Sunday, December 23, 2012

Of James Princep and Ashoka

Princep's Ghat, Kolkata
Overshadowed by the Vidyasagar Sethu, often referred to as "the second Howrah Bridge", stands a curious Palladian-style structure made up of a number of classical columns supporting a flat roof. During my visit to Kolkata in October, I'd spent many days travelling to and fro from Behala to Ballygunge. Every time I would go past this structure, now known as the Princep's Ghat, I would wonder who James Princep was. I never looked him up on Google and had quite forgotten about him till I ended up with Charles Allen's book, Ashoka. Through this book I learnt that Princep was the Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and was one of the key people responsible for unearthing and documenting India's ancient Buddhist past. He was also the man who deciphered the Brahmi script in which was written the Magadhan Prakrit, which was the lingua franca of Ashoka's kingdom, Magadha, 2000 years ago. Though largely academic, Allen's book throws light on how archaeological findings across a large area (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Pakistan and Afghanistan) are pieced together to form histories of man and mankind. Once the jigsaws are in place, the puzzle seems like a narrative. Celebrating the works of orientalists such as Brian Hodgson, James Princep and Alexander Cunningham among others, Ashoka is a book for those who relish India's antiquity.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Getting into the Christmas mood!

I love Christmas! Having studied in a Protestant Christian school in Pune for eight years and a Jesuit college in Mumbai for another three, Christmas has been a major part of my life. And it's not just about Santa. I miss the carol-singing and baking contests people had in school and college. I miss the sweetmeats and delicacies, the talk of mistletoe and vine. Vadodara does not celebrate Christmas much. There are few churches and their congregations are sparse. So, to humour myself, I browsed through Youtube for some videos of Carols. And this one is my favourite.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

10 documents I created, edited and designed for UNICEF Gujarat now in print!

My six-month stint as Documentation Consultant with a development consulting agency gave me the opportunity to work closely with UNICEF and the Government of Gujarat's Directorate of Primary Education. For them, I wrote, edited and designed these 10 documents: Success Stories in Education Gujarat 2012, Success Stories in Early Childhood Education Gujarat 2012, Gunotsav Gujarat Initiative, Pragna Activity Based Learning brochure and report, ADEPTS aka Advancement of Educational Performance through Teacher Support's brochure and report, School Enrollment Drive Gujarat 2012, Head Teachers' Recruitment Gujarat 2012 and Integrated Remedial Teaching. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yi's Anganwadi visit

CII's youth wing, Yi Vadodara organised a visit to the anganwadis at Akota and Tandalja to distribute bananas and juice tertapaks among the children. Akota's is the smallest anganwadi I've seen. 35 children were crammed into a single approx 9ft x 9ft room. The kids hardly had place to move their limbs, let alone play with toys. Tandalja's was a happier place, where the kids were busy colouring in UNICEF-sponsored books. The anganwadi walls are papered with posters, activity charts and pictures and decorations hang from the celing. I love what Tahiraben, the anganwadi worker (pink saree) has done to the place.

Kids crowd the doorway of the Akota anganwadi

A banana a day...

Yi members distributing tetrapaks of juice

Striking a pose!

The approach road to the Akota anganwadi

A little girl scowls at us at Tandalja anganwadi

Tahiraben, the anganwadi worker in the pink saree, helps the children  with their colouring activities

The walls have been papered with posters and decorations hang from the ceiling

A neighbour helps out with the children

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making a difference

In spite of the many challenges they face, a KGBV in the remote Bordha village in Vadodara district has helped many tribal girls by giving them access to education

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

The drone of 25-odd girls reciting Math multiplication tables rises above the smoke from a kitchen woodfire that fills a classroom in the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) near Bordha village (82.7 km from Vadodara city). They stop their lessons to welcome the visitors.

Cooking makai rotlas (flatbread made of corn) on woodfires in the KGBV's kitchen

At this remote residential school for tribal girls in Pavi Jetpur taluka visitors are few. “During the monsoon, the roads turn into streams. Few people can make it this far,” says Sonalben Savlaben Damo as she enters the tiny ‘office’ which has a table, a few chairs, a cupboard full of books and charts and walls which are adorned with the students’ art and craft works. Damo, who is a native of neighboring Dahod district, has been heading the team of seven teachers here since 2009. The KGBV at Bordha was opened in December 2008 by Mahila Samakhya, a welfare organization for girls’ education.

The KGBV scheme

The KGBV is so remote, it takes 3.5 hours from Vadodara city to get there

Launched in July 2004 by the Government of India, KGBV is a scheme for setting up residential schools at the upper primary level for girls belonging predominantly to the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBC) and minority communities. The scheme is being implemented in educationally backward blocks of the country where the female rural literacy is below the national average (65.46 per cent as per Census 2011) and the gender gap in literacy is above the national average (16.68 percentage points as per Census 2011). The scheme provides for a minimum reservation of 75 per cent of the seats for girls belonging to SC, ST, SEBC or minority communities and priority for the remaining 25 per cent, is given to girls from families below poverty line.

