Monthly Archives: September 2018

Making Sense of the World Today – Books Your Children Must Read II

As Anna Quindlen wisely said, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” Books are home. All parents who understand this are parents on a mission to imbibe the love for reading in their children. But given the current day political, social and environmental context, is it enough for our children to grow up reading just classics? Or is there a need to diversify that reading list and include books that help children understand the concepts of equality, social justice, and inclusivity?

In continuation with the first in this series, we bring to you the second part. If you, and your children haven’t yet enjoyed these extremely relevant reads, there is time still. Stock up!

1. Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight, Duncan Tonatiuh

What does the life of an immigrant worker look like? The author has explained this extremely political and important (and complex) issue in the simplest language, without taking away any of the nuances the issue deserves. Want to introduce the concepts of fair pay, equality and equity to your child? This book will do it for you.

 

2. Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out: Voices from the Frontlines of the Educational Justice Movement, Mark R Warren, David Goodman

The synopsis of this book reads, “Illuminating the struggles and triumphs of the emerging educational justice movement, this anthology tells the stories of how black and brown parents, students, educators, and their allies are fighting back against systemic inequities and the mistreatment of children of color in low-income communities.” An invaluable knowledge resource to introduce the educational justice movement to children, this book is also important because of the strong message against inequity it delivers.

 

3. Rad Girls Can – Stories of Bold Brave & Brilliant Young Women, Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl 

No, this book is not about Malala. It isn’t about Rosa Parks of Anne Franke either. Learn about how Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee swam a sinking boat to shore saving twenty lives and then went on to compete as an Olympic swimmer. Learn about Trisha Prabhu, the 13-year-old who developed an anti-cyberbullying app. Moving beyond the already celebrated young girls and women who have brought about significant difference to the world, the authors give us more “Rad Girls” to celebrate.

4. Drawn Together, Minh Le, Danh Santat

If one were to pick the one thing common to most relationships between grandchildren and grandparents, it would be the cozy time spent in story-telling. Steadily, that has been an art we have been moving away from. This book brings back our focus to the importance of oral narratives, especially in forging relationships, through the heartwarming tale of a grandfather and a grandson. “When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens — with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.”

5. Dreamers, Yuyi Morales

The perfect pick to sum up this list. A book about how books change lives.

As the author herself describes, “…books touch our lives. Some of them find a place in our beings. They snuggle in and keep us warm in ways that we might not be conscious of all the time, but, they are there. That warmth is what I’ve felt today (again) as I read (again).” It is, after all books that take us to places without us having to leave where we are. It is, after all books that show us that, a different world is indeed possible

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets – Nisha

An exemplary example of how education can transform lives, Nisha, is one of Save the Children’s #Champions4Change and has shown remarkable strength over the years. At the age of nine years, she was forced to work as a domestic helper because she needed to support her family. But she also wanted to finish her education. After she was identified as a out of school child, she received support from Save the Children and their local partner Salaam Balak Trust for her education.

Once, she received exposure through school, she turned her life around and become a beacon of hope for her peers as well. Nisha addressed the India action/2015: Light the Way event alongside UN and Save the Children representatives addressing a crowd of over 6000 at Purana Qila to promote the Global Goals. Nisha has advocated for Girls education and equality at various platforms including the launch of Every Last Child, #TheInvisibles Dialogue, Global Fundraising Forum and the flagship report launch of Save the Children, World of India’s Girls in 2018.

Nisha wants to continue her higher education to become a doctor after her she completes school.

She says, “Like in the olden days, my mother still believes that boys are better than girls because she thinks girls will get married and go away. But I tell her not to worry. Girls have a lot of power.”

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society. 

Children in street situations are defined as per the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations. An SOP by NCPCR and MWCD in collaboration with Save the Children. Children in Street Situations are categorised as: Abandoned or Orphan Child, Missing or Runaway Child, Street ‘Connected’ Child / Community Child on the Street, Child begging on the street.

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets – Salmaan

Salmaan was rescued by a local NGO as a teenager when he ran away from home due to extreme situations with his family. He survived the streets at a young age and then started living in a NGO run shelter home, Salaam Balak Trust, where he found theatre as an avenue to let out his anger and frustrations.

