Monday, April 10, 2017

Padyatra to Champaran by the Pratham Bihar team – March-April 2017

3:09:00 PM
Exactly a hundred years ago, in April 1917, India witnessed its first ‘satyagraha’ under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi later became ‘Mahatma’ and ‘satyagraha’ translated into a nationwide mass movement. The place that was witness to this first ‘satyagraha’ was Champaran, a remote rural indigo growing area in the north-west corner of Bihar bordering Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. To celebrate the centenary year of this historic movement, a series of events are currently happening in Bihar.

The first day of the Padayatra at Patna

The Pratham team in Bihar chose a unique way to pay tribute to the Father of the Nation – through a “shikshagraha” - a “walk for education”! Gandhi always emphasized ‘buniyadi shiksha’ or ‘basic education.’ He also believed that education would make an individual ‘swavlambi’ or self-reliant. To remind people and to revive this message about basic education, the Pratham team undertook a 264 km long walk or “padayatra”. The journey took 15 days; their route took them from Patna, across the Ganga to Vaishali, then Muzaffarpur, East Champaran and finally to what today is West Champaran. This ‘Shikshagrah Padyatra’ began on 22nd March from the Gandhi Sangrahalay in Patna and concluded at Bhitiharwa Ashram, where Kasturba and Gandhi had lived, in West Champaran on April 5.

The map of the 264 km long Padayatra 

The Yatra team members were -Dilip Kumar, Jaglal Ram, Amresh Kumar, Amar Kumar, Mohommad Mudassir Alam, Dinesh Kumar, Ram Shankar Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Shivkant Tiwari, Gunjan Kumar Gupta and Sanjay Kumar.
The objective of the yatra was to interact with villagers, representatives of the Panchayati Raj, teachers, parents, self-help groups of women, understand their views and perspectives on children’s education and discuss the key importance of schooling and learning in today’s times. In addition to these discussions, the team also demonstrated some basic techniques of learning language and maths, They also spoke extensively about Gandhi’s thoughts and values. Daily, the team along with villagers from the village that they were in, together read sections from Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth.

The idea of this padayatra came from within the Pratham team in Bihar. It was unanimously agreed that this was the best way to reach the masses and discuss Gandhi’s ideas of basic education. In many ways, Gandhi’s views align well with Pratham’s philosophy and work. The team plotted the physical route carefully, figuring out what would be their daily destinations and night halts. Mentally, they began preparing for what they would do and what they hoped to learn during this journey.

Padayatris undergoing health check-up. It was a very long route! 
Typically, the day for the team would start before dawn, and after a few moments of reflection and prayer, they would start walking. Soon slogans related to education would start followed by singing Gandhi’s favourite bhajans. Curious onlookers would want to know who these people were and what they were doing. This would lead to discussions and debates on the need for a strong basic education, basic reading, arithmetic and learning for children and also on Gandhi’s views on this issue. Everywhere, villagers welcomed the padayatris and engaged in discussions wholeheartedly. The Pratham team focused on the difference between merely going to school and actually learning and getting educated.

The villagers, at times, would say that they have done their part by sending children to school and now it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach. In such a situation, our team would work patiently and convince them about how their mindset and approach needs to change and how they as parents and community members need to get involved actively. In some villages, the villagers would get annoyed when our team members used to ask some of the children to read or solve arithmetic sums. However, repeated conversations would ultimately make people realize that it is only with a strong foundation, that children in their village will be able to go ahead. And that this universal basic learning is needed not just for their own children but for all children in the village.

Pledge for quality education
The team observed that people, especially youth are programmed to think that a government job is the only way for a secure future. There is a lack of awareness about possible other different opportunities out there. In some villages, 12 -13-year-old children - sons and daughters of small farmers and landless labourers - were seen working in fields to support the family. On asking in more detail, our team often found that the children’s schooling was stopped as they were not making any progress. The Pratham team stressed the importance of buniyadi shiksha. If the children had learned to read and do basic arithmetic, they would have developed and progressed on their own; and been able to develop the confidence to deal with the bigger world around them! 

