Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Parmar sisters of Vidi

7:15:00 PM
Vidi village lies in the Anjar taluka of Gujarat's Kutch district. A vast majority of children here are first-generation school-goers, and hence this village has not progressed on the social, economic and educational parameters. People here are involved in laborious jobs, and many of them work as rickshaw drivers and truck drivers. Apart from this, many people here practice seasonal migration to indulge in salt cultivation. Owing to all these factors, children have to change their schools quite often, and this inconsistency has resulted in their poor learning levels.

From left to right - Poonam, Kiran and Vanita
Three cousin sisters - Poonam Parmar, Kiran Parmar and Vanita Parmar - understood this problem and felt that they should do something to solve it. We met them at their home near the village primary school and tried to understand how they are conducting Pratham's library program for children in their village. "We came to know about this program last year", begins Poonam, the eldest who is in 10th grade. Kiran and Vanita, both in 8th grade, nod in agreement. "We liked the concept and felt it would help children of our village read and write better."

The girls admit that they had forgotten a lot of concepts which they learned in school. Hence they liked the learning material of this program along with the activities and games they had to conduct. "It helps us strengthen the fundamental concepts of children, and that enables them to learn better", says Kiran. "... and it also helps us revise what we have forgotten...", adds Vanita with a smile.

What are their observations about children? "We feel that Math is a bigger problem for children as compared to the language. While children can recognise numbers, math operations is still a concern", says Poonam. "At the beginning, some children had a problem of recognising numbers, but then we taught them. That is why we like the activities", says Vanita. All three of them agree that conducting language sessions is easier. Stories and question-answer sessions are the most popular language sessions among children.

There is one more reason why all the three of them are happy about the library program."Our sessions have ensured that children sit in one place and study. Many of them also solve their school homework along with the library activities. These sessions are like tuition classes, which otherwise only a few rich families in the village can afford", says Poonam. "Yes, everyone can study", adds Kiran. As we near the end of the conversation, we ask the three of them how being a part of this program has helped them.

"This program has enabled us to do something for our village. We are glad that we are helping the children and making them better citizens of tomorrow", says Vanita. "...but this program has changed us as well...", she says. "We were less talkative and did not know what to do. We now use our spare time doing some productive work", adds Poonam.

The Parmar sisters are happy that children in their village are learning well. Out of the three Poonam wants to join the police force. The other two want to continue their education and completing 10th grade is their next goal. We wish all of them well for their ambitions in life ahead. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

The positive transformation in Seema

12:34:00 PM
1.   "Bachhon ko padhana tha" (I wanted to help my children in their studies), says Seema when we ask her why she chose to be a part of Pratham's Second Chance Program. Seema Solanki passed her 10th-grade examination in 2016. She met us at her workplace, a small-scale factory that produces socks at Malviya Nagar, Indore.

Many women become a part of Pratham's Second Chance program as they have an objective of assisting their children in the school homework and overall studies. Though it appears as a short-term objective, it has enormous positive returns in the long run. As children learn with their mother's assistance, a learning environment is created at home. It is then emulated by neighbouring households as more women are inspired to study and help their children in learning. However, apart from all this, the program results in another vital manifestation - the positive change in the personality of these women who pursue the program! Seema has a similar experience to share.

"When I joined the program, I was very shy. I could not talk to any stranger", she says. She then explains to us that her life was restricted only to the house. She hardly interacted with anyone outside the house, except a few women in her neighbourhood. The subjects revolved around the household chores and what children were learning in school. During those interactions, she realised that she should help her children in their studies, and the same brought her to the Second Chance Program. "I am convinced that education ensures a better future and I thought the same for my children", she says.

"Lekin mujhe school chhod kar kafi saal hue the. Isiliye unhe madat karne ke liye main khud padhna chahti thi" (I had dropped out of school many years back. But it was necessary for me to get back to studies, and only then I could have helped them), she adds.

But her family members were not happy with her decision. What is the need for her to attend a classroom? Won't people laugh at her? An older woman like her will write an exam with younger girls? The thoughts of her family members revolved around these points. She tried to convince them by citing her objectives. She also tried to tell them that it is her dream to complete her 10th-grade examination, and she is lucky to have got this second chance in life! However, support arrived from an unexpected quarter!
" The owner of this factory realised what I was going through. He convinced my family members and assured his support in my endeavour", she smiles reflecting a sense of gratitude. As we peep inside, we see many women like her working in tandem and producing socks which will hit the market the next day. A woman looks at her and asks when she would join them. 'Ten minutes' - she gestures with all her fingers.