He wants to grow up to become an actor and has taken on several roles in films, at a young age. He is passionate about child rights, especially the rights of children living on streets. He has advocated at several places for their rights along with international fundraisers, government officials, at rallies, concerts and Save the Children events. 

Addressing a full house, at a recent event , 15 year old Salmaan says, “Today I want to talk about those kids, who you see everyday – on the pavements and at the red lights, knocking on our car windows. For these children, I have written four lines,” he continues.

“Hum jaise bachhe sadko par (children like us, living on pavements)

Shehero mein, roaming par rehne wale (we are like wanderers in the city)

Hum badi badi imarathe dekhte hain (we see high rises everywhere around us)

Lekhin ye baath sach hai, ki imarathe hamare liye nahin ban gaye hai (but the truth is that these buildings are not built for us).”

You may wonder, why I am talking about them – because I have also faced the same problem, before I managed to come out from that life,” shares Salmaan, outlining the stark realities of life, having survived the streets of North Delhi, as a child.

“Under the scorching sun, with our feet burning, out in the rain and in the cold, we face many problems, even violence. At an age when we are supposed to go to school and get to play with friends, we are forced to earn a living. We never find a place where we are welcome or feel safe from harm. Don’t we have the right to dream and aspire for a better life, just like other children?” he questions. What bothers him the most, however, is the constant denial of identity – “Chhotu (small child), kale (dark-skinned), gudiya (doll) – these are just some of the names we are called every day; but never by our real names.”

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society.

Children in street situations are defined as per the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations. An SOP by NCPCR and MWCD in collaboration with Save the Children. Children in Street Situations are categorised as: Abandoned or Orphan Child, Missing or Runaway Child, Street ‘Connected’ Child / Community Child on the Street, Child begging on the street.

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets – Manisha Kamble

Manisha currently lives under a flyover near Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai. Her family does not have a home or even a proper roof over their heads, and are exposed to huge amounts of noise, pollution, and vehicular exhaust at all hours of the day and night due to a steady stream of traffic under the flyover. The toxic gases make their eyes burn and aggravate Manisha’s allergies, causing difficulty in breathing, a severe lack of sleep, and a low immune system. It was due to exposure to these dire circumstances that Manisha lost her father two years ago. 

Manisha has four siblings- one brother, and three sisters. They been living under various flyovers and on footpaths for the past twelve years. Earlier, they lived in a small slum but were evicted because of a new IndiaBulls construction in the area. They are often chased away by the BMC, which confiscates all their belongings and demands hefty fines, or moves their things around.

Today, Manisha’s mother is the sole earner of the family, and works as domestic help in different homes. Both of Manisha’s older sisters are married, and they try and look after their siblings whenever their mother is at work.

Manisha has made it to her 12th standard without any drops in school, which is a testament to her dedication to education. Given her situation, making it to the 12th grade has truly been an achievement. She is currently studying banking. She perseveres and studies as much as possible during the day, since there is no electricity in the nights.

Manisha used to be the Manager of the CDK, a children’s bank run by Save the Children and their local partner Hamara Foundation and saves money so that she can use it for household purposes. The CDK has also helped her in understanding banking further, especially as this is her chosen field of study.

I will be in college soon and want to make a life where people know me by my work. But my dream is that there are many more Manishas who should not go through the hardships that I have experienced. All of them should get their rights and equal opportunity and an opportunity to dream and make it a reality.”

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society.

Children in street situations are defined as per the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations. An SOP by NCPCR and MWCD in collaboration with Save the Children. Children in Street Situations are categorised as: Abandoned or Orphan Child, Missing or Runaway Child, Street ‘Connected’ Child / Community Child on the Street, Child begging on the street.

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets – Sultana Moizuna

Sultana has been living on the street near Maratha Mandir Zhopad Patti since age 4. Due to ill health, her father was unable to work and the family survived on the 5000- 6000 rupees a month that her mother earned as a tailor. 