Sanjay and Shailendra, our experienced colleagues from Team Bihar recall that women in most of the villages they visited were keen to know about education and the opportunities for their children. While men were keen to discuss politics and daily happenings, the baton of education was firmly in the hands of women! On the ninth day of the march, a curious onlooker from Pipra Kothi village asked the team members which caste they belonged to. Everyone was unanimous in their reply that their caste and religion are education and we have abandoned our caste and religious identities for this larger cause!

The Padayatra concluded at Bhitiharwa, District Pashchim Champaran

Are the villagers aware of Gandhi and his significant contribution towards the country? Sanjay replies that they are but they only know a few things. School children are aware that he brought us freedom, whereas the youth sees him as an influential figure. Some small children also related him to currency notes! But, everyone did lend a patient ear to the team when they talked about his principles of buniyadi shiksha and swavlamban.

So what does the team feel after the successful completion of the Padayatra?

Most of them agree that this amazing experience has come with a huge amount of learning. One of the big things they learned is that we have to listen to people and their problems about their life. Often their basic needs are not met, like health, food and shelter. This along with their daily struggle for livelihoods is an obstacle in supporting their children’s education. The team felt that it is critical that all Pratham teams interact much more with the people whose children they work with and try to understand and relate to their issues. It is not that people are not serious about education if we expand our reach and understanding about these issues, then we will be able to help them support their children's learning much more. 

The inspiration
The padayatris met many people en route who are ready to work for the cause of education. The team has planned to engage with them and provide them with the necessary support so that they start work in their villages. This, as Sanjay, the leader of the team says, is the ‘biggest lesson from the grassroots Journey'. Going forward, Gandhi’s words which motivated the team to start the Padayatra will continue to drive their efforts in going forward. The “march for education” will continue.

Gandhiji ka yehi tha kehna,
Anpadh bankar kabhi na rehna

Thursday, March 30, 2017

बिहार पदयात्रा - सफ़र का 8 वाँ पड़ाव

1:01:00 PM
सफ़र की तैयारी :-जैसे ही घंटे की सुई 3 पर जाती है,टीम के लीडर अचानक बैठ जाते हैं और फिर जोर से कहते हैं – “गाँधी जी का यहीं था कहना|” तुरंत ही नींद से बोझिल पलकों को मलते हुए 10 लोगों की प्रतिध्वनियाँ आती है- ‘’अनपढ़ बनकर कभी न रहना |” लोगों को जागने और तैयार होने का कोई संकेत मिल गया हो | जैसे रेल को हरी झंडी का सिग्नल मिल गया हो |सभी लोग फटाफट तैयार होने लगे | 

सभी अपने बिस्तर को समेटना शुरू कर दिए |विश्राम स्थान था –उच्च विद्यालय मेहसी,पूर्वी चम्पारण | तबतक चिड़ियों के घोंसलों में भी  शोर-गुल शुरू हो जाता है | पूरब में भी लालिमा का असर अब दिखना शुरू हो जाता है | शायद कारवाँ को अपने गंतव्य के तरफ़ कूच करने का सही वक्त आ गया | अपनी-अपनी मच्छरदानी,चादर और दरी को समेटकर लोग तैयार हो जाते हैं मिशन पर जाने के लिए | शिक्षा के महान प्रहरी और प्रचारक (11सदस्यीय टीम ) पूर्वाहन 4:25 बजे गैस की रौशनी में  निकल पड़ते हैं अपनी मंजिल की तरफ़ |

स्वास्थ्य परीक्षण :- 8 दिनों तक तीखे धूप और भीषण गर्मी में रोज लगभग 20 किमी तक पैदल चलने के बाद  आज टीम के सभी सदस्यों
का स्वास्थ्य परीक्षण जननायक कर्पूरी ठाकुर पुस्तकालय, चकिया के प्रांगन में करीब 7:30 बजे स्थानीय डॉक्टर के द्वारा हुआ | सचमुच अगर ईरादे नेक हों तो लोगों का आशीर्वाद सीधे अल्लाह के दरवाजे तक पहुँचती है | स्वास्थ्य परीक्षण में सभी की स्थिति सामान्य पाई गई | स्वास्थ्य परीक्षण उपरांत दुगने जोश के साथ कारवाँ आगे बढ़ गया |  

