Friday, February 24, 2017

A library for all

12:29:00 PM
We can find a ray of hope in the darkest corners of the world. It is one of these dark corners where we met Asha Dolhare, a volunteer with Pratham’s Library program.

A library for all Pratham India Priyanka Shertukde
As we moved from one house to another during a Library review visit in a village in Talasari we encountered many ignorant parents who had little knowledge about the whereabouts of their children in the evening. “He goes to that house to do some homework”, father of 10 year old Kalpana replied. She has been attending Pratham’s library program every evening. It starts getting dark after 7 pm. There are no street lamps and children would study under a mere light bulb in one of the houses. Their only source of light evaded them due to power cut at 6.45 pm. Some children continued reciting tables while others decided to wrap up their activity sheets and head home in the darkness.

“I would like you to meet one of our volunteers,” said Kanchan, a CRL who was accompanying us in her set of villages. We set off to the volunteer’s house in pitch darkness. As we walked passed scattered huts in the village we could see a faint white light from a crack in the door of a house some 100 metres away. As we approached the house we were greeted by someone who looked like a girl in her teens. A few children appeared from the darkness and followed us to the house.

“She is a volunteer with us,” said Kanchan. “She conducts library in the evening. About 8-10 children or more come to her verandah and work with our activity sheets,” she added.
“What is your name?” I asked. She smiled. We were at her doorstep but we were not aware of her name yet. “My name is Asha Dolhare. I live here with my husband and 2 children.” Asha replied. Her daughter clutched at her hand and gave us a meek smile. She invited us in her house. The source of light was a battery powered bulb. She is a tailor and supports the family by stitching blouses and kurtis during the day. This is when we noticed that Asha has a slight limp in her right foot.
A library for all Pratham India Priyanka Shertukde

We were complete strangers for her but she is more than eager to share her story with us. Asha attended school till 10th grade. It was on the last day of her examination that her father passed away.

She did not receive her certificate. The family’s financial situation compelled her to quit school and get married. Today, at 30 years of age, Asha has a beautiful family and she is as instrumental in supporting the family. Her children attend school and her husband works at a nearby ‘company’ like most of the other residents of the village.

Asha helps her children with their homework. She met Kanchan one evening and was informed about the library program. She liked the concept and requested to be a part of it. She took the initiative of gathering children from neighboring houses and distributed activity sheets. She loved solving their problems and helping her own children with topics beyond their school syllabus. “The stories and puzzles are enlightening. At times I get engrossed in solving them,” she said. Her body language was that of confidence and excitement. She asked us questions as well. She expressed her desire to complete 10th grade and enroll for a course in nursing.

“My husband supports me and he wants me to fulfil my dream,” she added. She sits with the children every evening with her own study material. She is preparing to attempt the pending subject to pass through 10th grade. “It is encouraging to see children absorbed in their books and sheets at a time when they usually wander in the village. They are my motivation,” said Asha.

Volunteering for the library gave Asha a sense of purpose and a boost to her ambitions. She not only makes time for studying but also works with the children encouraging them to explore possibilities. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

A visit to Pratham's Library Program at Nandurbar

5:29:00 PM
Though States in India are organized on the basis of language, it is impossible to draw a distinct line between two states and create a border between two languages. In fact the cities or villages that lie on the border of these states, display a beautiful confluence of language and culture! However, this also creates a challenge of a different kind, something which I experienced during my visit to Nandurbar for the review of Pratham's 'Library Program'. Nandurbar is a district in Maharashtra that is flanked by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh on its West, North and East and the Maharashtrian Khandesh lies to its south! Hence this district is a confluence of Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati. If this is not enough, the tribal influence adds some other dialects like Bhilli, Pauri, Mauchi and Konkani! Hence the biggest challenge for anyone who works in the education sector is this very variety, which at times creates communication hindrances! And hence I find it very appropriate and necessary to salute the tireless work of our colleagues who are working in this district for the past so many years!