As is the story of many street children in India, the local municipality would demolish their homes and streets quite frequently.  Without much choice, her family would rebuild another temporary home and to start a new life. With little access to decent infrastructure, a permanent home and access to school, she also faced difficulties of access to proper hygiene and sanitation. 

16 years old Sultana is completing her 10th board exam through a correspondence course. She says, “It’s very challenging to live on the street especially for girls. Do you know how many toilets we have in our home? Not even one! There is no proper sanitation facility available near to our place, as a result, we wait till early morning for accessing our basic sanitation facility. It’s not safe to be on the street in the night. At times I use to get scared of the police uncle roaming on the street. We spent many sleepless nights during rainy days. Rain in Mumbai had spoiled our belongings several times.”

Having migrated from rural Bihar, and now a campaigner with Save the Children and their local partner Hamara Foundation she adds, “As Community Health Educator, I have been playing a very important role for my community, and I try to perform my responsibilities with dedication and commitment. Other children call me Didi and I feel good to be known as Didi for them.

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society. 

Children in street situations are defined as per the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations. An SOP by NCPCR and MWCD in collaboration with Save the Children. Children in Street Situations are categorised as: Abandoned or Orphan Child, Missing or Runaway Child, Street ‘Connected’ Child / Community Child on the Street, Child begging on the street.

 

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets- Saleha Khan

We were taken to a separate class for the session and the boys were not a part of it. I think even if boys don’t menstruate, they too should be educated about it,” says Saleha. 

Young Saleha Khan lives next to the biggest dumping ground of Mumbai, near the Shivaji Nagar slums. The life expectancy in this area is almost half of India’s average life expectancy. Lack of safe drinking water, shoddy sanitary conditions along with the toxic gases emitted by the mountain-high dumping ground daily, make this place nightmarish.

As soon as Saleha finished class 8th, she was forced to drop out of school by her family. Today,  this 18 year old studies in class 12. It took two years of constant counselling of Saleha’s family by Save the children’s team along with local partner Apnalaya and a display of extraordinary perseverance by Saleha to bring about a change in the family’s mindset.

Saleha has motivated more than 200 girls in her locality to educate themselves, of which 10 girls came back to school for a higher education.

She has also conducted more than 250 sessions on menstrual hygiene and other issues related to WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) for the past two years, reaching out to more than 1500 adolescents who have adopted healthy menstrual hygiene practices.

As a Campaigner, she led the Community based Campaign ‘WASH4LIFE’ in her slum community.

Her exceptional work in advocating for the rights of children has got her a prestigious award, the ‘Savitribai Phule Puraskar 2016’. She was also nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017. This year she will be travelling to New York for the UNGA participating in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Saleha’s dream is to become a Chartered Accountant someday. 

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society. 

Children in street situations are defined as per the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situations. An SOP by NCPCR and MWCD in collaboration with Save the Children. Children in Street Situations are categorised as: Abandoned or Orphan Child, Missing or Runaway Child, Street ‘Connected’ Child / Community Child on the Street, Child begging on the street.

The #LittleHumans Living On India’s Streets – #THEINVISIBLES

You know who they are… the little boy with the runny nose knocking at your car window, the girl with the braided hair selling books at the traffic signal and the boy at the cusp of teenagehood working at the neighbourhood eatery. Sometimes, you offer them food, sometimes money and very often you turn the other way. You see them everyday, and yet they are #TheInvisibles.

Invisible in our census and policy, invisible as citizens of our country, invisible as rights holders, invisible in schools and playgrounds, invisible in public discourse and decisions, invisible in our minds and conscience. 

These children are often described as ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ in lack of identity, recognition or social status that can make them count. Commonly referred to as ‘street’ children, more than 20 lakh children live on India’s streets, with bleak chances of survival, learning and thriving – with little access to education, clean water, sanitation, housing and nutrition. Nearly 80% of them do not even have a name they can call their own, making them the most vulnerable section of society. 

A recent study by Save the Children – Life on the Street, opened a can of worms. The findings illustrated that the most looming problem faced by children living on the streets was having no legal identity documents, nor access to rights and entitlements. At a time when Aadhar cards were sealing every Indians identity, having no identity would prove to be a bigger barrier for its street children. 