मतवाले राही :- कारवाँ अपनी मंजिल की तरफ़ गुजरता जा रहा था तभी रास्ते में कुछ बच्चे ट्यूशन जाते हुए मिल  गए | फिर हमारे लोगों ने अपने कमीज पर लिखे हुए टेक्स्ट को पढ़वाना शुरू कर दिए | देखते ही देखते लोगों की भीड़ इकट्ठा होने लगी | लोग अपने-अपने बच्चों को पकड़कर लाने लगे |सभी को मूल्यांकन करने के तरीकों और पढ़ाने की विधियों से अवगत कराया गया |फिर लोगों को इस पर आगे काम करने के लिए संकल्प भी दिलाया गया |

कुष्ठ आश्रम का दीपक :- पिपरा प्रखंड के रास्ते में एक साईकिल सवार मैट्रिक पास युवक से मुलकात होती है | यह लड़का जमुई के सिमितुला आवासीय विद्यालय से इस बार मैट्रिक पास किया था | पदयात्रा के उद्देश्यों को जानकर वह आग्रह करके  पूरी टीम को एक मुहल्ले में ले गया | वहाँ पर केवल कुष्ठ रोगी (Leprosy)   थे |उनके बच्चे भी साथ में थे | | यहाँ पर रहनेवाले लगभग 30 लोगों को कुष्ठ की कोई न कोई बीमारी थी | बातचीत करने के बाद पता चला कि इनके बच्चे स्कूल नहीं जाते हैं |स्कूल से भगा दिया जाता है | समाज के लोगों का मानना है कि अगर स्कूल जायेंगे तो और लोगों को बीमारी हो जाएगी | लोगों में भ्रम  कि इनके द्वारा सतुआ खाने-और खिलाने से ये रोग फैलता है | यह लड़का समय निकालकर इन बच्चों को पढ़ाने आता है | इसके लिए उसके घरवाले मना भी करते हैं मगर इन्सान की सेवा भावना के वशीभूत नि:शुल्क पढ़ाने आता है | हमारी टीम के कार्यों को देखकर वह अंदाजा लगाकर कहा  कि “लगभग 1,00000 (एक लाख) लोगों में से लगभग 99,999 लोग ऐसा नहीं सोचते हैं और करते हैं | आपसे हमें आज और प्रेरणा मिली है | मैं निरंतर समय निकालकर शिक्षा दान करता रहूँगा |” फिर उसको मूल्यांकन के तरीकों और गतिविधियों से भी अवगत कराया गया  |

 मैट्रिक फेल लड़कियों का दर्द :- ग्राम गौरे के स्कूल में लगभग 11 बजे पंचायती राज के प्रतिनिधियों के साथ और स्कूल के  शिक्षकों के साथ बैठक होती है | बैठक के बाद गाँव में भ्रमण के दौरान मैट्रिक फेल लड़कियों से उनकी दिनचर्या के बारे में जानकारी लेने की कोशिश की गई |  उन लड़कियों का मानना था कि मैट्रिक में  फेल के बाद अब लगता है कि  वे जिन्दगी से फेल हो गई है |आगे बस अँधेरा ही अँधेरा नज़र आता है |फेल हुए लड़कों को तो दुबारा मौका मिल जाता है मगर हमें परिवारवाले मौका नहीं देते हैं |अब आगे क्या करना है उसको लेकर बच्चियों में  या उनके अभिभावकों में कोई विचार या प्लान नहीं था | हाँ आगे शादी करनी है यह बात अभिभावकों ने ज़रूर बताई | मूल्यांकन करने और बातचीत करने के बाद ये बात ज़रूर निकलकर आई कि बुनियाद मजबूत नहीं होने के कारण अपेक्षित परिणाम नहीं मिल पाया  | लोगों ने स्वीकार किया कि बुनियाद मजबूत पहले करनी होगी तभी आगे महल खड़ा हो सकता है |

 जीविका एक आशा :- आज भी  जीविका समूह के महिलाओं के साथ अपराहन 2:00 -5:00 बजे के बीच दो गाँवो में उत्साहवर्धक बैठक और सकारात्मक बातचीत हुई |पदयात्रा टीम के लोग दो ग्रुप में बंटकर दो गावों में जाकर मीटिंग कर रहे थे  | इसमें जिला स्तर से लेकर प्रखंड स्तर तक के जीविका के अधिकारी मौजूद थे |  अच्छे कामों में हाथ बटाने वाले लोग मिल ही जाते हैं | इस बैठक में भी ऐसी महिलाएँ/लडकियाँ  निकलकर सामने आयीं जो हमारे मैटिरियल और गतिविधियों से बच्चों के साथ आगे करने को भी तैयार हुई | इस गाँव में साइंस की गतिविधियों  को भी किया गया | बच्चे साइंस की गतिविधियों में बहुत रूचि ले रहे थे |