Happy Faces from the Library Program at village Kakarde, Nandurbar 

Library Program allowed me to understand and imagine the extent to which an 'impact' could be made and how many lives it could influence. It was heartening to interact with the guardians of these library groups, who in most cases were mothers (and in all cases, women). Our CRLs tell us that participation of the womenfolk in this program is indeed healthy. Not only do these women participate in the program, but they also enquire and are curious about the child's progress. Most of the women I met thanked us for the program as this, according to them, made their child sit at one place and do something productive. Otherwise these children used to roam around in the village or spend their time watching television. Our CRLs also tell us that these mothers talk to them about their children's future, something they did not do that often before. One wonders if this could be directly linked to the problem of rampant alcoholism in the state. Men consuming alcohol outside the house and women monitoring the library program besides them was a familiar sight in some villages! Do these women have a hope that studying won't let these children go their father's way?

"Do the male members or the elders in the house interfere in the decisions taken by these women?", I asked one of our CRLs during our meeting. The answer was an emphatic NO! Apart from students learning their lessons, this program has created an opportunity for women to empower themselves!

Library Session in Progress at Village Khokrale 

Kamal Rajput, a guardian grandmother had a different perspective to share during our visit to her village, Khokrale. While she too mentioned that this program has moved children away from television addiction, she added an economic dimension to it as well! Pointing in an anonymous direction she gestured that 'they' can afford good schools and private tuitions, whereas we here cannot! 'They' are the rich families of the village. The library program, she said, has provided a platform for poor students in the village to study and solve their problems by themselves. Her request of more visits and interventions from us, hence, carried a lot of significance! Another important point of view came from Ghotane village, where the village chief (gaav pramukh) Ganesh Mistry opened up. He emphasized that the library program has enabled the first generation learners of the village to get their doubts cleared, then and there in the group! Earlier they used to wait for school the next day and this used to dilute their curiosity and keenness for the answer. These words, probably, pointed towards the growth of a literacy movement in the village. That the village chief himself spoke about this was more heartening!

Overall for me, the program has summarized the fact that women of the village are satisfied that their children are studying and spending their time productively. It has also allowed them to be a part of this very different literacy movement in their village. Will this transform the villages and make them more curious about the world outside? Radically, no! But, gradually, yes!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The ‘Foot-Soldiers’ of Pratham

12:26:00 PM
It was late evening and we were in two minds whether to stretch our travel till Agra. We had begun from District Gonda in the morning and after a brief halt at Lucknow, decided to move ahead.  However, as the days in winters are short, it was finally agreed that we should not move ahead and halt at Kannauj.

Ramnaresh ji, who was with me throughout my stay in Uttar Pradesh, suggested that we visit and meet our Block members at Kannauj first and then lookout for a Hotel where I could be accommodated for the night. However, as we headed towards the Block, a thought struck me – ‘why should I not stay here? Let me talk and interact with my colleagues from Kannauj and understand how they live and together make an impact on the ground for Pratham!’ Ramnareshji happily agreed to this.

Kannauj is a ‘rurban’ area! On one end of the road you see buildings and shops and on the other end, there are agricultural fields spread far and wide. Our car took a left turn and took a small road that went through the fields. And then after a few more turns on even smaller lanes, we finally arrived at a place that had many houses around. Nitin and Vivek, two of our colleagues had come to receive us. “Tirwa block mein aapka swagat hain, sirji” (“Welcome to Tirwa block, sir”). It was then I realized that I was in the Tirwa village of Kannauj. We had to walk some distance as the place where they lived was further inside.

It was 7:30 when we reached. Everyone from the team had come back after a busy day at work. Nitin introduced me to the others – Kuldep, Sanjay, Nainsi, Sushma and Rooma. These people constitute the Tirwa block of Kannauj.  After the offering of chai and biscuits, we began discussing about work. I was enlightened about the fact that there is a government partnership in the district, which has 1200 primary schools. There are six blocks in the district and Tirwa was one of them. Under this block, there are 262 schools and they were handled by this team. Under the government partnership, two teachers from each primary school in the district were trained under the CAMaL methodology.
A working day for them constitutes meetings, traveling and discussions.  Everyone has to travel to the schools that are assigned to them.  They have to coordinate with the school teachers who are trained in CAMaL and address their difficulties. In addition to this, they also have to visit the library program in the evening and keep a track of its progress.  Kuldeep and Sanjay are district leaders and they also have to coordinate with the government officials at the district level and keep them informed about the activities in these schools.