Save the Children set out on an important journey – to make #TheInvisibles, visible. In collaboration with government, civil bodies and the public, #TheInvisibles is committed to campaign for and with the 20 lakh children living on the streets of India. 

This week, we share with you success stories of children living on the street, who are testament to the ambition of this campaign. 

#TheInvisibles is an initiative by Save the Children to provide identify and claim rights for children living in street situations, committed to making them visible citizens of society. 

How Nuclear Poisoning Has Ravaged Lives Of Children In The Adivasi Village Of Jadugoda

All images of children have been shared with due consent and permission from the families by Ankush Vengurlekar / Adivasi Lives Matter

I am visiting two nearby houses, to meet children with disability, supposedly by nuclear radiation pollution. I have read about it online, but am curious to see for myself. I’m in the Bango village of East Singhbhum district near Jadugoda, to see the evidence of radiation pollution on people’s lives.

SANJAY GOPE

The first house is that of Sanjay Gope, who is 12 years old and developed severe muscular dystrophy at the age of 4. This condition meant that his movement was severely restrained and so was his speech. I notice how most houses in the village have short doorways that force you to bend while entering. When I entered, I saw that sitting cross-legged on a charpai on the right was Sanjay, a smile beaming from his face. “He has been like this for the past 8 years, restricted to this cot. One of us has to be here constantly, we cannot leave him by himself,” says his grandfather. I try to converse with Sanjay, but all he manages are muffled sounds. I show him some of the pictures that I have taken of him and he laughs with joy. Photographs, I think, connect people across languages, age groups and cultures. His grandfather shows us some medical reports and prescriptions.

PARVATI GOPE

Across the muddy street was the house of Parvati Gope, a 17-year-old girl who suffered from Lumbar Scoliosis, an S curve formation of her vertebral column. Parvati’s photos have been widely used by the anti-radiation poisoning movement, and I recognise her from the handouts I had seen earlier. Her father is rather annoyed as he mentions that a month ago, a news channel from the south of India had come and filmed a documentary on his daughter, but nothing came of it. “Everyone comes and shoots her pictures and videos, but no one ever does anything about her condition. She needs to be treated and we need money for medicines. I cannot afford her medicines forever.” Both these children display conditions that often occur in cities too and I am not fully convinced of the connection to nuclear poisoning.

Earlier that morning I was drenched in rain as I reached Jadugoda’s main chowk on cycle. The chowk is distinctly marked by the statues of Seedu and Kanu. This tribal revolutionary duo fought against the British for the rights of their Santhal community and against Zamindari in 1855.

Ashish Birulee, a young twenty-something boy who has been documenting radiation pollution through photographs, takes me to his house. His house has superhero figurines beside posters of radiation pollution.

“Where did you get all these posters from, Ashish?” I ask. “I attended these radiation poisoning conferences and events. I am the youngest, and quite possibly the only photojournalist from Jadugoda. Most photographs that you see on the internet about Jadugoda have been clicked by me, and I have taken the reporters and journalists to visit the community. I was invited to display these photographs in Brazil, Canada and Japan by the anti-radiation poisoning activists there.”

“How did you come to take these pictures, and why are you highlighting the issue of tribals affected by radiation poisoning?” my curiosity was growing by the minute. “Wait,” he said. “First let’s go to the villages, then we’ll sit and talk. The villagers are busy in paddy transplanting and you’ll get them only during lunchtime, don’t miss the opportunity.”

I am introduced to Anupam Kar, who is in the 12th standard and has been closely working with Ashish for a couple of years. He hails from one of the villages, Bango, which we are about to visit. I hop on the bike, as this frail kid barely manages to keep the bike steady and we head to the villages a few kilometres away. We first visit the Government school in Bango and meet the headmaster to enquire if there are any children with physical deformities, to which he promptly replies in the negative. Last year, some doctors from Calcutta had conducted a medical camp in the Bango Govt. (Zilla Parishad) school, during which these cases were identified by them and have since undergone several tests and treatments. The principal’s outright denial of their presence was a little odd, but not entirely unexpected. We then decided to head to the village Bango directly, since Anupam knew the homes of some of the physically deformed children.