Bringing out-of-school girls into schooling

Nearly all the girls belong to the orthodox Rathwa community

“In 2009, there were 66 girls from this area who were studying at this KGBV. Now, we have 116, of which 115 belong to the conservative Rathwa tribe. Just the fact that there is a KGBV here has given many out-of-school children the opportunity to go to school,” says Damo, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Home Science from Vallabh Vidyanagar. The girls study in Standards V to VIII and are between 10-14 years of age. Before the KGBV was set up, many of them had been forced to work as migrant laborers in farms to supplement their families’ incomes. “My parents work in farms. Whenever they would find some work, they would make me leave school and take me along to labor too. Then, when this KGBV opened, they decided to put me here so that I could continue my education while they would work in Kutch,” says 14-year-old Kajal Rathwa who studies in Standard VII. 

Blending activity with learning

With the help of teaching learning materials, the seven balmitra (including one who is physically disabled) conduct four classes in the three classrooms and the small hallway. Each class has about 25 students. They teach the girls Mathematics, Gujarati, English, Hindi, Science, Social Sciences and vocational crafts such as bead-work. The children find Mathematics particularly difficult. “To help them understand the subject, we teach them addition and subtraction with the help of stones and matchsticks,” notes Dharmishtha Rathwa, a 21-year-old balmitra. The children also perform action songs and dramas during special days and festivals. 
The teachers, most of them in their 20s, attend refresher training programs organized by the Mahila Samakhya every month. They keep the children’s portfolios and show them to the parents during the monthly parent meetings, which, encouragingly, nearly 50 per cent of the students’ parents attend. 

Monitoring the girls’ health

The children learn Math, Gujarati, English, Hindi, Science and Social Sciences

The Mahila Samakhya arranges for health camps for the girls every three months. Their weights, heights and nutrition are monitored. Girls are also screened for sickle cell anemia, which is prevalent among these tribal populations. The KGBV also stocks medicines and first-aid tools. Healthcare facilities are few though. For medical emergencies, the staff have to go to the hospital at Kalarani, a few kilometers away. Damo says  that they rely a lot on the state’s 108 ambulance service in this remote area. 

Cramped for space?

The teachers, like the students, stay in the classrooms — their things distributed among the trunks which line the wall under the bunk beds. Additional rooms are needed, says Damo. “The new building has been under construction for two years now and is not going to be finished anytime soon,” she complains. Whenever it will be completed, the KGBV will have two more classrooms and two more rooms they can use for living in. Right now, the 120-odd people residing there have to divide their time and water use efficiently when they use the four toilets. 

Logistical issues

Water too is scarce in the tribal clusters of Pavi Jetpur. “The borewell is not clean. We have an immersible motor in the other well. But we get water only we have electricity,” says Damo adding that they are forced to shell out Rs 300 for each tanker almost every other day. 

The smoke emanates from a woodfire, as a couple of women bake huge makai (corn) rotlas (flatbread) in the enclosed kitchen-cum-storage space adjacent to a classroom. The shelves are lined with grain and pulses, which come every fortnight. The gas cylinders however remain unused. “Having never cooked on gas before, we fear that they may leak or explode,” says Damo sheepishly.

Even with a broken compound wall and not-so-friendly interiors, the KGBV beckons the girls towards a brighter future, especially those who have not previously had access to education. Instead of marrying off their pre-teen girls or forcing them to become laborers, more tribals are now getting them admitted in this residential school. The change is small but significant. 

There are four KGBVs in Vadodara district — at Mogra village in Kawant, Panchamba village in Naswadi, Bordha in Pavi Jetpur and Jojh in Chhota Udepur. The creation of more such institutions, while keeping in mind the logistical disadvantages such schools are faced with and tackling those issues head-on, may help change the mindset and attitudes of girls who would otherwise be pushed into child labor or married off early.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When the class becomes a stage

Actor Swaroop Sampat Rawal conducted a workshop on Life Skills for KGBV students and teachers in Vadodara

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

A group of 30 adolescent girls stand in the formation of a circle in the middle of a large conference hall at the Lords Inn Revival Hotel in Vadodara. In the centre a few girls pose as statues - a dog, a bent old woman, a truck and a salesman. There's a clap and they all change their postures. "Good!" All heads in the circle turn to the tall figure of Swaroop Sampat Rawal, the 53-year-old film and theatre actor who walks to towards the still figures.