आत्मकथा का वाचन :- गाँधीत्व को गहराई से समझने के लिए टीम के सदस्य प्रतिदिन गाँधी की आत्मकथा –“मेरे सत्य का प्रयोग” किताब का सामूहिक वाचन करते हैं | आज 8वें दिन तक इसके 165 पेजों को पढ़ा जा चुका है |

कुल दूरी :- आज पूर्वी चम्पारण के मेहसी,पिपरा और चकिया प्रखंडों के विभिन्न गाँवों और कस्बों की यात्रा करते हुए कारवाँ द्वारा 36 किमी (इस पदयात्रा की अबतक की सबसे लम्बी दूरी ) की दूरी तय की जाती है |

सारांश :- आज दिनभर के सफ़र और गतिविधियों के बाद निम्नलिखित चीजें निकल कर आईं ----
v  भविष्य में इस काम के लिए जीविका को आशा भरी निगाहों से देखा जा सकता है |
v  स्कूल की समस्या सम्बंधी लम्बी सूची शिक्षकों और लोगों के पास है मगर उपाय पर कोई बात नहीं करता है |
v  लोगों का सरकारी स्कूलों से मोह-माया खत्म होता जा रहा है और और ट्यूशन पर ज्यादा जोर दे रहे हैं पर स्थिति ज्यों की त्यों बनी हुई है |
v  अभिभावकों के उदासीन रवैये के चलते स्कूल टाईम में भी बहुत सारे बच्चे  गाँवों में घुमते हुए मिले |
v  एक ही जगह पर दो प्रकार के स्कूलों का दर्शन हुआ जो हमें इण्डिया और भारत के अंतर को बताता है और बीच में हम लोग  दिखाई पड़ते हैं | प्राइवेट स्कूल चमचमाता हुआ  था और बच्चों से भरा-पूरा था वहीँ सरकारी स्कूल में बहुत ही कम बच्चे दिखे  | इन दोनों स्कूलों के बीच प्रथम शिक्षाग्रह का कारवाँ गाँधी के सपनों को साकर करने निमित आगे बढ़ता जा रहा था |
v  आज भी लडके-लड़कियों की पढाई में भारी असमानता है | लड़कियों के फेल होने के बाद आगे के लिए रस्ते बंद होने जैसा है |
v  मैट्रिक में फेल होने के मुख्य कारणों में बुनियादी शिक्षा की कमी निकलकर  सामने आई |
v  आज भी समाज में बहुत सारा भ्रम फैला हुआ है | जैसे कुष्ठ रोगी के बच्चों से बीमारी फैलने का |
v  आज भी एक-दो युवा साथी हमारे जैसे सोचने और करने वाले  धूमकेतु की तरह कभी कभी दिख जाते हैं | आज कुष्ठ बस्ती में मैट्रिक पास युवक से जो मुलकात हुई थी वह समाज की बातों को परवाह किये बिना शिक्षा का अलख जगा रहा था |
v   पदयात्रा के दरम्यान समाज को आगे ले जाने के बहुत सारे रास्ते दिख रहे हैं मगर इतना ही काफी नही है | अन्य लोगों को कुछ और भी करना होगा |

विश्राम स्थल : दिनभर शिक्षा का अलख जगाते हुए लोगों के साथ-गतिविधियाँ करते हुए शाम ढलने के काफी देर बाद सड़क किनारे लगे हरे-भरे पेड़-पौधों से आक्सीजन लेते हुए लगभग रात  8:30 बजे  कारवाँ आज के विश्राम स्थल खैरिमल पंचायत के मुखिया जी के घर (प्रखंड,चकिया,मोतिहारी)  पहुँचता है | यह पंचायत आदर्श सांसद ग्राम पंचायत है जो हमारे देश के कृषि मंत्री श्री राधामोहन सिंह का संसदीय क्षेत्र है | पेड़ों पर बसेरा करने वाले विहंग भी दूर-दराज से दाना-पानी  लेकर अपने परिवार के साथ अपने-अपने घोंसलों में आश्रय ले चुके थे | 

