Monday, December 11, 2017

Going back to learning

6:49:00 PM
Going back to the classroom after 21 years is a feat in itself. 38-year old Manjula Bariya set a classic example for all those who feel they are too old to study.
Manjula is an Anganwadi (rural mother and child care centre in India) worker in the Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh. She dropped out of school in 8th Grade to help support her family financially. During one of Pratham’s mobilization drives Manjula thought of enrolling herself for 10th Grade examination.
She continued with her job and attended classes regularly. With a demanding schedule, she found it difficult to cope with basic concepts and the foundation course. She stopped attending lectures. She was pursued by Pratham and motivated to attempt the preliminary test. She scored well in this test which helped boost her confidence level.
With the positive approach she sailed through the rest of the year. She would work in the morning and walk every day to the centre to attend classes later in the day. She received a lot of support from her family as well. She attempted 10th Grade examination through National Institute of Open Schooling in Madhya Pradesh and scored 61.3%.
Manjula feels that the Life Skills part of the Second Chance program helped in the overall development of her personality along with improving her approach to various aspects of life. She is currently preparing for 12th Grade examination and hopes to continue studying further.

Today she can stand witness to the respect one earn

s with education in the society. She motivated and enrolled her daughter and sister-in-law with the Second Chance program and helps them with the preparation. She encourages other women in the village to enroll as well. 

What is a ‘learning space’?

4:43:00 PM



It is often one of the first questions an architect asks while building a space for education, and the last question a teacher asks when s/he feels their students could do better. Evolving through many discussions over centuries, Google now declares that - “It is a space that the learner and the teacher co-create”.

“It should be open, where children can run wild and free.”, “It should be filled with bright and colourful things”, “It should be a space beyond four walls, undefined by the chairs and desks”. With all these pre-conceived notions in mind, I went on my first field visit to a Pratham Anganwadi in an Urban Center in Lucknow.

After walking through the tiny lanes, we heard the loud cheer of students coming from a tiny hall in the middle of the road. There were 20 tiny tots, 2 volunteers and one fellow of the anganwadi gathered in the centre and the children were all sitting in a circle. Most of them sat cross-legged and a few others were perched on their mothers’ laps (naturally, their mothers’ laps were more comfortable and harder to let go of!).

While scanning the room, my eyes caught a tiny body sleeping right in the middle of the circle. The few adults with me were going to wake him up when Zeba, the lady responsible for this particular anganwadi, simply lifted him up and added him to the circle, without disrupting his sleep or even making him twitch. He lay there peacefully curled up, while the other children worked on their activities.

20 minutes later, the children began building pyramids with colourful plastic cups. Raghu, the sleeping boy, woke up and sat up like a spring. He rubbed his eyes one last time, picked up the glasses and started building pyramids too. Active, laughing and thoroughly enjoying himself, he also participated in the storytelling and the tablet session. It was almost unbelievable that this was the same boy who was sleeping a few minutes ago!

We often design spaces according to our interpretations of “free and wild”. Adult interpretations. This experience made me rethink the idea of a learning space. It made me feel that wall or no walls, chairs or no chairs, we need to interpret and create the space for a child to be comfortable. Comfortable enough to curl up, comfortable to learn but most of all comfortable to be oneself. He was given the time and the space to rise and shine. And so he did!
Sometimes, reality can be more colourful than dreams..



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Monday, December 4, 2017

Ashatai Rajput - the woman who transformed her village in Nandurbar, Maharashtra

5:07:00 PM
It is said that if you educate a man, you educate an individual; but if you educate a woman, you educate the society! Women like Ashatai Rajput are a testimony to this statement.
When Ashatai Rajput reached Baldane, a small village in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar District, she had no idea that she would become the epicentre of a literacy movement in the village! It was nine years ago, when she, her husband and three children moved from a village in Jalgaon District to Baldane.

Ashatai Rajput with her husband, Komal Singh Rajput 

 Ashatai had always believed that her family should contribute in some way to the village as this was to be her Karm Bhoomi (the place where one works). Around the same time, she came to know of Pratham.

She recalls that at that time, children had begun to attend school. However, the general sentiment in the village was that after school they roamed around and wasted time and they should sit in one place and study! When Ashatai found out that Pratham was looking out for volunteers in the village, she immediately joined. Soon, children started to gather at her house to study. The aim was to make them better understand the concepts of language and math, through fun activities and interactions. Soon enough, Ashatai realised that this work had the potential to transform the entire village!

However, she observed that the number of girls in the village school was low. How could a village be transformed without the education of its girls and women? Ashatai rose to this challenge, visiting every household in the village and asking them to enrol their daughters in school. Education, she told them, will open a new world for these girls, and will give them better opportunities compared to conventional agriculture work. Initially, the women in the village were sceptical about their children, especially girls staying outside the house for long. But this did not deter Ashatai. Using CDs having educational content, she generated awareness among other women in the village. They began to feel curious about what their children were learning in school, and this sentiment led to the women eventually coming together to discuss their financial conditions and their children’s education.

Today, this group consists of 80 women, and everyday interactions among them involve discussion on what their child could do after education. “Even women working as farm labourers are dreaming of enrolling their children in polytechnic colleges”, Ashatai proudly exclaims.

The school in Baldane, however, only has classes up to Std. IV. Hence, children have to go to other villages for higher studies. This was again a cause for concern among parents, who were particularly worried about their daughters. It caused several girls to drop out from school and not pursue higher education. To tackle this, Ashatai convened a meeting of all women in the village, and it was decided that girls would walk to other villages in a group and would bravely face the mischief makers, if any, on the way. This idea was a success, and she attributes it to the trust these women had developed for each other through such group meetings!

