Pratham 11:09:00 AM
In a span of twenty five minutes, we saw a large number of rice fields, crossed over a railway track, encountered cows and buffaloes on the road and experienced a dusty patch due to a road under construction! This was our third day in Chhattisgarh and it started from the village of Masturi to an even smaller village of Eramsahi. We were here to witness some amazing action from the ‘Second Chance’ Program. Noor, the coordinator for the Program in Chhattisgarh and Baliram, the Center in-charge at Masturi were with us.
|Ahilya Kumari, Anjani Kumari and Rajin Kumari with the Borewell|
We had a brief interaction with some of these girls at the ‘Masturi’ Center. Their whole-hearted participation in the Hindi lecture was enough to bring a smile on our face. As they greeted me ‘Good Morning Sir’ with a smile on their face and a confident eye-contact, I was convinced that these girls have come here with a resolve! A resolve to make the most of the ‘Second Chance’ life had given them!
However there was an additional reason why we had chosen to visit the ‘Second Chance’ Program that day. This Program includes a ‘Life Skills’ component in its syllabus. It ensures that students learn some fundamental skills which help them face real life situations. The girls here were asked to identify a particular problem in their village and try to come up with its solution. We were to speak to these girls who had collectively addressed such a problem and thereby created a positive impact!
A small child ran with one of our motorbikes till a small building and we were greeted with curious eyes peeping out from the little huts. The Center at Eramsahi had arrived. As we entered the class, an intense session of arithmetic was underway. The enthusiasm of the girls participating and interacting with the tutor rendered the small size of the class a useless factor! As the girls sat cross-legged on the floor, I was reminded of my own school where we had the luxury of wooden benches and open windows. Many of these girls, as they told us, walk from nearby villages to this center. They were indeed a perfect example of determination overcoming physical hardships! The girls at this center come from Hardadi, Malhar and Navagaon villages. In addition to them, some girls are from Eramsahi.
The girls were happy to see Noor but were surprised to see the two of us. Hence during the introduction most of them maintained a studied silence as they heard us talk. Most of them nodded their heads in agreement to whatever we said. But when we asked them about the work they did in the village, their eyes lit up! We asked them to reassemble and sit according to the villages they represented. Soon we had four groups of girls, each from Navagaon, Malhar, Eramsahi and Hardadi.
|The students from the four villages at the Eramsahi Cluster|
“In our village, there was a water problem. The women in the village had to walk a great distance to fetch water. So we insisted to the Sarpanch that our village should have a borewell”, said Ahilya Kumari, an enthusiastic girl from the Navagaon village. “However the elders in the village asked us why we were getting into all this. Our elder brothers felt we were wasting time”, said Anjani Kumari from the same village. “We had to visit the village Sarpanch many times during this period. Finally he agreed and we now have a Borewell in our village”, she further added. Both these girls had in a way represented the psyche of the society that we live in! By now all the girls had opened up and started to talk to us.
“We will be very happy if you come to our village and see the borewell”, Anjani requested us. Navagaon was not very far from the place and hence we acceded to her request. This was followed by a 25 minute bike ride from Eramsahi to Navagaon. Small huts and narrowed roads greeted us to Navagaon and we could see curious onlookers wondering about us, the new entrants to their premises. We were then escorted to a lake and then to the borewell that was installed because of the efforts of these girls! The joy on their faces when they said ‘Yeh hamne kiya hain’ (we have done this) was priceless! “Abhi hamare yahan ke mahilayon ko dusre gaav mein paani lane nahi jaana padega”, (Now the women here won’t have to go to any other village to fetch water) they added.
However we were headed towards a surprise! Ahilya’s house was very near to the lake and she insisted that we should visit her house and meet her parents. And in the next instance we found ourselves entering a small hut with happy faces of her parents welcoming us inside. “Hame bahut accha lagta hain, hamari beti padh rahi hain aur usne yeh kaam kiya hain” (We all feel very good that our daughter is learning again and she has done this work), said her parents with satisfaction! All the three girls are now charged up to do something more for the village. They now want to build a school in the village that offers education till the 12th grade. By this, they say, children won’t have to walk long distances to any other village for school!
As we were ready to leave Ahilya’s house, Noor suggested that we all should go and meet the village Sarpanch and ask him how he felt working with these girls. We happily agreed and insisted that the girls should also accompany us to his house. And in the matter of ten minutes we found ourselves facing the Sarpanch of the village. He greeted all of us, but an expression of surprise was visible on his face. Finally when we introduced ourselves and started talking about this project, he also became a part of the conversation.
|The three girls with the Village Sarpanch|
“ Bahut accha lag raha hain, ke koi hamare saamne apni samasya lekar aaya, aur yeh bhi accha laga ki yeh ladkiyan gaav ke liye kuch karna chahti hain” ( I felt very good, that someone came to me with their problem and I felt better that these young girls want to do something for our village). There was a smile on the faces of the girls as he said this. One of us asked him if he would help these girls if they come with some other problem, he said, “kyon nahi! Hame gaavwalon ne sarpanch banaya hain, kuch karne ke liye. Aur inke saath toh main jaroor kaam karunga!” (Why not! The villagers have made me a Sarpanch so that I can work for them. And I will definitely work with these girls.)
|The three girls with Ahilya's parents|
Our visit to Masturi, Eramsahi and Navagaon villages connected us to a rural India that is full of aspirations! But what delighted us more was the participation of girls in this entire process of aspirations getting developed! That they are getting a ‘Second Chance’ to complete their education doubles this delight. This program has made these girls more confident. They want their voice to be heard, their needs to be addressed and more importantly, their education to be continued!
If we visit Navagaon again, we hope to see these girls studying in the same school that they want to
be built in their village. And with the facilities going beyond the 12th Grade! This day in that small village in Chhattisgarh will be memorable for me for two reasons! One - I saw how education helps an individual, otherwise suppressed and under-confident, find an expression! And two - all three of them were girls who now have found their voice, amidst the rural Indian background that is still largely dominated by males.