It's a six-day Life Skills' Workshop and Rawal, who holds a PhD in Education, is teaching the children from the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) from all over Gujarat and the eight teachers who have accompanied them, the importance of enacting plays in the classroom. "It will help you memorize a story and enhance your creativity and imagination," she tells them. The children agree and jump with excitement, when Rawal announces that they will play the "wink-and-you-die" detective game, Killer, next. 

"We never thought we could do so much with a simple story - make statues, create masks or even draw out the whole story," says Bhavisha Govindbhai Makhansha, a 22-year-old teacher from Arambha KGBV in Dwarka Taluka in Jamnagar district. Before she had come here, Makhansha's idea of a training program was taking down copious notes on KGBV rules, making charts and creating/answering questionnaires. "This is the first time I've attended a workshop where I have explored my creativity and imagination through actvities. I do want to come back for another one," she pleads. 

Sonal Masribhai Mariya, a 14-year-old, who studies in Standard VIII at Bhatia KGBV, Kalyanpur, Jamnagar, echoes her teacher's sentiments. "I did not even know what emotions (bhavana) or communication (pratyay) were before I had come here. This workshop has introduced to me such concepts which will help me lead a better life. What I liked the most about this is that I have now got into a habit of writing a diary. I never knew I could record and reflect my thoughts in this way."   

Nita Galchand, who studies in Standard VII at the Jhalela KGBV in Ahmedabad, has developed the confidence to even face the camera when a TV crew drops in to cover the workshop. Nita, who earlier labored in the farms with her parents, joined the KGBV a year ago. "I have never been to a city before. I love it here - the training, the hotel and all the people I get to meet. I now want to learn English, the way city people speak it," she declares.  

For 25-year-old Krupa Dasratbhai Patel, a teacher at a KGBV in Dahod, this workshop with students has been a better learning experience than the one she participated in with other teachers the week before. "Though many of the activities which Rawal conducted were the same with both the groups, I could open up much more this time because I knew I would not be judged by the others. I also learnt a lot about how children react to each other and us in different situations. I want to go back to my KGBV and share all the games and activities I learnt here with the other teachers. Then, we can introduce the activities to the 102 students. I am sure the children will open up much more if we introduce statues and games," she notes. This training has also helped the teachers come together to share their views on KGBVs' activities and rules. "We lead a difficult life. It's a 24-hour job - taking care of the girls and looking after the KGBV itself. Most teachers are in their 20s. I think we need at least one middle-aged teacher who could be a mother-figure to the girls," she suggests, when asked what would help to improve the conditions of a KGBV.

During the six-day workshop, which has been hosted by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and funded and facilitated by UNICEF, the group will learn about:
  • Understanding emotions
  • Understanding self
  • Effective communication
  • Empathy
  • Decision-making

Aarti Prajapati, the Officer-in-Charge for Gender at SSA in Vadodara says the aim of this workshop is to give these girls an exposure to this kind of training. "Most of these girls were out of school children who now live in these residential schools, the KGBVs. Many of them come from poor financial backgrounds and have had little or no exposure to the outside world. Some were even forced to work as child laborers before they joined the KGBVs." The workshop, she says will enable them to learn more about the outside world. "Nearly 70 per cent of them have never been to a city before so we had to actually tell them a little about how they should behave in a city like this and in a hotel of this size," she adds. "The girls are getting on well," adds Dhruti Mankodi, District Education and Early Childhood Education (ECE) Consultant. "They've become more confident and are willing to share their thoughts and ideas with each other and even their teachers." 

While the children enjoy participating in the activities, a couple of teachers however feel as if they've been left out. "I liked it only about 75 per cent because the activities and games were mainly focused on the children," says Neelam Sosa, the 23-year-old principal of Veraval's KGBV in Junagadh district. "However, I did learn that though what we have been doing at our KGBVs was not wrong, we could do things more differently to make the atmosphere better for learning," she adds. 

"While the focus is mainly children, the teachers are expected to participate in all the activities during this workshop so that they can understand the importance of communication in the classroom," says Rawal. "You cannot teach Child Rights through a lecture. Through drama in a classroom, you can learn about even complex subjects such as democracy and citizenship. We have to change the quality of education," she says. Workshops such as this one will help change the way teachers and students think of it, for sure.    

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Getting parents to be creative

Drawing, dancing and demonstration of the ECE kit were part of the celebrations of the Global Action Week for Education 2012 in Mankodi village in Kawant

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Early Childhood Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and GCERT

A group of children scramble on the floor of the anganwadi at Mankodi village for a new set of crayons. A boy picks up a red crayon and on a piece of chart paper, draws a boat with a flag, one that he must not have seen in this interior, underdeveloped region of Kawant in Vadodara district. It’s a busy day at the anganwadi. But in spite of the din around, he doesn’t look up till he has finished drawing. The other children around him lack that concentration. They keep looking out for their parents who have assembled to participate in the celebrations for the Global Action Week for Education 2012. This year's theme is Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and the slogan is, “Rights from the start: Early Childhood Care and Education Now!”

