Monday, February 11, 2019

From a farmer to an electrician

1:00:00 AM

"I belong to a family of farmers. We grow rice, cabbage and tomato. But ours is a small farm." Surya Mani Das introduces himself by talking about his family. After a few minutes, we realise that he is from Agiriya village which is in Kendujhar district of Odisha. Like many youths in his village and also in the district, he dreams to shift from the traditional family occupation of agriculture to a job delivering stable income. We are at Pratham Institute's vocational training centre at Cuttack where students get trained in the electrical vertical. 



Kendujhar district is one of the 250 most backward districts of the country. As a consequence, a large population here belong to the agriculture sector. Many of them work on the farms, or they work as unorganised labour elsewhere. Many families in the district live with no steady income, and their finances fluctuate as per the fluctuations in agriculture. Surya studied till 10th grade and felt that he should change the way of living, and it brought him to the centre at Cuttack.  

"My parents liked the idea. They felt that I should work and earn additional income as I have studied till 10th grade." He is the first generation school-goer from his family that has till now spent life earning income from agriculture. "They have hopes from me", he says. Besides this, Surya says his village needs electricians. Owing to a lack of industrial activity, there is no availability of skilled labour in his village that will maintain the electricity supply of the village. "If there is a problem in the supply of electricity or there is an interruption, we do not have enough people who are trained to solve it. I want to change this situation", he says. 

Surya came to Cuttack with an intention to solve this problem and earn money. "I did not know much about this course till I came here", he admits. "But I thought I should give it a try." Surya happily adjusted to the course, made new friends and is now keen to enter the job market.  "I am part of a Whatsapp group that has previous students from this centre who share photos of different cities where they are working. As Pune has the best reviews, I want to work there", he says. "But..", he begins, " Mumbai will also do." He then confesses that he wants to work in Mumbai because of his love for Salman Khan and Bollywood movies. "My favourite movie is Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun as it shows a family", he says. 

As we leave, we ask him what are his plans when he gets his first salary. "I will undertake house repairs, and I will also start saving money as I have to buy a smartphone", he says with a smile.  



Monday, February 4, 2019

The inspiring journey of Geetanjali Sahu

1:35:00 AM
"I studied till 9th grade, and that was way back in 1994. My parents and people around me were of the opinion that I should help my mother in household work and then get married." Geetanjali Sahu narrates her story as we listen to her at her house in Laxmanpalli village, in Odisha's Ganjam district. She smiles at our colleague and tells him in Odiya that she is thrilled that someone from Mumbai has come to hear her story. "But I had the desire to study further," she continues. 



Geetanjali got married in 1999, five years after leaving school. And sixteen years after her marriage, in 2015, she enrolled herself in Pratham's 'Second Chance' program with an aim to complete education till 10th grade. She became a student again after a gap of 21 years! 

"It was not that things were bad. I adjusted well (after marriage) in this house and adapted very well to the household work here. But deep down I was aware that my life was not complete. I was aware that I did not complete my school education", she recalls. "I used to wake up in the middle of the night after seeing myself in a dream where I would be either studying or writing an exam," she chuckles. But in reality, the feeling was of anxiety and worry. What will people say? Geetanjali's feelings and thoughts represented the countless women in the country who wish to change their lives for better but are faced with the primary constraint of what people around them will comment or remark about it. However, in 2015, she witnessed a meeting in her village. Some representatives of Pratham had come to her village they introduced the audience to the Second Chance program. "I announced there that I want to study," she recalls. As she narrates this she thanks her husband, who not only supported her but also resisted the opposition of her father-in-law. The latter was of the opinion that Geetanjali was spoiling the family's honour and hence should not study at this age. At times this friction would result in quarrels, and they would affect her mentally. But her resolve and her husband's support overcame all of these and motivated her to study. Her husband works in Surat and in his absence she had to manage her studies and household work and face the taunts of her family members. 

Gradually she adjusted well to the overall schedule. Despite the gap of 21 years, she adapted well to the Foundation course lectures. "I was in touch with studies. I used to oversee my child's homework, and through it, I was connected to the world of reading and writing", she says. But the thing she liked the most was group learning! "Group learning gave us a different kind of joy and satisfaction. We used to have a discussion, and after a few days, we used to realise that we were now familiar with the concept. That feeling was exceptional." She remembers her class for other reasons as well. "There were younger girls in the class, some even half my age. Their mothers used to treat me with respect as I was a friend of their daughter. Despite the age difference, the overall feeling in class was of friendship, and I liked it", she says.  

