEDxDubai. She was there to talk about her 8-Day Academy — a series of workshops she began in 2009 to improve literacy levels in villages in India. Inspired by the other speakers, she began planning a TEDx that would focus on people from the small villages and towns of India with amazing success stories.

However, Daud ran into her first problem when she booked a community school as the location. The all-male board that manages the school was not enthusiastic about the concept. Daud explained, “Some of the men in this cabinet decided that TEDxShekhavati was a threat to the village culture and should not be allowed. They also found it un-Islamic for a girl to be single-handedly organizing this, for her to be on stage in front of many people and to be talking.” Next, came a swine flu scare — four deaths occurred within a week in Fatehpur. Her parents cancelled their plans to attend and her cousins in Fatehpur advised her not to come.

DSC_1750.JPGInstead of giving up, Daud stocked up on hand sanitizer and face-masks and pushed forward. She convinced her parents to come anyway and when the men of the village refused to help her, she asked her father and his friends to talk to them instead. She moved the venue to a Hindu school and planned for an even bigger turnout.

Posters were printed and distributed in the bazaars. People were talking. On the day of the event, banners were put up in the neighborhood, buses were booked for easy transportation. Daud said, “The educated men in the community supported the event and praised it as a big positive change led by ‘the daughter of the village”

More than 1,000 people attended — 800 in chairs, another 250 sitting on the ground and about 100 more standing. The projector stopped working. Instead of showing TEDTalks videos, Daud took the stage and began telling the audience about TED and TEDx. TEDxShekhavati was on.

Samar Singh Jodha talked about the importance of exploring unusual careers and supporting talent. Aman Nath spoke about preserving the heritage of Shekhavati. Anwar Ali explained how telemedicine is changing lives. Amrita Choudhary praised the courage of the ordinary woman. Mehmood Khan showed how education and business opportunities could empower villages. Shrot Katewa proposed that outsourcing might bridge the urban and rural divide. Daud also gave a talk, stressing the importance of educating girls and explaining how her 8-Day Academy is changing lives through education.

DSC_1723.JPGA few quotes that Daud gathered from the audience:

“This is the start to bigger community change in Fatehpur.”

“You have raised the bar for all the girls. Now, the women community is very inspired and parents will educate their girls.”

“A very proud thing for all of us that first TEDx in Rajasthan took place in our Shekhavati area.”

“It was such an educational event. Beyond any of our expectations. We never knew such people came out of our villages!”

But, her favorite moment happened in quick conversation with five boys. Daud explained, “There were five street children who came with one school teacher (who is their relative) and those boys were so happy, so inspired. They told me that at next TEDxShekhavati, they will be standing on stage. I told them I would be honored.”

To read the full story in Daud’s own words, see Chris Anderson’s blog post here >>