While the anganwadi’s helper Ramilaben Rathwa tries hard to maintain decorum inside the center, Kapilaben Rathwa, the anganwadi worker, joins the 300-odd villagers who have gathered there to welcome the State ECCE Consultant, Dr Jigisha Shastri and the District Education and ECCE Consultant Dhruti Mankodi. The mood is that of a wedding's. Young girls perform Timli, the folk-dance of the Rathwa community. Kapilaben sings for the villagers and men sway to the beat of traditional drums. The music gradually fades away. Jayantibhai Vankar, Block and Cluster Coordinator of Baroda Citizens Council (BCC) (which is UNICEF's partner NGO in the area), tells the villagers about ECE and why pre-primary education is necessary. "If your children go to the anganwadi before they go to a primary school, they will be able to grow and develop better," he tells them.

Parents turn puppeteers

The villagers look on curiously as Dhruti Mankodi opens the UNICEF-sponsored ECE kit. She picks thepuppet of a parrot,gloves it and shows them how it can be used to narrate stories. Then she asks them to do the same. Since the villagers have never seen a hand puppet before, they shy away. Finally, one man takes the bait. He gloves it much to the amusement of his fellow audience members. Encouraged by the consultants and BCC members, he manipulates the puppet. Now, the rest of the men want puppets too."Look, if you have so much fun with them, imagine how much more fun it would be for your children. You must send your children to the anganwadi so that they can play with the puppets," Mankodi tells the villagers. They all nod in response.

Artistic delight

It’s time for the parents to dosome drawing as well. Boxes of crayons and sheets of chart paper are passed around. “How many of you have ever done any kind of drawing?”Devdoot Rajguru, a sculptor from Bhavnagar and a Fine Arts’ alumnus from M S University of Vadodara, asks the villagers. They shake their heads. "Here's your chance to do something that you don't do everyday. Draw, color, paint – do whatever you want," he urges them. The men start off gingerly while the women stare in silence. A man picks a blue crayon and starts drawing a parrot. Another dips his index finger into a vessel containing geru (red clay) and draws the picture of a bird. The women take the cue. One of them writes the name of the village in Gujarati with geru. The younger ones draw flowers with crayons. A group of teenage boys jointly create a scenery — hills, trees and jeeps.

Good community participation

“The villagers take great pride in participating in this parent meeting,” says the village’s sarpanch Ashokbhai Rathwa. “It’s different now. Parents come for meetings regularly,” says Kapilaben, who not-so-long ago had to persuade parents to send their children to the sarpanch’s house so that she could teach them something. Her 25 years as an anganwadi worker have been full of challenges. Yet, she has soldiered on. “It’s for the betterment of our children,” she says, adding that now at least 33 children come to the anganwadi regularly.

Steps towards a brighter future

The idea of getting the parents to do some activities as part of the celebrations is to sensitize them towards ECE in particular and education in general. Kawant is one of the most impoverished regions in the state. Repeated efforts by NGOs in the field of education have often been thwarted off by the strict orthodoxy of the Rathwa community that is native to this region. Since there are missionaries in the area, the members of the community have,for years, shunned education fearing religious conversion.

Over the past three years, members and volunteers of BCC from the block have slowly and consistently tried to persuade villagers to send their children to schools and 241 anganwadis there. And in April 2012, out of the 742 out-of-school children (children who have either never been enrolled into school or have dropped out of school), 120 were enrolled into some of the 218 primary schools in the block, notes Vankar. Getting members of the community to participate in the process of dissemination of education has meant that the girls also now have a chance to learn and grow. In Mankodi village itself, two teenaged girls have already started teaching six others who have never been schooled before. These small efforts will go a long way in developing the communities and the region.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Model Makeover!

During its first 12 years, Ishwarpura’s anganwadi was just a playroom for children. But since 2010, when it initiated the use of the ECE kit, it has become a model for teachers and learners

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Early Childhood Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and GCERT

“In which district is Waghodia located?” Taraben Vasava asks the 20 children who have formed a circle around her at the anganwadi in Ishwarpura village. “Baroda (Vadodara),” they answer in chorus. “In which state is Baroda located?” “Gujarat!” “Where is Gujarat located?” “INDIA!” Their voices get louder with each answer, their faces brighter. Suddenly, they break into a song on India. Taraben picks up the khanjari (tambourine) to accompany them.

Changing ways

Since its inception in 1998, Taraben has seen a drastic change in the attitude of children who spend five hours of their day (from 10.30 am to 2.30 pm) at the anganwadi. “Till 2010, all we had were a few balls and toys. I have studied only up to the ninth grade so there was little I could offer to the children. They would just come here, play a little, eat their food and go. Yes, we would sing songs and recite poems, but that was all I knew of,” says the anganwadi worker (AWW). A little over a year ago, the anganwadi got its first Early Childhood Education (ECE) kit. Taraben also undertook a training session to understand how the kit could be used to its best advantage.