Geetanjali passed 10th grade in 2016, and a lot of things changed in her life since then. She distributed sweets, and the first piece went to her father-in-law who happily acknowledged her achievement. "Earlier I used to visit my child's school for the annual day celebration. But I never interacted with anyone. But now I talk to everyone around me. I like this feeling so much that someday I will give a speech there", she says. Geetanjali continued studying after 10th grade and passed the 12th-grade examination in 2018. She is currently pursuing her graduation in Arts, and she will be a graduate in 2021. "Now I help my husband in bank transactions. He is proud of me. Earlier I used to take someone' help, but not now", she says, as her eyes reflect confidence and her voice resembles satisfaction. 

"We live as a joint family. My nephews were happy that I was studying but used to warn her that it is difficult to continue till the end. But I now guide them in their studies", she laughs."I also interact with my other relatives and try to convince them that it is possible to get back to studies at any age." It is heartening to see that Geetanjali is sharing her experience with others and motivating them to learn. After her graduation, she wants to work as a teacher in a private school, and we have promised to meet her at her workplace after two years. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Satiben Vaghora's Library

12:32:00 AM
·       "I have not studied, but now I know how to sign a document. That is the change in me!" 

Satiben Vaghora lives in the Ajapar village in the Anjar block of Gujarat's Kutch district. Until a year back she was not aware of the importance of learning and education, but things changed last year. Pratham approached her for implementing a library at her home, and likewise, children assemble at her home every evening and learn together in groups. Vinod, her son, who was in 8th grade then, was asked to lead the group. Satiben was given a role in supervising the proceedings. The year that has passed by has transformed her as well - from a person who had no knowledge of learning levels and its importance, to someone who is now a pivotal figure in conducting the library proceedings. 




"This place is of great importance. Children study here. It is my responsibility to keep it clean", she beams as she shows us the place where the library class takes place. "Everyday I clean this place and spread the mattress. I also arrange two water bottles, and all this before children start the session." Satiben thinks that every child in the village should learn and that is how the village will find a solution to its problems. Satiben also left her laborious job and decided to spend time for children. The first thing that came to her mind was children needing enough space to sit through the two hours of the library session. To achieve this, she cleaned the animal shelter and tied her animals elsewhere in the house. This new place thus became the library!

"Initially Vinod found it difficult to get things done from the children. They were not very cooperative. In those days, I decided to step in. Everything was new, but now children follow all procedures and participate in every activity", she says. Vinod now stays in another village as he is studying in higher grades. But the library continues, thanks to the serious involvement of Satiben. The sentiment of learning that has been created at her home has helped Vinod aim high. He has decided to study till 12th grade and then opt for a proper job instead of doing a laborious job like his parents.

However, Satiben's job does not end there. In case a child remains absent from the library for more than two days, she personally visits his/her house to know the reason behind the absence. Overall, children listen to what she says, and hence their mothers feel that she should guide them ahead. Like Vinod, other children have also begun to share their ambitions with her during the library session. For her, this is a huge accomplishment. And what has she achieved from this experience so far? Has she seen a positive difference? To these questions, she asks us to refer to the very first statement with which this conversation began.

We wish Satiben all the best for her endeavours ahead. 










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Sunday, December 23, 2018

From a school dropout to a District Manager

7:25:00 PM
Vidya Tupe is one of the many women who has benefited from Pratham's Second Chance Program at Satara in Maharashtra. "I was a housewife and did not work anywhere for the first eight years after my marriage. People from Pratham came to our house and asked if my cousin sister wanted to get back to school and complete 10th grade. She had dropped out as well", she recalls. When she heard about the program while it was explained to her sister, she gathered interest and decided to enrol herself for classes. 



There are many reasons why girls drop out of school. In some villages, the distance to reach school (for higher grades) is high, and families do not risk sending their daughter for safety reasons. Early marriage is another reason that forces girls to leave school and migrate to a different place. Pratham's classroom in Satara consist of many such women - poverty, failure in 9th grade, early marriage, lack of attention in school, fear of subjects like Math and English, the reasons are many! Owing to a rise in the construction activities in Satara, many labourer families migrate to the city, and girls and elderly women from these families also enrol themselves in this program and complete their education till 10th grade. Like all of them, Vidya has her story to share.