मगर इन शिक्षा के मतवालों का यहाँ पर अपना परिवार है कहाँ ? हाँ हैं न! दिनभर जो अलग-अलग लोगों/बच्चों से  मुलकात होती है | इनके लिए तो सारे बच्चे और उनका परवार ही अपना  है | शिक्षाग्रह पदयात्रा के लिए तो बस सारी धरती ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम’ है | शिक्षाग्रह के वीर पथिक अपनी-अपनी मच्छरदानी को रस्सी के सहारे एक-दूसरे से बाँधते हैं और धरती को ही चादर और बिस्तर बनाकर चाँद और जुगुनुओं की रौशनी में सो जाते हैं | जैसे तपती धरती को बरसात का बेसब्री से इंतज़ार रहता है उसकी प्रकार निद्रा रानी को भी इन कारवाँ का बेसब्री से इंतज़ार रहता है |बिस्तर पर गिरते हैं निद्रा रानी इन्हे कसकर अपने आगोश में ले लेती है और एक सुन्दर और खुशहाल समाज के मीठे-मीठे सपने दिखाना शुरू कर देती है | कोई भी इन लोगों के सुप्तावस्था के चेहरों को देखकर आत्मसंतुष्टि,सुकून और विजय के भाव को एहसास कर सकता है |  

- शैलेंद्र सिंह, बिहार  

Monday, March 27, 2017


9:29:00 AM
The first-grade classroom was tucked away in the back of the school. Thanks to the cold, the little children were dressed in bright blue track suits instead of the school uniform that the older children were wearing. It had been raining continuously from the morning. The children could not leave the classroom. They were peering through the windows curious about the visitors.

We had left Xalapa early morning so that we could get to the school in time.[1] But the rain and the fog and the wet, winding roads up and down the hills and valleys delayed us.The distance from the town to Chiconquiaco village was about fifty kilometres, but it took us almost three hours. By the time, we reached, the children and the teachers had been waiting a long time. Maestro Morales travelled from Xalapa with us.[2] Morales is a public school-teacher, who along with a friend had started using chess in the classroom not only for teaching children how to play chess but also using chess as a mechanism for improving reading and arithmetic and for developing spatial skills, reasoning, logic and problem solving. The teachers feel that chess develops children’s capacity to predict and anticipate consequences of actions and to think through various alternative strategies. Morales was keen for us to see how the whole thing worked with children in a classroom setting.

In Mexico, any public event is associated with formalities and rituals. Despite the delay, we could not go into the classroom directly. We sat on benches in the open space of the covered playground cum basketball court and listened to speeches by the school teachers and officers of the local education authority. Then there were two dances by the older children of the primary school. It was only once the performances were done that we could go to meet the first graders. There are chess activities in every grade but Morales wanted to show how it all begins with the little ones.

As we walked into the classroom, we were greeted in English. The children were amused to know that the visitors did not understand Spanish. Boys and girls sat in rows perpendicular to the white board. The chairs were meant for grownups. Practically every child’s legs were dangling way off the ground. There was a suppressed air of anticipation and excitement in the air. 

A young teacher, who was almost as impatient and as excited as the children, started the activities. Right next to the white board was a large chess board fixed on the wall. The teacher began to stick chess pieces onto the squares; some older children followed her. Others went around the class handing out small chequered and laminated chess boards to each child. Another set of children began to hand out chess pieces from a big plastic box. Everyone seemed to know the routine. Instructions were not needed. Closely following the teacher, boys and girls began to place their own chess pieces on to their personal chess boards. 

A boy walked up to the board. He began to slowly write. Big black uneven letters on the white board. “Rey Negr”. The teacher added an alphabet to complete the word to “negro”. Black king. Under the black king, the list began to grow. One by one children came up and tried to write names … "reina blanca" ” (white queen), "caballo negro” (black horse), “peon blanco” (white pawn), "alfil negro” (black bishop), "torre negro” (black rook) and so on. Every now and then, children corrected the spellings of their friends or they called the teacher to check what they were doing.

