Hope floats for children in schools of Raebareli

Neelam, 15 yrs, teaches
at the village school
Photo credit: Anjali Singh
Thakurainganj, Ralpur: For twelve year old Akash who suffers from a rare nutritional deficiency which has rendered him a midget, living in Thakurainganj, District  Ralpur, Raebareli does not hold any special significance. Given the fact that it also happens to be the high profile constituency of Congress supremo, development and progress is still a far cry in this area. The sheer penury in which people live comes as a shock specially so when children pay the price of such neglect. Low nutritional index, lack of sanitation and hygiene and children with preventable birth defects add to the already existing woes of the people being outcasts owing to their caste. But even in such trying times hope prevails thanks to the initiative taken by women who being unread themselves make a strong case for education for their village and community, their age and gender notwithstanding.

Predictably those who benefit are children like Akash who was born in a schedule caste family and afflicted by a rare health condition was doomed to be a outcast even in his own community owing to his dwarfish stature.

Akash reading out a lesson to children
Photo credit: Anjali Singh
Sans access to proper hospitals, schools or even employment avenues children like him didn’t have much of a future within the village itself.

But his condition would have been even worse had it not been for his 100 year old grandmother Brijrani, who made up her mind that education was the only way Akash and children within the village would make a place for themselves in their community and society.

Says Brijrani, “I never went to school myself as being a schedule caste ensured that my community never got the privileges that the upper caste women today enjoy. But when my grandson was born and shunned by all for his condition I knew I had to do something to educate him and the other children in my community if they had to live with dignity.”

And she set about clearing the narrow gullis(lanes) near her house, which served as a village dumping ground, to convert it into a makeshift school.

Two years on the school not only has a teacher to educate the children but it also doubles up as a health care centre within the village. Where regular medical check ups are carried out by doctors from Lucknow and Allahabad.

100 year old Brijrani who
is a unread dalit and
started a makeshift gulli school
in Rai Barielly
Photo credit: Anjali Singh
An added plus is the support it receives from Girija Devi Foundation in Raebareli  that has been running social welfare activities including setting up a hospital in Ralpur and providing support for educating underprivileged children in 32 districts of Ralpur. Their unique concept of Child-to- Child Education programme  further helped better the educational index in the region.

Explains Kamlesh Dixit, Founder Director of GDR, “When I saw women like Brijrani working so hard to uplift her community I understood that it was very necessary to improver the health and educational index of the women and children in the 32 blocs of Ralpur.  So through the organization I decided to provide medical and educational support here. The children who wanted to go to school were helped with financial support to sponsor their education and in turn they were motivated under our Child-to-Child Education programme to teach those children who could not go to school in the villages. Books, teaching aids, and counselors were brought in from New Delhi to train the local teachers and today children are benefiting.”

A fact that 15 year old Neelam a student who teaches at the school through the Child-to-Child Education programme of Girija Devi Foundation in Thakurainganj corroborates. She feels it helped resurrect the dying village and shape the future of many children who have dreams but could not pursue it owing to medical and societal afflictions.

Neelam, 15 yrs, teaches
at the village school
Photo credit: Anjali Singh
“Children like Akash want to be a doctors, engineers, teachers and so much more  and their zeal to achieve their ambition gets a fillip when they can come to school even if it means sitting in a makeshift gulli. The education they receive adds to their confidence and gives them a sense of hope that they too can one day walk shoulder to shoulder as citizens of a free country and contribute to its progress,” says Neelam.

A wish that Brijrani too wants to see fulfilled.

“I will not be alive forever and I wanted to leave behind something for the posterity in my village and set up this school. It has helped turn it into a educational centre for the children of schedule caste parents like me. One day I hope the children who study can make a name for themselves,” says the grand old lady flashing a toothless smile.

As for Akash, his plans to be a doctor one day seems to be slowly fructifying as he is already a tall student of his class irrespective of his short stature!

Anjali Singh
(The author is a senior journalist and also is the founder-Director of Saaksham Foundation)

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand 
Elites TV News, USA
Now Public News, USA