Anganwadi worker Taraben Vasava initiates an action-song sequence for the children

“ECE kit has helped me too”

Since then, the anganwadi has become more vibrant and colorful. The walls have been painted with names of the months of the year, seasons, birds and animals. Alphabet charts vie for attention next to a colored picture of Mahatma Gandhi. And the children color the pictures in their much-used activity books with crayons. “I read the books and create my own stories and characters and narrate them to the children,” says Taraben, adding, “The ECE kit has also helped me educate myself.”

Getting children to participate

Children wait to dig into their midday meals
The 28 registered children, who age anywhere between three to five years, are more or less regular in their attendance and are willing to participate in all the activities that are conducted at the anganwadi. “If they do not turn up, I actually go to their houses to fetch them or find out what the problem is,” says Ashaben Vasava, Taraben’s helper. Some of the children are intrigued by visitors and ask them questions. Others keep strangers at bay. “Jaideep, what is your name?” Taraben coaxes a shy, little boy to introduce himself. Jaideep doesn’t answer. She urges him to speak his name. He finally does, much to the delight of others. Everyone claps.

Becoming a ‘model’ for others

Of the 2638 anganwadis in Vadodara district, Ishwarpura’s is a model. It provides the children a healthy environment to learn, interact and grow. It offers them proper meals (cooked in a very neat kitchen) and even teaches them about maintaining basic levels of hygiene — like using the squat toilet in a thatch-walled shed behind the brick-and-mortar anganwadi or washing their hands before they sit for their meals.

To make things better...

The anganwadi could do more to raise the bar for all anganwadis. “They could use more pictures instead of text on the walls and even allow the children to draw or paint on a part of the wall. In order to provide the children with more space to move about, they should stack the chairs one on top of the other when they are not in use. And I would certainly like to see the children using a mug to take the water from the bucket to wash their hands instead of putting all their hands into the same bucket. It beats the purpose of handwashing,” notes ECE consultant, Dr Jigisha Shastri.

Children wash their hands in the same bucket of water placed outside the anganwadi
Making a difference

Anganwadis such as Ishwarpura’s have made a great difference to the lives of the children in villages around Vadodara. By June, six of these children, who have crossed five years of age, will be enrolled into the primary school at Waghodia for the new academic year and three new ones will be brought into the fold of non-formal education at the anganwadi. These baby-steps pave the way for a bright future ahead!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A school camp that’s home

Banaskantha’s first rural residential school camp is changing the lives of children of migrant salt pan workers

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan

The salt pans, about 8 km from Boru
At the tiny village of Boru in Vav block of Banaskantha, about 25 km from the Indo-Pak border, a small residential camp for 25 children of migrant salt workers in a primary school has not only  prevented them from giving up on education altogether but is also bringing about subtle changes in the social fabric of the village.

Not worth its salt

For many years, the children, mainly from the Bakshi Panch communities, have had to leave school in the middle of the term in November to accompany their parents to the salt pans that are spread over 20 square-kilometers of the Rann (the salt marsh on the fringes of the Gulf of Kutch) 8 km away. The saline groundwater is pumped out from a depth of 50 feet and collected into huge troughs. The water is left to evaporate for a period of six months, during which it needs to be continuously mixed and ‘combed’ for the salt to crystallize. It is this process that requires intense labor. The larger the size of the crystals, the better the salt tastes. At the end of six months, the huge agglomerates of salt are hand-picked by workers into steel trays and then loaded into trucks which take them for further processing to the factories in Ahmedabad. 

That's the only shelter in the 10 sq km stretch

The 2000-odd workers from 10 neighboring villages work from dawn till dusk. The salt seeps into their bodies, causing them skin, kidney and respiratory diseases. Left with little choice or entertainment, the children of these workers were also enrolled into this activity for a paltry sum of Rs 20 a day. Their parents earn about Rs 100 a day, much more than what their water-scarce farms yield. 

Salts seeps into the bodies of the workers causing them skin, kidney and respiratory diseases

Setting up the residential camp

It was Satish Desai, the pro-active headmaster of Boru Prathmik Shala, who came up with the idea of setting up a nivasi (residential) camp for such children, who tend to be very irregular at school and may, at a later stage, even drop out of school. With the help of District Education and Early Childhood Education (ECE) Consultant, Hetal K Patel, Desai approached members of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Mission (SSAM). The provisions of the Right to Education Act 2010 reach out to each and every child to bring him/her into education’s fold. This formed the basis for setting up the residential camp.