Soon the big chess board hanging on the wall was again the focus of attention. It had numbers and letters marked for rows and columns. “Okay” said the teacher “who will give me the coordinates?” A girl with a big pink ribbon in her hair jumped up. Her name was Margarita. “Se tres caballo negro”, she said. The teacher nodded with a smile. The girl ran to the board and wrote “C-3” next to the black horse. Within minutes, all the chess pieces were located on the number-letter grid, their coordinates neatly listed on the board. 

Now it was song time. Every child jumped up and came to the empty centre space of the class. A lively song began. Maestro Morales joined the group. Everyone sang together. It was a song about how the pieces move. Some dancing ensued – sideways, diagonal and of course everyone wanted to do the jump-jump-jump of the horse. The class was warm now with all the action. It did not matter that it was a dreary, cold, rainy day outside. 

After the song and dance, the young teacher was chatting with Maestro, but the children knew exactly what came next.  Long tables were pulled out. On each table, there were black and white squares – two chess boards had been painted on each table. One of the mothers who had been watching from the sidelines stepped up. She was Alicia and her son, a small boy with glasses was Alberto. She spoke of how difficult Alberto had been as a young child; aggressive and restless, never able to concentrate. The chess in the classroom seemed to have calmed him down a lot. Now he could sit and play a whole game. Alicia and Alberto demonstrated a math game on the chess board. Each square had a number and depending on how the game went, quick addition and subtraction calculations had to be done.

I was invited to come and play a game. I have not played any chess in at least twenty years. Seeing my hesitation, a tall boy called Mauricio reassured me. We sat down. Benches on each side of the table. Within eight or ten moves, the young first grader had vanquished me. From the many victorious smiles around the room, I could tell that there were many more “champions”around me.  To encourage me to not give up, I was given one of the personal chess boards to bring home.
Rukmini Banerji
CEO, Pratham Education Foundation
Mexico, March 2017

All pictures were taken by Sahar Saeed ASER Pakistan.
For more details about MIA’s activities, see 
The chess activities are also inspired by the Kasparov Foundation.

[1] Xalapa is a city in the state of Veracruz in Mexico. We were in Xalapa to attend the meetings of the PAL network ( This is the umbrella organization for the groups that are doing ASER like citizen led assessments in different countries. For this meeting, the Mexican group called MIA (Medicion Independiente de Aprendizaje) were the hosts. MIA is based in Xalapa in the University of Veracruz and in a research centre(Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology or CIESAS).Like ASER in India, the MIA group in Mexico also works closely with partners across many provinces in the country.One of these partners ran programs in the school we were visiting.
[2] In Spanish, a teacher is also called “maestro”. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A visit to a Leprosy colony in Chhattisgarh

12:52:00 PM
“We are the local outcasts. We have been pushed out of our communities and made to live here instead.” – Leprosy affected victims speak

In September 2016, when I visited one of the leprosy colonies in Chhattisgarh, the people there were expressing similar experiences. I witnessed the silent oppression and sadness in these colonies.

Contrary to popular belief, leprosy is one of the least infectious diseases as nearly everyone has some measure of natural resistance against it. It is one of the leading causes of permanent disability in the world and is primarily a disease prevalent in communities who live in extreme poverty. It currently affects approximately a quarter of million people across the world, but the majority of these cases are found in India. Leprosy is believed to be dated back to biblical and pre-biblical times. India is currently running one of the largest leprosy eradication programs in the world, called NLEP: National Leprosy Eradication Program. This issue can be majorly seen in 13 states of India, focussed mostly in the north and central India.

World Health Organisation (WHO) and other research reports state that 58.85% of new leprosy cases in the world are in India. In 2013-14, 1.27 lakhs new cases of leprosy were diagnosed.

Social stigma associated with leprosy is forcing leprosy-affected people to stay away from their village and settle in colonies demarcated for them.  The social stigma attached to the disease combined with the fact that it seems to be prevalent among those that are already disadvantaged makes those affected by it doubly ostracised from their own communities.People are coming from different parts of India and living together by building their own small huts or tents, struggling to get access to the basic amenities. It is sad to see how they’re being treated as untouchables in most places.

