Saturday, December 01, 2007

From Narhara

Aslam had visited the primary school he lived next door to in the past ten years only once, to enroll his sons and daughter there. But that was till he became a member of the school management committee in his village, Narhara. “I come to the school for an hour everyday and I also see to it that the children don’t loiter about outside during class hours!” says Aslam, who presses oil for a living. He, Nathulal, Munni Devi and others were selected by the village to be part of this new committee of parents and guardians that intend to provide voluntary assistance to their local primary school.

Bringing the Pradhan, teachers, parents and guardians together was not easy. It involved no less than three to four meetings before a final ‘big meeting’. Anil, who is a twenty five year old post graduate from a village close by has been motivating the locals to participate in school management. “Many villagers were skeptical when I met them first. They used to say we have had enough of these programs and would turn away but we managed to convince them eventually!” he says with a grin.

Supporting Anil in his endeavours have been an equally young post graduate Anuj and veteran development worker Dinesh of Sarvodaya Asharam. For the past three months, they have been camping in a school in Sitapur, directing nine other motivators like Anil to form school management committees in villages around the area. “We are implementing a project that aims to involve local villagers in managing primary schools,” explains Anuj who with his team has worked on every Sunday and festival in the past few months. “We have only till December to see the results!” adds Dinesh.

The results are encouraging, not only are the children benefiting from the extra attention being paid but the committee members too, have found new confidence and awareness because of their new responsibilities.

Munnidevi is a widow with two children who study in the primary school. She has never participated in anything ‘important’ earlier and is one of the three female members in the group of seven. “I come and clean the classes every other day”, she quips. Mrs. Verma, the young primary school teacher looks after five different classes with approximately fifty children each and is assisted the school Shiksha Mitr. “It is a big help now that the parents are coming to school and volunteering to help in cleaning the classes or to cook the midday meal. Earlier, my voice used to go hoarse screaming at children and supervising the cooking!” she says.

Nathulal, the president of the committee talks about their progress, “We have had four meetings till now and have collected five hundred and ninety rupees from villagers as well. We have also requested the pradhan to build a toilet for the school as well”. Local contributions range from rupees ten to rupees fifty, two pink chart hang from the primary school walls, one states the aims of the committee and the other is a list of donors. Anuj points at the area in front of the school, “These furrows in the earth have been made by the members of the committee so that the children stand in straight lines during PT and their morning assembly. These are small innovations made by the locals”, he smiles.

The school management committees elsewhere have been actively involved in maintaining the school property by peeling weeds and wild grass, cleaning school toilets and repairing doors. “It has been observed that teachers are suddenly becoming more active because of the parents involvement and school visits. But it is explained, during the training period to the committee members that they are not to fight or argue, all disputes are to be settled amicably”, says Dinesh. The members understand this and ask the head master or mistress of each school in what way they can be of assistance before they begin work.

Before one leaves the little primary school at Narhara, Aslam, Nathulal and Munnidevi walk across to the small patch of land behind the school and Nathulal says, “We intend to clean this area and cultivate green vegetables here so that the children can eat an extra sabzi with their midday meal. They are all our children after all”.

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