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A Look at The It's a Girl Project
“When a girl is born in India, people look upon the mother like, ‘What did you do? Why did you bring a girl into this house? This is ill luck – may you be cursed for bringing girls into this home.’”
– Sheila Daniel, Founder, “It’s a Girl” Project
In India, the mortality rate for girls under the age of five is among the highest in the world.1 Most Indian families significantly prefer sons to daughters because economic, religious, social, and emotional norms favor males and make females less desirable in the household. This results in many young girls being neglected or discarded each year simply because of their gender.
Through the work of the “It’s a Girl” Project, Dr. Sheila Daniel is looking to change this.
An OBGYN by profession, Sheila founded “It’s a Girl” in 2015 with her husband, Mano, a longtime partner of Woodside Bible Church. The husband-and-wife duo leads a group of missionaries known as Leaders in Obscurity, which invests into Indian communities through passionate evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
“In India, the girl child is not respected,” Sheila said. “The background is that the girl child is a curse because she’s not going to bring anything into the family. The girl is eventually going to get married and go away to a husband’s house. So, when a girl is born into a home, people think, ‘There’s no point in feeding this child. There’s no point in wasting education. She’s going to leave this home, and she’s going to be for the rest of her life working for someone else, so why bother about her?’”
When a girl gets married in India, her parents are expected to give a sizable dowry to the family of their new son-in-law. Many families can’t afford the financial burden of these dowries, and fathers will sometimes commit suicide after taking out a loan they can’t repay.
“This is the kind of situation where a girl child is just not welcomed into the house,” Sheila said. “With some of the south Indian customs, even the delivery of the first child is looked after by the expectant mother’s parents. When she is seven months pregnant, they have a big ceremony. They give some gold, pay for the ceremony, invite people, and then bring her back to their house. Then, after the delivery, all the hospital charges are met with. They have to put some gold for the little baby, and, again, with a big ceremony, you’re supposed to go and lead the new mother back [to her husband’s house]. So, all this is a lot of expense.”
When a bridegroom’s family doesn’t receive the promised dowry for a girl, she might be mistreated or tortured by her in-laws in retribution. There have been cases reported of wives that have been burned to death when a dowry goes unpaid – the mother-in-law will pour kerosene over her daughter-in-law and set her on fire. The man will then remarry and collect a dowry from a new family.
It’s a lot of shame,” Sheila said. “Everybody looks down upon the women who have only girl children, where if she gives birth to a boy child, then everyone appreciates, ‘Oh, she’s given birth to a boy child – oh wow, it’s a boy!’ The boy child will be the next generation to till the field; he will have the property. They give him everything so that he grows up to be a healthy young boy, enough to sustain the family. But this girl? No. She’s going away anyway. So, they neglect the girl children from a young age, and that’s when nutrition and immunization against diseases are most important.”
Once children in India turn three years old, they are enrolled in government-run Montessori schools and given a meal plan that helps sustain them. But because of early neglect, many female children are extremely susceptible to illness and malnutrition before they reach the age of enrollment. When Sheila and Mano founded “It’s a Girl,” their goal was to help provide for girls between the ages of 0-3 or until they became eligible to receive aid from the schools.
Currently, there are 150 children supported by the “It’s a Girl” Project through funding from Woodside. The young girls are cared for daily at multiple local centers, where they’re regularly given milk, eggs, and nutrient-rich porridge to eat. Pastors within the program will also accompany mothers to the hospital so that their daughters receive immunizations at the proper times. Sheila has watched entire families give their lives to Christ through their involvement with the program.
“Ninety percent of these children are not from Christian families,” Sheila said. “They belong to Hindu and Muslim families that would normally never set foot into a church. So, the people get gradually introduced to Jesus. We explain to them who Jesus was, why He came to this earth, and what we are doing because of the love we have for all the people. My prayer is that these families will come to realize that the girls are also a blessing – that they are creatures who have been created by God.”
From a Curse to a Blessing
“During the COVID time, there were no jobs. Our pastors would visit the homes of these girl children and give groceries, which helped save many families from starvation. There was one family where the father, when his daughter was born, he cursed her and said, ‘Why was this devil born into our house to come and take the life out of us? She is a curse on this family.’ But when that man came to know that they were receiving food because the girl was in our project, he came to the pastor and said, ‘When this child was born, I cursed her. But now I realize that it was because of her that we survived these months of COVID. And so I will never, ever call her a curse again. She saved our family through these difficult times. She is a blessing.’” – Sheila Daniel
Because of Woodside’s generosity, Mano and Sheila Daniel were able to help local pastors purchase food for the families involved in “It’s a Girl” during the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving these provisions, this man changed his daughter’s name from “curse” to “blessing.”