Bhavani Majhi (14), a tribal girl child is a native of Jharigaon block, Nabarangpur, Odisha. She is the eldest among three girl children in the family, studying in Sixth class. However, her younger sister Uvaasi Majhi (13), is a Ninth standard student in the same school.
The stark educational difference between these siblings is attributed to the fact that the elder child of the family was involved in sibling care and household chores. Khem Singh Majhi (35), father of Bhavani says, “We are daily wage laborers without any land or regular income and depend on petty works to get our three meals a day. Having three children in the home, we felt Bhavani can take responsibility of her sisters and help in household chores when we leave to work”.
Sibling care and household chores are the primary roles for tribal girl children living in Nabarangpur district, Odisha. It is also one of the main reasons for highest school dropout ratio at primary level education.
The literacy rate for tribal girl children is around 6% in 10 Gram Panchayats (GPs) including Chittabeda, Gurusingha, Kutrichhappar, Banauguda, Telnadigaon, Ekamba-B, Phupugam, Palia, Chaklapadaqr, Badtemra in Jharigaon block according to Bijaya Kumar Sethi, block development officer (BDO) for A, B, D, O blocks in Jharigaon. He says, “People are more likely to involve their children in house hold chores or in skilled works that benefit them financially rather than sending them to schools”.
There is a huge gap in enrollment and retention of the students, especially of girl children due to practice of early marriage system, economic and social limitations, poor health facilities in distant villages leading to absenteeism in school during rainy season, lack of proper infrastructure in schools, poverty and high illiteracy rate among parents, according to Mr Kumar, BDO.
It is only after the intervention of Aide et Action South Asia, an International NGO in association with JOCHNICK foundation for strengthening Tribal Girl Child Education in Odisha, which initiated the “Aamar Nani” project (2011) in these 10 Gram Panchayats (GPs) in Jharigaon block that major transformation has been brought about among tribal communities.
Aamar Nani project was able to improve access, assimilation and retention of the tribal girl children of communities in the primary education system with the help of various committees. Some of those include child clubs, star clubs (a program that focuses on the talents of children), animators (motivating parents to send children to school), aamar nani committees ensuring strong monitoring on the implementation of the Right to Education in the project areas, strengthening the institutional capacities of the local CBOs, PTA’s, School Management Committees (SMC’s) and Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI).
Once the girl child attains maturity in the family, the main aim of the parents is to get her married says Bimala Harijan, one of the animators in Nabarangpur district. “We explain the consequences of early child marriages and counsel the parents that educated girl child can lead a good life unlike them, who toil hard to put a meal on the table”, says Bimala.
In the case of Bhavani, the animator’s motivation helped her get re-enrolled in the school. “We felt sad when girls of Bhavani’s age were going to school and more importantly, our other two children were also going school but not Bhavani. At that point of time, the animator of our village counseled us and explained the benefits of what a girl child can do with the help of education”, says Rukmini Majhi, mother of Bhavani.
Motivation by animators and school teachers with the help of Teaching Learning Materials (TLM) helped Bhavani regain her confidence levels. “I will become a police officer and give strict punishment to those men who harass their households after consuming alcohol”, she says, talking about her life’s aim.
Bhavani’s father, Khem Singh, says that as he is uneducated, he could not tell what actually his daughter is learning, but accepts that there has been lot of transformation since she joined school says. “Her talking style and grooming aspects have changed a lot”, he says.
Awareness created by Aamar Naani project has not only bought changes in improving the literacy levels among tribal communities, but also in various other issues including sanitation, organizing health camps, curbing alcoholism, organizing wellness days and other social activities.
“In Ekamba (B) village, we requested women washing clothes near the taps to stop such activity, but they dint pay heed. Later, we strictly imposed a fine of Rs 10 for the ones denying rules, that slowly resulted in hygienic surroundings and environment”, says Chandavathi Badhra, Aamar Nani Committee member.
Gaining trust of the people is not an easy job and it requires consistent effort to understand their mindset and their notions. “Whenever we visit a home, the household lady offers us tea. We sit down on the floor along with her, have tea and wash the cup ourselves that improves our communication with people”, says Manju, animator. In men’s case, it is opposite. They sit on the cot along with the men in the family and discuss issues which make a lot of difference, she adds.
In Rangmati village, Ghinu Panaka, Field Co-ordinator of Aamar Naani project succeeded in motivating Jadhav Santha to donate a part of his house for school as there was no educational institution within the radius of five kilometers for surrounding four villages. Now, due to his generosity, around 65 children come to school every day. “If we get education, village will be educated and that changes everything”, says Jadhav.
For the past three years, we have observed major transformation among tribal community. “Now people are directly coming and reporting their problems to BDO which is a revolutionary change”, says Kumar, BDO.
Despite the government initiating activities like mid day meal scheme, providing cycles to children for commuting and school dresses, people were not enticed to go to school. In this context, NGOs have a major role to motivate and strengthen education system among tribal communities emphasizes Mr Kumar.
The writers are part of the Communication Unit, AEAI SA. The story was orginally published in http://eodisha.org
Photographs credit: Amoga Laxmi
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