RAKESH GOPE

The next house is that of Rakesh Gope, a school-going 13-year-old boy suffering from muscular dystrophy too. Only, in this case, he is extremely active and walks, albeit with severely arched feet and soles that are arched upwards, he also cannot talk normally. He has a brother and sister, who are both normal. The saving grace is that he goes to the same school as his siblings and that normalises his life to some extent. “How long can we provide for his medicine? We don’t even know how long he will live,” his father opens up to the miseries of providing for this medicines with a meagre farming income. He makes Rakesh walk and run for us, parading his condition for me to shoot. As bad as I felt to watch, it was necessary to document this. By now, I am beginning to feel that something is wrong with the fact that too many similar cases are being detected in a very small area.

KARTIK GOPE

3-year-old Kartik Gope’s home is next. This sweet child has been having seizures since birth and is developing muscular dystrophy too. The mother and grandmother are quite hapless as I speak with them. The mother keeps dabbing her child’s face as I take pictures. She brings out the reports of CT scans and doctor visits. Incidentally, all the families with these symptoms have visited just one particular clinic in Jadugoda, which is in the UCIL (Uranium Corporation of India Ltd.) complex of Jadugoda. Further tests are done mostly at the Chaibasa hospital, while those who can afford it, go to Jamshedpur.

Word of my visit to the families with physical deformities spread in the village and a lot more families came to Kartik’s home. A girl whose right leg was substantially shorter than the left one, a lady and another man, unrelated, who are deaf since birth, mothers who have faced miscarriages or suffer from sterility. All of them wanted me to document their stories, each with a hope that at least I will relay their story to the government and help them avail some benefiting scheme.

I could feel myself slowly sinking, to see so many cases of physical deformities in such a small population of about 2400 people, all in one village. The curiosity of seeing first hand, the effects of exposure to radiation poisoning had caused my stomach to churn, as I helplessly documented one case after another.

We see rain clouds taking over the sky and speed away to Anupam’s house from there. The downpour begins just as we make it to the house. We see hens flutter towards a shelter, women and girls washing clothes at the hand pump run to take cover. A shepherd makes a makeshift umbrella from the leaves and twigs that he was carrying back, while his goats walk, surprised at the sudden action in this lazy village. Anupam’s mother came from inside the house offering me a glass of water, as I stood under the overhang of his tiled roof, marvelling at the village that had assumed a sense of urgency after the rush of rain. I thought for a moment, debated in my head whether I wanted to drink the radioactively polluted water of Bango village, and then took large gulps of it. I even amused myself by shooting a video about it, but not for one second did the gravity of the situation leave me. Here I was, thinking twice about drinking the polluted water once, whereas these villagers have spent the last 4 decades drinking, washing, bathing and farming in this polluted water and soil and air.

HARADHAN GOPE

Standing across from me, under an umbrella, his red checked shirt a stark contrast to the grey sky, was a boy with a disproportionate and slightly odd body. I remembered his face from the article in Hindustan Times by Chinky Shukla. I had a brief conversation with Haradhan Gope who was going to the farms to get his cattle back. By now, I had begun to preempt the answer when I asked the people why these conditions had occurred. Few of them attributed it to radiation exposure, but mostly claimed it was their ill fate.

ANAMIKA URAON

Our last visit was to Dungridih village, Anupam prompted in my ear that no one from the outside had actually visited that village before me. It took us some asking around to find the house of Anamika Uraon, and when we finally reached her house, it was locked. I was disappointed that we had come this far and would not have a chance to meet the ‘girl with the scary face’ as she was called. The tribal villagers nearby started gossipping among themselves while we tried to see if someone could relay a message to her. In some time, a girl in her blue and white school dress came running towards us, while we sat on the ledge of her house.