Then there was the issue of getting villagers to send their children to the camp. “The main problem here is that there never has been any inclination of parents towards education,” says Desai, adding, “The caste system is very rigid. Parents did not want to send their children to a school where they would stay with children from other castes. I had to meet them many times and then slowly managed to convince them to send their children here.”

Satish Desai (left), the headmaster of the Boru Prathmik Shala speaks to the salt pan workers

The camp was finally set up on the premises of Boru Prathmik Shala in January 1, 2012. It enrolls children in classes from I to VII. Gangaram Jhakesara, the balmitra (teacher), has been appointed by the School Management Committee (SMC). Jhakesara, 22, is among the very few people in the village who has studied till Standard XII and is armed with a Primary Teacher Certificate.  He stays at the camp with all the 19 boys out of the 25 children who come here to study. The six girls spend most of their daylight hours here and then retire to their homes once their parents come back from the salt works at sundown.

“Feels better than home”

The children start their day at 6 am. They get up, brush their teeth, bathe and then dig into some breakfast that could be mamra (puffed rice), papadi (flatbread) or shakarpada (a kind of a sweetmeat). Then they begin their lessons for their respective classes in Arithmetic, Gujarati, Hindi and a little bit of English.  Urmila Solanki, who teaches Hindi at Boru Prathmik Shala says that it is important for the children to learn Hindi and English so that they can interact with people from outside the village, should they ever have to go out for their studies. The balmitra also teaches the children how to paint, work with clay, make models out of cardboard and study maps. The children break for their midday meals of rotlas (flatbreads made of bajra) and vegetables cooked over firewood in the neat kitchen. Post-lunch, they spend their time playing with bats and balls that they have neatly packed into their trunks, reading storybooks, singing bal geet (children’s songs) or garba (much to the delight of the girls), or simply chatting. It’s time to get back to the studies in the evening before they once again break for dinner and finally retire to bed at 10 pm. 

Children at the residential camp in the Prathmik Shala

“I like staying here because I have so many friends,” says 12-year-old Mukesh Parmar, who does not want to go back to his parents house. Mukesh’s father, Amrabhai Parmar, who works at the salt pans, says, “I am happy my son is studying in the sixth standard. He now has a safe place for play and tuition while I work through these months.” 

When Right to Education Consultant, Dr Ankita Sharma, asked the children about the qualities they liked in their best friends here, many said that they liked the fact that they did not use swear words and were great company. When she asked the children about what they did not like about the camp, most of them said that they could think of nothing. One boy, however, noted that he could live without the lice he had contracted from his fellow students!

The balmitra dutifully maintains a timetable for the classes and a register of the students’ works and activities. Teaching has been a fulfilling experience for him. Having studied at the Boru Prathmik Shala, Jhakesara points out that he is the only one from his batch of 40 students, who is still pursuing his studies. “All I want to do is to give these children a chance to study and become better people. Already, they have become more cultured. They say ‘Jai Mata Di’ or ‘Namaskar’ whenever they meet anyone.” 

“We need a lady teacher”

The social codes of the orthodox Rabari and Thakore communities do not encourage any kind of mingling between the genders in public spaces. The girls at the camp sit separately from the boys and do not play or even talk to them. They say one of the things the camp lacks is a lady helper or balmitra. Since most able-bodied married women either accompany their husbands to the salt pans or work in the fields nearby, the SMC still has not managed to find one to look after the girls. Also, according to the SSAM’s rules, the balmitra should be literate. However, Desai says that they haven’t found any literate women in the village. Therefore, though many of the girls want to stay at the camp at night they cannot because there is no lady balmitra.

The need for a female balmitra grows stronger as more and more parents want to enroll their children into the camp. It also spells the need for a separate space for the girls who want to stay here. Right now, the camp has room for only 25-odd children. The boys’ trunks line the shelves of two of the walls of the room. “I now have 50-odd children wanting to come here but we just don’t have the place to accommodate them all,” says Desai.

Changing social attitudes

The residential camp has changed the people’s attitudes towards education not just in this village but in Jhaloya 10 km away. Dhuriben Rabari, who works on the salt pans, says, “We are illiterate women and hence we cannot find any other job. We work from dawn to dusk, even on Sundays and public holidays to make whatever little money we can make. Had we studied, we would have looked for other, more comfortable jobs.” She goes on to request the District Education and ECE Consultant to open another camp like Boru’s in her village so that she does not have to keep worrying about what her children are doing 
while she is working.

Education has helped boost the children's confidence levels

Boru’s School Management Committee member, Shundabhai Thakore, strongly believes that the residential camp is the best thing that has happened to the village in recent times. “The children of our village have become more confident and are able to express themselves freely because of the education they have got. I am illiterate and I have had to stay in this village all my life. I  really wish that our future generations get a chance to study and go out of this village for good jobs,” he says. 