"It was not easy..", she resumes her story. She admits that she was scared. More than the fear of failure, she had a fear of speaking with others around her. "The teachers sensed this and ensured that I opened up. They made me speak, answer the questions that were asked and also write on the board. I did not like it then, but it eventually made me confident", she says. "I will also mention my classmates - many of them who were younger than me - who encouraged me and made me a confident person in class", she adds. However, the one year spent in the classroom will remain special for Seema for one more significant reason.
"I now realise that my world has changed. Initially, it was restricted to talking to my neighbours and discussing household chores. But now I know many more things around me. This program made me aware of the different opportunities around me", she says.

After passing the 10th-grade examination, Seema completed a course in healthcare at Pratham's Vocational Training Institute at Indore and is eager to explore working in that sector. Just a couple of years back, her world was restricted to her neighbours. However, she is now ready to explore the world of healthcare and has also remained consistent with her objective of helping her children in their studies. We wish her all the best for her future decisions and endeavours. 


Friday, August 31, 2018

"I want to see the world"

8:35:00 PM
Ganjam district is one of the 19 most backward districts of Orissa. As a consequence, apart from agriculture, it offers minimal employment opportunities. Hence, many people migrate to other parts of the state, and even to other states in India in search of work. Somnath Rana hails from the Sarankuda village in this district and is currently getting trained at Pratham Institute's Hospitality training centre at Sheragada, in Ganjam. 

"My father is a priest, and as per the village tradition my family has to offer food to the God", he begins his story. However, for reasons mentioned above and acute poverty, Somnath's father also works as a machine operator at Surat in Gujarat. When he is at home for holidays, he performs the priestly duties, and on other days someone else from his family takes over. Somnath is aware that one day he will be his father's successor and will have to offer food to the God as per tradition. But his resolve to achieve economic stability and earn a decent salary brought him to the centre. 

"I have studied till 12th grade. However, I wanted to earn money for my family. This profession has a good value associated with it, and hence I decided to join this course", he says. " I do offer Puja at my village, but this is not the only thing I want to do", he adds with a smile.  

After completing his 12th grade, Somnath thought of pursuing a course in Hotel Management. However, the total cost of the course was close to 5 lakh rupees, and it was impossible for his father to gather this amount. Somnath was dejected and became convinced that he won't be able to work in a hotel. But a friend informed him about this course, and this is how he landed at Sheragada.   

Somnath has joined the Food Production Department. More than what is taught in this course, he is happy to experience a change in his personality. He is glad that the teachers have taught him how to present himself to people and how to talk to others, and this has given a new direction to his life. He is equally happy about the basic training in the English language that he has received.
"It was a small world in my village. I had a limited number of friends. However, here my friends are from the different districts of Orissa", he says with a smile. 

Where does he want to go from here? "I want to go to Mumbai and work there for a few years. That city has many large hotels", he responds quickly. "But I do not want to stop there...", Somnath pauses for a moment, and we eagerly look at him for the next sentence. 

" I will give a part of my salary to my parents. But I will save the other part so that one day I can go outside India to work. "Duniya dekhni hain" (I want to see the world), he says, and we all smile. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Positive Change in Sujata

8:08:00 AM
"I thought I just had to manage some children. But later I came to know that these are skills and I am glad that I could learn them", Sujata greets us and begins her story. We are at Mysore's Kurubara Halli, and Sujata happily welcomes us and offers us a chair to sit.

Sujata started as an Aanganwadi worker three years back. Around that time, Pratham was working directly with the Balwadis in the community. However, since December last year, it entered into a partnership with Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) which trained 49 supervisors in 2,800 Anganwadis of Mysore district and Sujata's Anganwadi was one of them. These supervisors then further trained the Anganwadi workers. 

"I now have a better idea of using the material given to us. I have also learned how to manage a group and understood the importance of cognitive skills", she says with a smile. Other than this, she also stresses that she understood the importance of communicating with children and has a few examples to share to prove her point. "Nandesh was a quiet child, and he hardly interacted with others, but now he has started to express himself and shares things with others. And Raju was a very mischievous boy and hardly listened to anyone. However, now I have learned to communicate with him, and he reciprocates very well", she says proudly. 
Sujata has learned how to teach kids the importance of cleanliness and discipline, and she is convinced that it will make a positive impact on children and their parents. "All this has initiated a conversation between the children and the parents. Both of them have also started to talk to me. The children are happy that they are learning something new, whereas the parents are happy because they are becoming aware of the importance of these subjects", she adds. 

All this is evident from the meeting she has with the parents every month. 

"The children here belong to families where parents are outside their home for work for most of the time in the day. Some of them are vegetable sellers, whereas some work at construction sites, and some work as maids and some of them earn their living by driving a rickshaw", she says. 

"I wish to increase the enrollment of children in the Anganwadi. More people should know about this program, and I will definitely create more awareness about it in the community", she says. We wish Sujata all the best in her endeavour and hope that more and more children get benefited through her efforts. 


Pratham Education Foundation

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