In fact, leprosy-affected people are not only facing social discrimination, but they are also deprived of basic legal rights. Laws in the states of ChhattisgarhRajasthanMadhya PradeshAndhra Pradesh, and Orissa prohibit leprosy patients from running for representation at local elections. These laws have been supported by the national government, as evidenced by the Supreme Court of India which has upheld a ruling by the State of Orissa prohibiting leprosy patients from participating in local elections. Other laws include the Indian Rail Act of 1990 which prohibits leprosy patients from travelling by train; the Motor Vehicle Act of 1939 which restricts leprosy patients from obtaining a driving license.

There are some organisations like Pratham taking initiatives to bring Leprosy-affected people to the mainstream. Pratham Institute, the vocational skilling wing of Pratham, has trained nearly 200 candidates since 2013-14 with support from Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation. Pratham is covering Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar under our partnership with Sasakawa. The youth are trained in different trades such as healthcare, hospitality and beauty programs. Post the successful completion of training; candidates who wish to get employed receive placement support as well.

In the course of my journey in Chattisgarh, I met Shiv. Shiv is from Janjgirchampa, Bilaspur (Chattisgarh), one of the biggest leprosy-affected people’s colonies in the state. His father who used to be the sole earning member is a sweeper and earns barely Rs. 3,000 every month. Shiv did not have an opportunity to further his education post the completion of his 9th standard and was forced to work elsewhere to meet the family’s expenses.

This is when Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation in partnership with Pratham Education Foundation started vocational skilling courses specifically aimed at youth like Shiv.  He chose to start training in the hospitality trade at Pratham’s centre in Dhamtari, Chattisgarh. This opportunity opened many doors for him, as he was able to finish his training successfully and secured a job at NovotelImagica, an international chain of hotels and a 5-star rated property in Maharashtra.  He earns 15,000 rupees per month and avails complementary food and accommodation. This seems to be a small effort but the outcome of this is commendable and a life-changing opportunity for someone like Shiv.

There is still a huge need for support for these affected people which need to be addressed as soon as possible. The social stigma associated with leprosy has to be eradicated, as leprosy is a curable disease and awareness of this has to reach everyone so that the victims do not suffer. I believe, more work needs to go into changing the mindsets of people, so that these people do not remain victims of not just a disease but also social exclusion.

- Shweta Hegde,
Former Program Manager, 
Pratham Institute 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Delightful Differences: Libraries in Mumbai

12:24:00 PM
Learning does not necessarily happen only through books. It is important to open minds of children to learn from the environment around them which would include interacting with community members, local traditions and culture as well as from each other.A lot of learning can happen because of the context. This precisely was the idea behind Library Program which was started around in the past year.

In January, a discussion about reviewing the program and its impact came up. As all geared up to review it, we all were oriented with the program and its format. 100 odd people travelling to all corners of India and working in groups! The JOSH and eagerness to visit and understand was manifold. Moreover, the way we were put in groups was interesting too- each one was from a different team, a unique profile and a different location. This ensured that the same thing was looked from different lenses.

Parent-volunteers in the community 

The guidelines were clear and concrete. We were told that in any library village, children from std. 3 to 8 (or in that age group) are divided into small groups of 5-6 each. We were told that the groups are formed mohalla-wise so that children do not have to go far from their homes to be a part of these learning activities. For each children’s group, volunteers or guardians are identified. The volunteers/guardians take responsibility of giving different worksheets to the group every day and encouraging the group of children to work together and learn. The tasks of each stake-holder were explained to us and we were asked to see how the processes were followed, what was the impact in the terms the communities’ engagement and children’s learning. Mumbai Urban Program was the visit location for me. We worked in a group of three where I was with an MME Associate (they assess the impact of programs) and a State Head from Pratham (he/she is the senior most person in the state who coordinates all the programs run in the state). As we started our visit, however, a very different yet delightful picture emerged.