The enthusiasm of the students to learn, especially those of the girls, has rubbed off on balmitra Jhakesara, who married recently. The 22-year-old now wants his wife, who has studied till Standard VIII, to finish high school. “She can then become a lady balmitra,” he suggests. 

Bringing education to children

The success of the residential camp is an example of how hard work and dedication can help bring down the number of children who have dropped out of school or have never been enrolled into one, especially in Banaskantha, which has 5923 out-of-school children as per the SSAM report on Alternative and Innovative Education 2011-12. Vav shows much progress in this regard, Block Resource Coordinator, Hansmukh Trivedi notes, adding that many of the out-of-school children in the block have been enrolled into 10- to 20-month special training programs. These small steps will help them integrate into mainstream schools and give them the opportunity to look forward to a brighter future.  

Where learning is great fun...

A kitchen garden, an elaborate handwashing routine and the award-winning dedication of a worker to ECE makes the anganwadi in Dhandha village near Palanpur a role-model for others of its kind

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Early Childhood Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and GCERT

“First, we wet our hands. Then we use the soap. We rub the soap on each finger. We take special care of the nails. And then we wash all the soap off rigorously with water.” It’s a dry run for the handwashing routine that will start soon, says anganwadi worker, Parulben Nagaria. She likes the children to do it in the form of an action sequence in class. “This way, they have more fun and get habituated to wash their hands,” says Parulben, who initiated this routine at the anganwadi in Dhandha village near Palanpur after she attended UNICEF’s training program for anganwadi workers in September 2011. 

A boy washes his hands thoroughly before a meal at Dhandha anganwadi as Champaben Jadav, the helper, asks the other children to wait for their turn in a queue. 

Twenty-six children queue up near a bucket. Helper Champaben Jadav doles out mugs of water with which the children wash their hands. “Look how diligently they are washing their hands. Even we adults do not take such care to clean our nails every time we wash,” observes Ritaben K Patel, the anganwadi’s supervisor.  
This simple task of handwashing is an important part of the lives of the children who come to the anganwadi. The drill helps them understand that washing their hands will prevent germs and dirt from getting into their mouths and, in turn, prevent them from falling sick. Some children have even ensured their parents wash their hands before they sit down to eat.

“This has been my biggest achievement. In each one of the 205 anganwadis I oversee, I have seen to it that the children have made handwashing a habit,” says a proud Shashiben Brahmabhatt, the block’s Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), who started this initiative after she attended a training program in June 2011. 

Creating a ‘model’ anganwadi

With its innovative ways of teaching, fun-filled activities (that include dancing to children’s songs that are played on a DVD player), use of painted walls as activity boards for children and a garden that grows onions, lauki (round bottle-gourds) and arvi (colocasia), Dhandha’s anganwadi has become a model for others in Banaskantha district. 

But it wasn’t always like this.  “Earlier, we did not know what to do. I have been an anganwadi worker for nine years. The children would just come here, eat and then go away. Somewhere down the line, even I lost my interest in teaching,” says Parulben. 

Children enjoy their time at the anganwadi

In June 2011, she attended a training program on Early Childhood Education (ECE). It changed her outlook towards her work. “I learnt why ECE is important, how the kit should be used and why cleanliness is essential in bringing more children to the anganwadi,” shares Parulben, who holds a Master’s degree in Gujarati.

Mentored, facilitated and monitored by the State ECE Consultant, Parulben and Supervisor Ritaben have created a child-friendly learning atmosphere in the anganwadi. She uses puppets from UNICEF’s ECE kit and enacts the stories for the children. She also gets them to participate in group activities, where they play with building blocks, toys and memory cards or thread boards. 

Anganwadi worker Parulben Nagaria uses illustrations in books to teach the children

She strictly follows a timetable. Meals are now served on time and on clean stainless steel plates. There is a separate provision for drinking water. The idea of using a ladle for the water came from an anganwadi worker from Surajpura village who Parulben met at the training program. Parulben and her helper, Champaben, also see to it that the newly-tiled toilet is cleaned regularly and that children throw chocolate wrappers into a dustbin made out of a jerry-can.

New ideas, new learning ways

Painted walls are used as activity charts
What sets Dhandha’s Anganwadi No 2 apart from the rest of its kind is the innovation that has been put into the process of learning. Parulben uses the books not only to narrate the stories but also to create her own. She uses a combination of poetry, dance and puppets so that children can actively participate in the storytelling process. Parulben says that she has picked up these ideas from the Anganwadi Workers’ Module, which has been prepared by UNICEF and which she has been trained to use. 

In order to allow all the children to play with puppets at the same time, Ritaben suggests that she will get a village tailor to stitch puppets that are similar to those in the UNICEF kit. 