Her hair tied at the back bounced as she came running towards us upon receiving word. It was only as she came closer that her full face and its features became clear. The right side of Anamika’s face was like any other girl of her school-going age, intent eyes filled with curiosity, a shy smile for strangers quickly turning to a chuckle as a neighbour passed a remark. However, the left side of her face had bulged into a cancerous outgrowth of cells and tissue. The flesh on this side was so enlarged and weighty that it was drooping down. I remember feeling stunned as I stood there, talking to this girl, for whom, it was inexplicable what was happening to her. Just last year, when she was seen in the school medical camp for the first time by Ashish and Anupam, her condition was not as bad. In one year, it had severely deteriorated. I shuddered at the thought of the pain she faces.

I tried making small talk, but failed miserably. I, the perpetual talker, was silenced at the sight of the suffering of a cheerful school going child, who bears the irreversible marks of radiation pollution, and the government and company’s denial of the existence of radiation pollution.

The cancer of denial, apathy and evading responsibility of the radiation pollution reflected on the face of this innocent girl. She was clueless about what she had done to deserve such a rude shock. Her tumorous face was getting etched in my memory, in the deepest chambers of my brain where all that I fear about the world resides. I had no idea then, that this face would come to haunt me for the longest time, making me question my own privileged life, how we take our consumeristic life and its impacts for granted and what it meant to be a responsible, accountability seeking citizen of our country.

The dark rain clouds were beginning to reappear on the horizon as we left from Dungridih for Ashish’s home. The shadows in my mind and heart had grown to its darkest, mirroring the weather outside. My question to Ashish earlier in the day, on why he decided to take up the fight for radiation pollution had found its answer.

Literacy Day

Meri Chotti

Nimbu Pani

Main Sab Janti Hoon

She Got An A In Class

I Talk English Too!

My Fish Drawing

Don’t Burst Crackers

Today Is Chutti

Writing On Slates

My New Pen

Hum School Ja Rahe Hai

Driving With My brothers

Living At A Bus Stop

Make People Blush

Lovin’ His Face

Like Dhoni

Summer Fan

Jyoti Miss

Body Building

Bucket Boy

Flower Girl

English Tuitions II

Give Away

The Boy And His Goat

Shy Girl

My Angel

Communion

Paint comes live

Ashiana

Headlights

Soap Girl

Pop Music

English Class

Siblings

Mumbai’s Vada Pao

Ashoka’s Castle

Balloon Sticks

MUMBHAII

Little humans of Janwaar Castle

RAJ RAJESHWAR

ARJUN CHHABRA

KATPUTLI COLONY

DEEPTI ASTHANA

SPITI VALLEY

Cricket/IPL

SECTION 377

“Section 377 is arbitrary. The LGBT community possesses rights like others. Majoritarian views and popular morality cannot dictate constitutional rights. We have to vanquish prejudice, embrace inclusion and ensure equal rights.” –Chief Justice of India #section377

https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-scraps-section-377-majoritarian-views-cannot-dictate-rights-says-cji

Youth Day

Tweet chat over Safecity , the housing crisis and how it affects children

Join us tomorrow night at 9 pm for a tweetchat by Leher talking about the housing crisis and how it affects children.

#WorldLiteracyDay – Grassroot Initiatives Changing the Landscape of Education in India

After 72 years of independence, India’s literacy rate stands at 74.04% according to the fifteenth official census in India conducted in 2011. Despite landmark legislations like the Right to Education Act, the illiteracy levels amongst children (and adults) in India are staggeringly low with 60 lakh children still being out of school, and about 92% of the government schools yet to fully implement the RTE Act.

With these dismal literacy rankings, the road to achieving 100% literacy is a long one, paved with numerous hurdles. Given the sheer enormity of the problem, initiatives by the government are simply not enough to tackle this basic crisis of development and progress. Filling in the gaps are the literacy interventions developed by various civil society organizations and social enterprises. The common aim of all these interventions? To make education accessible, inclusive and affordable.