"I was scared of English and Math. English was still ok, but Math was horrible", she laughs as she recalls her school days. "My family sensed that I was not showing any interest in studies and decided that I should get married. I got married in 2005, and this became my city", she says. Vidya hails from Panvel, a city in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. She became a student at the Second Chance program in 2014, eleven years after leaving school. "Satara was a new city for me. I did not interact much with people, and hence I was not confident of speaking in public. I did not talk to anyone in my class for the first couple of months. But I was able to realise that the teaching method here was different, and I soon developed a liking for it. It was point-wise and covered basic principles. I understood that I was solving the practice papers easily. Moreover, the teachers here paid attention, and it was not like school where only the first few benches were attended."

Vidya admits that she did not have a clear goal of what she would do after passing 10th grade. Women like her join the program so that they can start working. For some girls, private tuitions demand fees that are unaffordable. Some women who work in Anganwadis eye a promotion at their workplace after completing 10th grade. "I cleared my 10th grade in 2015, and I decided to give the MS-CIT examination. While interacting with people, I realised that I was speaking comfortably. I realised that I had changed! One year at the Second Chance program had transformed me, and the change happened unknowingly", she says, with a twinkle in her eyes.       

After completing the course, Vidya gave an interview for Maharashtra Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM) for the district of Satara, and she currently heads all the four blocks of the region. "I later came to know that my co-applicants were women who had passed 12th grade or even MSW graduates. But my confidence enabled my selection! How can I not thank Pratham for this transformation in me?" Vidya works from the Satara office for the first ten days of the month, and she has to travel to the Mahabaleshwar office daily for the remaining days. She thanks her husband who stood by her when she took the decision of becoming a student again. Her mother-in-law was opposed to the decision, but she has now happily accepted a changed and transformed Vidya.
 
Vidya's next goal is to apply for a job at Satara Municipal Corporation and work in the administration department. And with the experience gained in these years, she is confident of a positive outcome. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Saraswati Sahu - the changemaker from Odisha's Mahule village

11:55:00 AM

"The mind-mapping activity is my favourite." Make no mistake, this sentence is not from a student, but from a school principal! Her name is Saraswati Sahu, and school is at Mahule village in Odisha's Sonepur district. She is implementing Pratham's methods in the school despite facing challenges on multiple fronts.



A large population in Mahule consists of unskilled landless labourers, whereas a section of them work as small-scale farmers and agricultural labourers. Some of these parents, when they go out to work, expect their children to do the household work. That, for Saraswati, is one of the biggest challenges as it directly affects the attendance of children. In addition to this, she also encounters a problem that is beyond her control. "Some families migrate to places like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra to work in the brick-making units. It is a seasonal migration and children also migrate with their families", she says. "And there is a problem of monkeys in this village. They disrupt the fields and hence, parents ask their children to go there and shoo away the monkeys", she says suppressing her smile.

Saraswati came to know of the methodology of 'Teaching at the Right Level' from a representative of Pratham who came to her school. She was aware that despite enrollment, the learning levels of children in her school were low, and after witnessing a demonstration of the method and the activities, she gladly accepted the intervention in her school. She also found that this methodology was very close to the work she was already doing in the village in her own capacity. "Since the past ten years, I am trying to teach children through Barnabodha. I used to teach the syllabus in the morning and then teach them letters and words. But with this method, children are learning faster." She stresses that she likes the way children sit in groups, interact with themselves and solve problems together and admits that for her, this is very innovative! "The weak learners benefit from group learning, whereas worksheets and activities help to harness the talent within them", she says.

Saraswati is also happy that children are learning through tablets and she mentions that their attendance has improved because of the curiosity and excitement associated with it. She gives an example of Mantu, who struggled to read until he came across the tablet. "He enjoys reading, and I am sure he will soon be a fluent reader. It is all because of the tablet."

Today, Saraswati visits almost every household in the village to make parents aware about the importance of education. She claims that it has resulted in fewer children dropping out of school. "The tablets have added to it and made my work simpler. Children attend school because of the tablet", she says. Her next goal is to be a volunteer for Pratham's library program. She is happy that representatives of Pratham gather feedback from every parent involved in the library program and this is the biggest reason for her choosing to be a volunteer for the program. We are sure Saraswati will continue the wonderful work she is doing and will generate a positive impact in her village. 

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