While the children have their activity books and toys to help them develop their brain and motor skills, the anganwadi worker has also devised a way to enhance their senses. She has created a ‘scent box’ that contains vials of spices such as variyali (fennel), lavang (clove), elaichi (cardomom) and gulab (rose). A similar ‘taste box’ contains sugar (sweet), salt, and mango/tamarind powder (sour) to help children distinguish the tastes. She says they still have not managed to find a ‘bitter-tasting powder’. Shashiben, the CDPO, suggests they could use methi (fenugreek) powder.

Turning parents into participants

The main reason for the anganwadi’s quick turnaround over the last few months has been the involvement of the community, especially that of the parents who send their children here. 

When Ritaben came up with the idea of painting the walls of the anganwadi, following her interaction with State ECE Consultant Dr Jigisha Shastri, she was initially cagey about asking the parents for money. But her fears were misplaced and they happily contributed the required Rs 2500 to create a bright, colorful place for their children. 

Next, when she wanted to get identity cards for each child, she once again went to the parents for help. “Each card costs Rs 12. The parents told me, ‘Don’t worry, we will give it you’,” she says adding that the parents also contributed for the files the anganwadi maintains on the children’s activities. 

The villagers also took pride in re-doing the place. One person put racks on the wall to create storage space for the files. Another provided two chairs and two tables. A third person paid for the utensils and others contributed to the binding of the books. 

The most recent contribution has been in the form of a DVD player. “I’ve been asking them to put a DVD player for the past six months. But they couldn’t find a donor. Then somebody gifted me a player, recently. I thought I may as well put it here so that it can be used regularly and the children can enjoy themselves,” says tailor Bharat Hirabhai, whose four-year-old son, Harshil, goes to the anganwadi. “Now that we have the DVD, we’ll also get a TV!” In fact, Parulben has already started advising the children to limit the number of hours they spend in front of the television. 

The parents actively participate in the anganwadi’s affairs. They track their children’s progress records and attend parent meetings regularly. 

When Parulben was awarded for her work in the anganwadi, many of the parents took time off from their schedules to congratulate her.

To make things even better

When State Right to Education consultant, Dr Ankita Sharma visited the anganwadi along with Hetal K Patel, District Education and ECE consultant, she was taken in by the commitment of the worker, the helper (she takes on the functions of the anganwadi worker and keeps the center running when the latter has to attend meetings), the CDPO and the supervisor towards education. 

Children play with toys provided in the ECE kit

The children, who only a year back were malnourished and disinterested, have now become healthy, confident and are eager to learn. Dr Sharma notes that greater participation of the parents by attending meetings regularly at the anganwadi will further benefit the children. Shashiben also points out that the anganwadi needs to be supplied with four to five liters of milk everyday. This, the village Sarpanch, Ramilaben Varecha, has agreed to provide for. She says, “For the development of the village, the development of the anganwadi is a must!”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to be German in 20 easy steps

I came across this blog written by one Adam Fletcher and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I hope you do too!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jab tak hai jaan

I finally watched Jab Tak Hai Jaan. I went on my own and there were only 20 people in the hall at Inox. It didn't look promising, even though the movie had been in theatres for six days. It's not the best Yash Chopra movie I've seen. (My pick would be the Rajesh Khanna-starrer, Daag, with its soul-stirring dialogues and speeches). And Shah Rukh Khan's performance, even by his own standards, is about average. But once he came on screen, I could not take my eyes off him and his hot stubble. (I have never loved facial hair as much!) I understand why people did not like the film. In an age where the average multiplex film is about two-hours-long, this one stretches to three-and-a-half. The story is very simple, with a bit of a love-triangle thrown in and the songs... well, I don't remember them much. But, in spite of all that, I watched the film and liked it a lot. I guess that is the mark of a great filmmaker. He makes you want to watch his film even if you think you know all about it! RIP Yash Chopra. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mandarmoni, West Bengal

About a 3.5-hour drive from Kolkata, towards the south-west, is Mandarmoni, a tiny beach resort town. You get a spectacular view of the Bay of Bengal and a long beach, that is devoid of pebbles and rocks, and hence is a swimmer's paradise. The waves are not as high as those at Puri and thus it's a safe destination for kids as well. Also, since not many tourists know of it (Digha, 28 km away is more popular), it offers you peace and tranquility and thousands of red crabs. There are a few hotels that line up the beach and you have to drive down the beach to get to them. The tariff's around Rs 5000 a night, inclusive of meals, a bit much, but you've little choice. The drive down from Kolkata through paddy fields, villages and forests is really worth the effort. Here are some pics:

Red crab at Mandarmoni... there are thousands of them on the beach

At 5.30 am

Lighting up the spaces in between

Basking in the glow

Post-immersion, this is what is left of Durga. Thank God, it's all made of hay and clay

Fishermen at Digha