It was time for dinner. A lot of mattresses were shuffled and space was created for every one of us to sit together and eat. As promised, I was treated with ‘local, ghar ka khana’ and I admit it was the one of my best eating experiences in a while! While eating, I glanced at a section of the wall that was decorated. Kuldeep saw my stare and chipped in, “Yeh Sir humne New Year ke samay kiya tha.” (We did this during New Year celebrations.) All of them joined Kuldeep and told me how they had celebrated the New Year by playing songs and cutting a cake. It was evident that they lived together as a team and enjoyed their moments together as well. 

A Learning Camp underway. 

I had to leave for Agra the next day. When I woke up, I found that almost half of the team members had already left and started their day. Those who were about to leave gave me a glimpse of their day ahead. Some of them had to visit schools, while one of them had a meeting with a government officer. However, everyone had a smile on their face when they told me this.

There are people who complete the tasks assigned to them on a routine basis and they are good at it as well! However, people who think beyond this assigned task and create a positive difference in their job are the ones who create an impact on the ultimate beneficiaries! I see a smile on every child’s face whenever I visit our learning camp. However, that day I understood how that smile is an eventual outcome of the smile that these colleagues of ours have on their face when their work! For they are a part of the larger cause of Pratham, which is Every Child in School and Learning Well! Yes, they are the impact-makers of Pratham, the ‘Foot-soldiers’ of Pratham! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The 3 Changemakers of Navagaon

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
Though education is the reason many dreams get propelled, it is an unfortunate fact that not many in rural India have an easy access to it! And even if children get an access, there are enough reasons that make them leave it half-way. This situation gets more intense if you are a girl! The ‘Second Chance’ program gives these dropout girls a platform to continue their education from the point where they left. 

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.
Students in rapt attention in the Hindi lecture at the Masturi HUB Center 

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.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

“कमाल” ने किया आदतों में बदलाव

5:05:00 PM

 वर्तमान समय में बिहार के सभी डायट में प्रशिक्षु आज किसी ना किसी विद्यालय में शिक्षक है | इनके पास ज्ञान का भंडार है | कुछ नई चीजों को जानने के लिए उत्सुक तो कुछ प्रशिक्षण को भंग करने को तैयार | इन्हें प्रशिक्षण देने से पहले अपने आप को तैयार करना बहुत ही आवश्यक है क्योंकि ना जाने ये कब अपनी समस्याओं से भरे सवालों की बौछार कर दें  | जैसे – अपनी पुरानी पद्धति को छोड़ नई पद्धति का प्रयोग, कुर्सी पर बैठे रहना, छड़ी का प्रयोग आदि | अपने सवालों से इतना भटका देते हैं कि कभी-कभी मुद्दों को ही बदल देते हैं | कोई एक सवाल करता है तो उसके पीछे कई लोग खड़े हों जाते हैं |     

लेकिन कमाल के प्रशिक्षण के दूसरे दिन से लोग इसे समझने लगते हैं और कक्षा संचालन तक आते-आते ऐसा लगता है मानों वे अपनी आदतों को भूल गए है| “कमाल“ के प्रभावी प्रशिक्षण के बाद डायट के प्रशिक्षु अपनी पुरानी आदतों को से दूर बच्चों के बीच खड़े होकर कमाल के माध्यम से पढ़ाते हुए नजर आयें  | मैं सभी के बारे में तो ऐसा नहीं कह सकती पर, कुछ जगहों पर ऐसा देखने को मिला | इसलिए मैं कह सकती हूँ कि “कमाल” ने प्रशिक्षुओं को अपनी आदतों में बदलाव लाने के लिए किया प्रेरित | 


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