This world literacy day, we bring to you five such initiative and organizations bringing about real grassroots change in the field:

1. Sudiksha Solutions
They say their purpose is “To uplift millions of underprivileged children in India through high-quality, holistic education and to empower women through career development and entrepreneurship. One student, one teacher, one school at a time – we’re starting the movement for sustainable change that will impact lives and communities across India, for the better.”
Based in Hyderabad, this social enterprise aims to make early education affordable by setting up low cost pre-school centers in low-income urban and peri-urban regions. With a humble vision of one school at a time, the number of schools presently set up and managed by Sudiksha stands at 21. Looking to scale up their existing model through the franchise route, Sudiksha believes that sustainable change is possible, even if it might seem like just a drop in the ocean!

2. Train Platform Schools
“Where school goes to children.”Founded by a school teacher Inderjit Khurana through the formation of the Ruchika Social Service Organization in 1985, this is a school which comes to children. Everyday she took a train to the school she taught in, and was deeply disturbed by the number of children she saw begging and doing odd jobs to make a living at the train stations and platforms. Aware of how deeply vulnerable a lack of education makes them, in addition to their already risk prone existence, this school teacher devised an ingenious method of educating these children. She came up with an interactive teaching plan, integrating entertainment into the curriculum to make the most of children’s short attention spans, with the use of field trips, simple flashcards to teach reading and allowed the children to attend the school whenever they wanted to because she was aware they would not give up their means of livelihood.“…Within a few months the platform school had over 100 students sitting within its chalk-drawn boundaries, all absorbed in the song, dance, drama, music and puppetry that was helping make them literate. The idea was to provide basic literacy to them and not to make academics out of them.”

She passed away in 2010, but her legacy in the form of these schools lives on.

3. Teach for India Fellowship
The Teach for India (TFI) movement was born out of a crisis. A crisis they describe in the following words, “…The education crisis is a complex puzzle with layers of issues from attendance to teaching quality. Underlying all of these complex layers of failing education systems in the country lies a severe lack of leadership.”

Therefore, to fill in these gaps, TFI was born as the brainchild of Shaheen Mistri. With a mission to build a movement of leaders to eliminate educational inequity, the fellowship engages the brightest minds of the country (today they are in 40 countries!) to serve as full time teachers to children from low income communities in some of the nation’s most under-resourced schools. In the long term, the fellowship hopes to imbibe lasting leadership qualities in these young professionals who go on to become true agents of grassroots change.

4. Pratham Foundation
Their journey started with a mission to “eliminate the cycle of poverty by eradicating illiteracy from India.” Aiming to scale up education for as many underprivileged children as possible – making it accessible for all children, it made its humble beginnings in the slums of Mumbai. Today, the direct and partner programs of the foundation makes literacy possible for thousands of children across 21 states of India.

By coupling research methods and a full proof field practice approach, Pratham recognized that the first step to achieving universal primary education is to achieve universal preschool education, and has worked towards this goal through the Balwadi (pre-school) programs. Along with traditional schooling approaches, the foundation also developed vocational learning programs, digital literacy programs and programs for drop-out school children. That the smallest of ripples can bring about the biggest change is perhaps the greatest takeaway from the foundation’s success story.

5. Hole in the wall
The journey of the Hole in the Wall initiative is a heartwarming story of just how much of a difference even a single individual can bring about to the society. Dr. Sugata Mitra, chief scientist at NIIT set in motion this initiative in 1999 by making a “hole in the wall that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own.”

The success of this social experiment brought to the forefront that children are capable of teaching themselves when posed with a question, and supplied with basic tools, and that their aptitude to learn is boundless. With this experiment, he highlighted the bureaucracy (and exclusivity) of the current education system, stressing on the need for more free and technologically enhanced ways of teaching children. Over the years, he has expanded this experiment to several holes in the wall across many states in the country (and abroad), and has proven himself correct each time.

#Storiesfromthefield- A Fight Against Child Marriage Brings Change To A Rural Community In Bihar

When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences and a higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor, in a statement released by UNICEF in March this year. 

Child marriage is a global phenomenon, with South Asia having the largest concentration of child brides. Filter it further, and data shows us that India has the highest number of child brides in the world. The rates of child marriage are as high as 69% and 65% in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan respectively. Perceived as an economic burden, many communities prefer to marry their girls off at an early age. Patriarchy, casteism and lack of education are only some of the factors that contribute to the existence of child marriage as a social concern, even in the globalized worlds we inhabit today.