Everyone in the village respects Ashatai and calls her ‘Aai’ (Mother). She, however, attributes her success to her husband’s support, using the analogy of revolutionary couple, Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, who jointly spearheaded the movement of education in Pune in the 18th century.

“Like Savitri had Jyotiba, I have him for support”, she says. Her husband smiles and is happy that his wife is getting the limelight she deserves! Their oldest son is an engineer, and their daughter works at the Zilla Parishad (District Administration) office. Their youngest son is now in Std. VIII and wants to become a doctor. 





Monday, November 27, 2017

From Udaipur to Maldives - the story of Mangla Mehar

1:48:00 PM
I am not a celebrity or a politician - what could I possibly write in my memoir? But I do wish to share my story with you.

My Name is Mangla Mehar. I live with my family in a small village of Rajasthan called Mathaniya that lies in the Jhalawar district.

When I was growing up, I always dreamt of becoming a successful and self-dependent woman. I believed that my education would become my ticket to a better tomorrow, but life had other plans for me. While preparing for my Grade 10 examination, my father suffered a paralytic attack, which changed our lives drastically. My father had been the sole breadwinner in the family, and now, I had to take charge with my mother. We began working as labourers to earn our livelihood.



I still remember the time when I was studying for my Grade 12 Board Exams. I had to work until noon before walking all the way to the exam centre. One day I met Arjun (Mobilizer for PACE Udaipur) who told me about a 3-month hospitality course run by PACE Hospitality Training Centre, Udaipur. The course seemed like an opportunity for me to fulfil my dream of complete self-reliance, but convincing my family was not an easy task. They were not comfortable with the idea of my working in the hospitality sector. My brother decided to visit the Udaipur centre. After meeting the faculty there, he gained some trust, and I could finally enrol in the next batch.

In the beginning, I had some difficulty in adjusting to the centre, but eventually, I learned to adapt. The course began with learning to operate a computer, speaking English and soft skill training, all in addition to housekeeping. During the course, I also completed a 7-day long industrial training course at the Taj Lake Palace.

At the end of the course, I felt motivated and confident. I exhibited this confidence at my first interview at Leela Palace hotel, where they selected me after five tough rounds.

I went on to work for two years at the hotel, where I was appreciated and promoted to a Housekeeping Supervisor. This promotion changed my life for good. I got the opportunity to work at the InterContinental Hotel, Qatar at a remuneration of Rs. 38,000, with food & accommodation. The financial boost enabled me to bear the expenses for my father’s medical treatment at a reputed hospital. I have also contributed to rebuilding my house.

Today, I work at the Kanuhura Resort in Maldives at a remuneration of Rs. 65,000 with food & accommodation. I cannot thank PACE enough for helping me reach my fullest potential. I never imagined that I could be a source of inspiration to others. I had the opportunity to share my story at Pratham USA’s Gala in the United States earlier this year, and it was truly a life-changing moment for me.








Monday, November 20, 2017

'Urmila Pal ki Balwadi'

1:18:00 PM
“I was born in a small village in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. In my village education was restricted only to the Brahmins, and I was the first non-Brahmin girl to have studied till the 12th grade,” said Urmila during our conversation in her house in a large slum of the suburban part of Mumbai.
Moving out of her village to a bustling city was quite overwhelming in the beginning. Urmila wanted to be a teacher, and she wondered if the competitive city will accept her services. But her drive to connect with children and spread knowledge did not allow migrant hurdles to stop her. In 2004, Pratham was surveying her locality, and after some rounds of interviews and orientation, she was selected as a Balwadi teacher with a monthly salary of three hundred and fifty rupees. "Though I earn more now, that amount will always be precious for me", she recalls. More than that, she says, the feeling that 'I am a teacher' was special!



She moved door to door talking about enrolling children in her Balwadi. Urmila’s warm persona, commitment to her work along with the teaching-learning material by Pratham soon became the talk of the neighbourhood. People started to refer to the Balwadi as ‘Urmila ki Balwadi’. Many women in the locality were inspired by her and began operating Balwadis in their own homes.

In 2008, she was given the additional responsibility of bringing 'out of school' children back to the schooling system. Urmila observed that many children, most of them in the age group of 6 to 14 years, spent their time loitering in the streets; some even spent time selling pakodas outside beer shops.” The task of convincing the children and more importantly their parents was not easy. She was ridiculed by many. Urmila’s heart would go out to the children. She was relentless and kept talking to the parents about the importance of education, its benefits, children and their needs. Although some parents relented, she had another challenge ahead of her. She faced resistance in the Municipal schools as the teachers would question the capability of these ‘children from the streets’! But Urmila was prepared for this. She worked with the children before taking them for enrolment. When she asked the children to solve math sums and read out textbooks in front of the teachers, they had no choice but to accept them in their class. This success with a few children created a ripple effect, and other parents started considering education for their kids. Many of these children eventually completed their school education.

A city comes with its challenges as well. "Our locality faces a demolition drive quite often, and many of us live in fear of our houses getting under the bulldozer. However, the bulldozer has always spared the Balwadis, and this is why we thank Pratham", she added.

A Balwadi teacher in the morning, a primary grade tuition teacher in the afternoon and a tailor in the evening, Urmila has her hands full. But her exhaustion vanishes when her ex-students, who are either pursuing higher studies or working, visit to seek her blessings. With time she finds it difficult to recognise many of her students who have grown up, but the thought of touching their lives and initiating a positive change in the society is what she finds her peace in.



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