Mumbai, from the point of view of Governance, is divided into zones. It has been Pratham’s field area since 1995. The location we visited is one of the oldest; M-Zone, Mankhurd. Mankhurd, a very populated region of Central Mumbai; is a tough working space. Narrow lanes, garbage dumps of Mumbai on all sides of the communities, and very noisy surroundings; was all that I saw as we entered. This however, was way less powerful than the impact of our Library Program.The library program that we visited here was conceptualized and implemented about 12 years back. Here, the teacher goes door-to-door and distributes the books at home. On an average, one teacher reaches out to about 150-200 households- about 20-25 household per day. A Baseline assessment is done in March which helps understand the learning levels of children. These results help decide the books that are to be taken. Around August, the Library begins wherein for six days of the week, the Teacher goes and distributes the books. There are about 250-300 books that the team has selected which are suitable for students of different levels. The teacher divides her days among all the children depending on the learning levels of children. The child selects the books and when these books are returned, the teacher does a gup-shup with the child. This is done in order to understand if the child has read the book and whether he/she has comprehended- did you read the book?, what was there in the book/ which characters?, what was the story about? - are the questions asked. On the last day of the week, children sit in groups and do activities. Mumbai had an absolutely different model as the Libraries are mobile, it was not a group intervention; the teacher went to every household and interacted.

Our Team at M-Zone

As we were moving from one household to the other and the teacher was trying to explain her activities; there was one point where she got a bit confused. As this happened, a lady making garlands, sitting out of the house we visited started sharing. She shared about program and the details of the teacher’s schedule. I started interacting with her; her name was Sushila. She is a parent of two children - her daughter being in class 7 and her son in class 4. She emphatically spoke about the program and the impact its having. She spoke how her children have got this taste for reading now and that they look forward for Lalita tai (our teacher). She said, हम लोग दरवाजे पर खड़े रहते है ललिता ताई के लिए! As I was interacting with her, she said, “मैडमयह किताबें तो ठीक है पर आप वो डिक्शनरी होता है नावो भी दोबच्चों को और हमको नए शब्द पढ़ने मिलेंगे! As she spoke, a few others gathered and the other parents too started speaking about our work; they were a part of the parent’s group/committee who in a way hold and support the program with our teacher. It was indeed delightful to see these empowered women who want to think about their children and are facilitating our teacher's work in the community.

 We saw the same model at Worli, Jijamatanagar on the next day and also got to know the similar library there. Here, we tried to explore if there are spaces where the students interact in groups on the basis of the reading they do. To this, the teachers and TMs shared that in different communities in Mumbai, there are two major problems- The space and Safety. Because of these, parents at times do not allow children to go to other households.

We had realized that the Libraries here were absolutely different; however, we also realized that the learning was not affected by that. Children were reading and they wanted new books. More so, the impact in terms of ownership in parents and eagerness to read in children was very visible. Mothers and other family members also started getting engaged in reading the books that are delivered at home and taking things up; leading to some discussions and ‘group learning’ at home. However, one thing that amazed us strongly was that; it was a Teacher-Intensive model- everything depends upon the teacher. She is going to all the households and distributing books. When the teachers were asked about the challenges they face, they shared about how it takes time to convince parents when they go door to door, face rejection and reach out to all members/households of the community. Moreover, they shared that they need some more skills for doing this and also in the process reaching out to the children effectively. 

An activity underway

With these experiences and reflections, on the last day, we visited Govandi; in M-Zone again; where a pilot of the new model of Library (the model we were oriented about) was being done.A Trainer Monitor, Chaya tai took us around and facilitated the visit. There are five locations in Govandi where Pratham is working using this model since September. In this time period, the team has made 291 strong volunteers. From these, 61 volunteers are there in Gautam Nagar- where we visited. ‘High energy, commitment to do as much as they could and consistency’; were my major observations about the volunteers here. Moreover, the team has tapped different stake-holders as volunteers and this is very interesting. Along with the mothers and the youth in the community, tuition teachers and such other professionals have joined the process. Our books are distributed through them. While I was there asking the students about the books they have read, the teacher got into a natural dialogue with the students on the books- he had read it and the way he spoke showed that he did it regularly.

It was indeed an encouraging visit which helped us get a comparative of the two models. So here, in Mumbai we experienced a 'different library' – in fact two different libraries. In this process, I gathered a lot of learnings on my way; but the major one was that of valuing the context! I think those four days in Mumbai made me feel Gratitude for all our teachers and volunteers who are doing their bit each day so that our children learn. I think they helped me realize, ‘what Empathy actually looks like..’ Understanding people, their needs, their scenarios and then framing an Intervention- Isn’t that called REACHING OUT effectively?


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