Investing in and empowering girls (and the community) is the only way to bring about a gradual change of mindset, and to move towards tackling social problems like child marriage. To bring about real grassroots change may not be easy, however it is the only change that lasts. We bring to you a few stories of how the children and the community has come together to fight the practice of child marriage in some of the villages Leher works in, in Madhubani district of Bihar

Sisai, a small village in Madhubani district in Bihar is Reeta’s home, and one of the thirty-six villages where Leher works with its adults and children as a part of the programme it runs in Madhubani. During one of the fortnightly Children’s Group meetings, Reeta told her friends that her parents had arranged her marriage to a man who was twenty-one years of age. The children discussed amongst themselves that this could not happen, and they had to intervene to stop Reeta’s marriage. She was only sixteen, and they were all aware that a child marriage would give rise to several other problems. Almost all their mothers had been child brides, and even now, this practice was far from being completely abolished. The next day, the children’s group visited Reeta’s mother. They tried explaining to her that what they wanted to do was illegal. When they realized Reeta’s mother did not take them seriously, the Village Child Protection Committee (VCPC) was apprised of the situation. The VCPC members went to Reeta’s house to speak to her parents. They spoke to them and explained to them why and how what they were doing was not the right thing to do, why it wasn’t only illegal, but also a danger for their daughter. With the Children’s group and the VCPC by her side, Reeta felt empowered to tell her parents that she did not want to get married and she wanted to continue her education. For the first time in her life, Reeta spoke up firmly against a decision her parents seemed to be determined to make for her. Strong against all odds, today Reeta is pursuing her graduation and is learning the vocational skill of sewing.

Beena (16) from the same village fell in love with Ravi (21). Ravi wanted to elope with her. Having been a very active member of the Children’s Group, Beena knew the repercussions of an early marriage. While she wanted to get married to Ravi, she knew she should be at least eighteen years of age. The president of the VCPC, and some other members, met the boy and explained to him that they could get married but only after Beena turned eighteen. The marriage was stalled for two years after the intervention. They are now married. Beena is twenty and has completed her graduation. 

Systemic change always begins at the grassroots. Coupled with grassroots mobilization, proper implementation of existing legislation can make the movement to end child marriage more robust and provide a defined framework for the same. This realization comes from our work at the grassroots in Madhubani, where the parents, children and elders of the village have come together in devising real solutions to tackle the issue of child marriage. The Village Child Protection Committee suggested that they should go around the village and speak to all agents who play a direct and indirect role in cases of child marriage. For example, besides speaking to parents of the children concerned, they also spoke to the vendors who provide tents for the weddings, sweet sellers, musicians and florists. These stakeholders were told that child marriage is illegal, and according to the law, if they cooperated and abetted child marriages by providing their services for these weddings, even they would be culpable under the law. This has had a huge impact on the existing status of child marriage in these villages. 

Another powerful intervention to combat child marriage was thought of by the Children’s Group at Ramtola village in Madhubani. In order to ensure those getting married in their village are not below eighteen years of age (for girls) and twenty-one years of age (for boys), with the help of the VCPC, they have started collecting identity proof from all children aged between thirteen and eighteen. In case the child does not have any valid proof of identity, their Aadhar cards are being made with the help of the VCPC. Parents often forge proof of age to be able to facilitate a child marriage, as a way to counter any objections that may be raised against them. With corruption being all pervasive, even bone ossification tests to determine age of child are often rigged. This move will help them cross check the real age of those getting married, against the document which has been submitted. As of today, this initiative is being carried out across seven villages.

When Leher started its work in these villages, 97% of the villages surveyed in Madhubani reported the practice of child marriage. Yet, the resistance of the communities to accept that child marriage is a malpractice was immense. The elders in the communities felt child marriage was in the best interest of the child and it took a long time for our field team to initiate a change in mindset about child marriage, and to mobilize opinions against it. Five years on today, putting down these stories makes us believe that change is possible. While there is still a long way to go, the eagerness of the children and the communities to come together and tackle child protection issues such as child marriage make every bit of this journey worth it.  Continue reading